Chinese consumers may be cutting back on their spending as a result of the economic downturn, but one area that’s flying high is travel. Tourist traffic within China and overseas remains high, buoyed by the easing of travel restrictions to Taiwan and the opportunity for recreation and shopping in Hong Kong and Macau. So what are these travellers looking for, and which brands are innovating to keep them happy?


A 2007 TNS-KPMG study found that 70 percent of consumers buy luxury products as a form of self-reward. The wealthiest Chinese are becoming accustomed to the comforts of five-star hotels, spas and high-end restaurants and are craving new forms of gratification. They’re joining luxury-brand clubs not because of exclusivity but because they are regular consumers of deluxe experiences and accustomed to the service and perks.

These “cosmopolitan commuters” live, work and vacation in different regions across the country, taking advantage of falling travel costs and flexible work styles. Time-pressured consumers want to extract maximum value out of their travel time, therefore booking convenience, check-in speed and access to technology throughout the journey are high on their list of priorities. Eco-consciousness is becoming more important as well, as companies and individuals work to become carbon-neutral.

The URBN Hotel in Shanghai

The URBN Hotel in Shanghai

The URBN Hotel is a hip, 26-room hotel in Shanghai. The hotel offers such localized amenities as tai chi and yoga classes and custom bike and walking tours. Its original-brick walls, floors of reclaimed indigenous hardwood, and the array of traditional Chinese services offered speak to the older Shanghai, while URBN’s contemporary design and services draw on the energy of a younger, more modern metropolis. Its  building materials were locally sourced; and the building incorporates passive solar shades and water-based AC systems.

As China’s first carbon-neutral hotel, URBN tracks the total amount of energy it consumes, including staff commutes, food and beverage delivery, and guest water usage. The company  purchases credits to neutralize its footprint by investing in local green-energy development and emission-reduction projects. Guests can also buy their own carbon credits to offset their flights.

Cong’s Hutong in Beijing

Cong’s Hutong in Beijing

Cong’s Hutong in Beijing offers an entirely different experience – one that is committed to preservation. Drawing on ancient Chinese culture, the Cong family renovated their old courtyard home in Lishi Hutong near the Forbidden City. The hotel has only four rooms, named Zither (a string instrument), Go (a board game), Calligraphy and Painting, as an homage to the four arts prized in ancient Chinese scholarship. It offers guests the authentic courtyard lifestyle that is rapidly fading as China’s capital modernizes. As you’d expect, rooms are booked months in advance. And yes, they offer free broadband access.

The lesson for big hotel chains? The days of one-size-fits-all hotels are over. Transumers expect their hotels to draw upon the best of what local culture has to offer so long as they’re clean, comfortable and distinguish themselves with great service.

International chains are great at standardizing “clean” and “comfortable” across the globe, but they stand to learn a thing or two about Eastern-style hospitality. A concierge at the Portman Ritz-Carlton in Shanghai had this anecdote to relate in That’s Shanghai magazine:

A guest wanted to get hold of limited-edition cigars that were only available in Hong Kong. I asked if he would pay me to fly to Hong Kong to collect them, which he was happy to do. I picked them up at the airport and flew back that evening. He was so grateful. I later discovered it was a present for a close friend, an extremely famous NBA player.

Can you beat that?