Indian Arrivals in China Will Grow by 7-8 Percent: Henry Lee

The COO and MD of Marriott International for Greater China is bullish about Indian arrivals to China and was in India to personally push for more business, which he wants to spread across his whole region, especially in MICE and weddings segments.

BW HOTELIER got the opportunity to speak with Henry Lee, the Chief Operations Officer and Managing Director, Greater China for Marriott International, while he was in India for the India China week, looking at India as a source market for his hotels. After the merger of Marriott and Starwood, Lee oversees around 260 properties, which will increase to 300, according to a Marriott source.

“We have started doing a lot more business from India to China. It started around three years ago when we saw arrivals from India into China growing dramatically. If you look into last year and this year, we see it grow by about seven to eight percent, this is people coming to China from India,” Lee began by telling us.

“When we look at individual hotels, in the last couple of years, we have seen a lot of Indian customers coming into Hong Kong and Macao. But we have also seen a lot more also coming into Mainland China, compared to before. Some of the hotels that we have in locations like Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Yiwu, we see numbers increase further and further,” he added.

Looking at where things stood today, the numbers are growing year on year. Down the road, the potential partnership between India and China will grow stronger and stronger. Naturally, from the business point of view, Lee said, they would love to see the relationship grow.

“I think that the India market would be one of key markets for us in China compared to where we are right now. We see a lot of potential, things are happening already, but we feel that there’s a lot more opportunity and we want to come in and learn about the trends and what else is going to be happening in the market,” Lee said. His visit was going to be filled with customer interactions. The aim was to stay on top of the potential business in the future he added.

Lee felt that the established destinations, as far as the Indian traveller was concerned, of Hong Kong and Macao, was not a case of competing with other hotels within his purview. “When you look at the Indian market, of Indian’s going to China, you look at quite a few different areas. Naturally tourists coming in would have strong growth. We also think that MICE business will grow too. One thing that you will see in particular inside the MICE segment is the rise in the incentive business, especially for some hotels in Shanghai. We’ve also seen a lot of business people who come into China to trade in IT and pharmaceuticals, for example, and go into secondary and third tier location to visit factories, are growing in numbers,” he added.

One thing that the chain had to offer to the Indian customer, Lee added, was a bouquet of 17 different brands in Mainland China, including Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, post the Marriott-Starwood merger. They would give people a different price points, locations, facilities and food and beverage options. “A further four brands were slated to enter the China market in the next 18 months so I see it as an opportunity for the customer coming into China having a lot more selection,” he said.

The Indian traveller too wants to explore new destinations and Mainland China has picked up among segments like pharmaceuticals and banking, which is partly the reason for China Week being organised by Marriott.

The corporate and MICE customers have been very receptive to the brand China push. They love that we have more to offer. We capture all the tiers, from senior leadership meetings to dealers incentives, the options are endless.
One of the issues with Indian travellers especially while traveling to destinations like China is the question of diet. “Naturally, we have different strategies for different segments. Regardless of this, we always focus on what we need to do to support the customer from Indian. Food and beverage is one of the key areas that we have been focusing on over the last few years and we continue to do so. What the guests prefer for breakfast, what they prefer when they set up the event. We feel that we are doing well, but we always need to continue to adjust and learn to cover all aspects of what the guest is looking for,” Lee said.

“We have an exchange program which in some cases sees Indian chefs come in and train our chefs and vice-aversa. Some employees come over and work for a long period of time and educate us on the intricacies of the Indian guest. They educate and train us so that we cater all needs of food and beverage. The program is getting larger and larger,” he added.

“Another area we are focusing on is how to sell incentive business from India for China. We have set up cluster organisations in different areas, in order to sell different types of corporate bookings to everyone from wholesalers to dealers. We want to capture the business and not miss any opportunity there. In incentive and now wedding, business coming from India, is really booming. We are working with wedding planners as well as whole-sellers to sell out events,” Lee said.

Finally speaking on the MICE business and what China can offer, he said, “When we look at the nature of incentive groups, we see they need more variety and field of interest. We create a destination strategy with the general manager and actually have a team in Beijing, Shanghai, Hainan and Hong Kong. Apart from looking at the hotel and meeting facility, we also see what the destination has to offer in terms of dining, to some point, Indian food and also what we can offer by way of excursion tours. We have a MICE travel site, with more talking points about the destination, then the brands and then the hotels”.

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'Green Issue'

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