Chinese people never say “no”

The influx of visitors from Asia is growing, in particular from China. A spotlight was shone on these new target groups at this year’s edition of ITB Berlin, for the increase in their numbers means there is a pressing need to adapt to these visitors’ customs and requirements. – Figures and insights.

Text: Karen Cop   FOTOS: iStock

Have you ever been to China? Then you may have heard tips such as these: “Make sure that you have a visitor card to hand when you greet someone and present it with both of your hands, like a gift to the emperor!” Or: “It’s normal to smack loudly when eating and it’s taken as a compliment.” But then again, not everything is necessarily different. In Chinese metropolises such as Shanghai and Hong Kong you can have vegan food as a matter of course rather than chicken claws – so, first thing is to forget clichés when getting there and check out reality.

Conversely, Chinese travellers to Europe must have similar sentiments: When they emerge from their planes talking loudly, with a mischievous smile they suddenly place their index fingers over their mouths as a sign of shushing – such behaviour can often be witnessed at the continent’s major airports. “Be quiet in Germany” appears to be a widespread cliché in China. In short: Everyone means well but stumbles around in the dark a little when the question arises: what makes people tick and how, in particular, do their outlooks differ? In the meantime the sympathetic attempt to get closer continues apace: with 139 million travellers China has evolved into the world’s largest outbound market.

Thirteen per cent more Chinese outbound travellers

It’s no surprise that the needs of Chinese tourists and business travellers were a hot topic at the industry’s leading trade fair, the ITB Berlin, in March 2019. Last year, according to its CEO Rolf Freitag, IPK International registered “13 per cent more outbound trips from China compared with the previous year.” While growth is expected to ease slightly this year, a six per cent increase in outbound travellers from Asia is forecast. Business traveller bookings have also risen sharply at HRS in recent years.

So it’s essential that we adapt to the customs of Chinese guests because at the moment they can’t necessarily even expect to be welcomed with a friendly “Ni hao”. To really ensure the well-being of guests familiarity with their wishes and customs is vital. In China, for example, people don’t say “no” in the way that they do here. So it’s pointless to expect a no from a Chinese guest when you offer something that isn’t to their liking. Your guest will probably even smile – which doesn’t indicate acceptance, for no further reaction means: “No, thank you”. Expressed politely in the Chinese fashion.

Red rather than white

White flowers in rooms are also not a good omen for the guest wishing to do business the next day. In China white is the colour associated with mourning. Red, on the other hand, is neither too personal nor suggestive and is associated with perfect good luck. So putting a welcome letter or business card in a red envelope could be a much-appreciated gesture. As would providing a description of the hotel’s services in Mandarin. It also makes sense to provide a kettle, free tea and instant noodle soup in Chinese guests’ rooms. Which, incidentally, should not be at the end of a corridor if possible, but located to the side of it. This is because many Chinese people believe that ghosts can only walk in a straight line and might cross their room, while they are trying to get a good night’s sleep ahead of their meeting the next morning.

Hoteliers are also advised to adapt their culinary offering to reflect the preferences of their new guests, particularly at breakfast. While European bakery traditions are gaining ground in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing, most Chinese people still like soup or dumplings with hearty fillings for breakfast which are eaten with chopsticks and a spoon rather than a knife and fork. And if Chinese travellers are able to pay their bills with China Union Pay or Alipay, they’re sure to be happy to return and to recommend “their” hotel to others.


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