Hospitality Hive

Updates, opinions, and news for anyone working in Orlando's Hospitality community

Chinese Travel Trends

I recently wrote about Cuba being a hot destination topic, but now it’s time to recognize the emerging importance of China to not only travel but also just about everything on this planet including the recent downward spiral of the numbers coming from Wall Street.  And while I’m not attempting to solve the world financial crises here in the Hive (we have to leave something for politicians to do, right?), I do want to talk about the entrance of numerous Chinese travelers and investors into our own little corner of the planet right here in Central Florida.

And for those of you that think we are besieged by visitors from Brazil and the UK you are technically correct.  Numbers from Visit Orlando show that’s where the majority of foreign visitors to Central FL come from to the tune of 770,000 and 759,000 respectively in 2013 alone (last available statistics). But want to know who’s expected to be coming in record numbers in the future? HINT:  the answer is in this blog’s title.

7833149018_049a68a12aYep, it’s China.  Chinese tourists are now said to be very keen on making the 8,000+ mile trek that takes about 17.5 hours of in-flight travel time to get from there to here (no direct routes yet either, so add connecting times/airport waits and you’ve got the better part of a two day journey, each way) even though they’re not necessarily sun worshippers.  And if that’s not surprising enough, here’s another tidbit about these visitors:  due in large part to the bottomless pit of advertising dollars we’re collectively pouring into this new travel market, the Chinese think that Central Floridians offer a prime example of Western Culture.  Imagine that?  Floridians are now viewed, at least by some in the world, as true Americans!  Wow.

And here’s another potentially surprising statistic:  China’s population is currently over 1.4 billion which keeps it at the top of the leader board when ranking countries by virtue of population. By comparison, USA has over 325 million and is ranked #3 in population stats.

So want to know where I’m going with all this?  Right back here to Central Florida where members of the collective hospitality community recently rolled out the red carpet by hosting a prestigious group of the Asian travel community for a three day familiarization trip highlighting Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, and Deland along with a whole lot of other area love thrown in.  Put together by the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau for delegates that traveled to Orlando to attend the June conference of International Pow Wow (IPW, organized each year by the U.S. Travel Association), this area fam trip packed in quite a bundle of Florida hot-spots without ever stepping foot into any of the fantasy theme park destinations.  Why?  Because we’re learning that Chinese travelers prefer authentic local experiences, and turns out we’ve got plenty of those to offer, too.

Recent fam group to Central Florida

Recent fam group enjoying Central Florida

But those of us that live here already knew that, right?

Now don’t get me wrong, the Hive is not professing to proclaim that Chinese travelers are shunning the theme parks.  But we do have it on good authority that these members of the new travel frontier want to learn more about what make Americans tick as opposed to how we escape reality and live out our fantasy life.  And they’re spending serious money to prove that by dishing out on -by some reports – an average of $7,000 USD per person during trips outside China.

Orlando fam group #2

Members of IPW Central FL fam group enjoyed our natural environment – even in June!

 

 

 Further, one quick look at some area websites including our own Visit Orlando Media page shows translation of press kits in just three languages – Spanish, Portuguese, and you guessed it -Chinese.

And just this morning there was an announcement in the Orlando Sentinel business section about the launch of a Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Central Florida with the primary quote being, “[Chinese] have money, and they can’t let their money sit in China now.  They know Disney and Universal Studios, but some of them may not know where Orlando is, or even Florida for sure.”

Huh.

For final proof of the growing US interest in courting the Chinese travel market just take a look at what Hilton is doing to make these visitors more comfortable when they leave home base.  Hilton Worldwide announced the expansion of it’s Hilton Huanying program (the word Huanying means Welcome) that offers Chinese travelers a customized hospitality experience during their stay at Hilton properties around the world.  The program assures that each participating hotel has staff members that speak Mandarin, rooms have special amenities like slippers, Chinese language TV stations, teakettles and a welcome letter in Chinese.  All are little but important things that this new market segment will be expecting as they venture out into the world.  As Conrad Hilton himself used to say, “it’s all about the hospitality”, and you can bet your last Mickey Mouse dollar that other hotels are soon to follow this lead.

Photo Credit:  Hilton Huanying Program

Photo Credit: Hilton Huanying Program

Now welcoming all Chinese visitors to Florida!  

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Have You Ever Been First?

I’m not talking about those lucky days when there’s no wait in the line at EPCOT for Soarin’ (once, on a dreary Thursday evening in September of 2013 when most of Florida was in a hurricane watch. . .) or on the teensy-weensy outside chance that the Starbucks drive-though is a zip (again once, in the pouring down rain in the middle of a weekday afternoon. . .).  Nope, those aren’t the firsts I’m referring to.  I’m talking about something really big and very important.

The employment line.

More specifically, the hospitality employment line here in Central Florida, where you might have heard, there are currently over 232,000 people already gainfully employed.  That’s right, 232,000 employed in Orlando area hospitality jobs which places this industry on the top of the leader board when it comes to local employment, and yes, I already know what you’re thinking because I can see that bubble circling above your head.  “Aren’t most of these jobs lower paying/high turnover type positions-you know, ride and show ops, housekeeping, bus driver types?”  The short answer is that many of them are, but certainly not all.

For instance, take my friend, Jenna Borreggine, Assistant Director of Sales at Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort, who was No.#1 hire at this hotel when it opened August 3, 2014, one year ago this month. To be clear, Jenna was hired before all of the operations and administration team was put into place, so being the No.#1 hire on a team of about 700 employees put her in a remarkable position.  How did that happen?  First, Jenna was in the right place. Second, she had the right background and training (she’s an early graduate of the Rosen School of Hospitality Management at UCF).  Put those two factors together with the third element –  right timing – and you’ve got the perfect mix for being at the head of the employment line for an epic new hotel.  You see back in 2012, Borreggine was already employed by Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts at the Miami property.  But when this offer was presented, she took a leap of faith to move back to Orlando and compete in an already crowded hotel market with a product that was still on the drawing boards.  She knew only that it would be the largest property in the brand’s worldwide portfolio and would likely receive the accolade of Central Florida’s first AAA Five Diamond Award, a most prestigious honor that was achieved within just three months of the resort’s opening. (To date, it is still the first and only property in Central Florida with this recognition.)

Jenna in her fashionable hard hat, part of the required daily attire during  hotel construction.

Jenna in her fashionable hard hat, part of the required daily attire during hotel construction.

So, considering there was no hotel product to actually see when she was hired, what did employee No.#1 do on those first few days/weeks/months on the job?  “The first thing you do in pre-opening sales is a competitive analysis with other similar products in your market niche so you can figure out (best educated guess) a platform and message of this new hotel in the market.  And then you go find clients.”  Remember, this is all done before the hotel is built so you’re basically working off blue prints, architectural drawings, scale models, and designer swatches of room colors and artwork to make the whole project come together into a finished product that clients can actually visualize.  To further this effort, hotels usually construct a scale model of sample rooms, but when Jenna was hired, even that scale model was still under construction. So basically she took a leap of faith and began a journey that came to a happy conclusion on August 3, 2014 when the hotel officially opened.

I asked her to share a juicy story about something interesting/challenging that happened pre-opening and without hesitation she recalled how “over 400 sofas had to be sent back to spec when it was discovered that they didn’t fit into the doorframe of the actual sleeping rooms after the hotel build-out!”  How does this happen?  Scale models are just that.  Things that look and fit perfectly off-site can take on a whole new meaning when the finished product is delivered.

Four Seasons Resort Orlando
The finished product – Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort.

 

Now some of you might be wondering why a hotel would need to hire a sales person before anyone else, and the answer is simple:  operating revenue is generated through sales.  In other words, the sales department is where the action’s at, baby!  Yes, that’s how important the sales team is to each and every hotel, and the larger the property, the more people they employ in sales and marketing.  And in Jenna’s case her willingness to come on board as their first employee, agreeing to do whatever it took to launch the hotel, has paid off in her professional growth and loyalty to the Four Seasons.  Today Borreggine’s sales focus includes both the Corporate and Incentive markets (RE very high-caliber clients and events) as well as the Entertainment market (RE even higher level clientele and usually money is no object in this category). Yep, she gets to rub elbows with the A-List celebrities when they stay at her property which is pretty much all the time.  They come here on business gigs; they come on personal family vacations.  Whatever their reason for being in Orlando, it’s Jenna’s job to book the business. And that includes paying attention to all those crazy celebrity requested details that the rest of us hear rumors about.  Things like moving mattresses to the floor (?), adding specific furniture (like rocking chairs!) to those plush suites they get assigned, and, hey, what about that request to peal off the wallpaper and repaint a sleeping room?  I’m not sayin’ they did, and I’m not sayin’ they didn’t. . .I’m just sayin’ that requests like this come along with the territory of being the sales rep for entertainment luminaries at Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World.

All in a day’s job for Jenna Borreggine, and by all accounts, an exciting one at that, wouldn’t you agree? 

In future months I’ll feature other interesting jobs that can be found right here in Orlando’s very own hospitality industry, the largest category of job employment in Central Florida.

And, if you liked this post, you might also enjoy this one about unique jobs in the hospitality industry, or this one about the awesome rooftop restaurant at the Four Seasons Orlando Resort that I reviewed in December.

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Curious About Cuba? Part Two of two

Yes, that’s right, we’re already on the second part of the two-part series, so if you missed the first one, please go back here to get caught up!

Cuba 4

Welcome to Cuba!

In my last post on Cuba, I introduced you to an industry professional that has already logged plenty of travel miles in her Cuban business endeavors, and Renee Radabaugh of Cultural Explorations Cuba has managed to confirm what the rest of us have only just begun to suspect – that there’s no sign of this being a passing fad in the travel and tourism market.  With multiple daily non-stop flights from both Miami and Orlando, and additional ones being constantly added from other locations around the United States, it’s becoming more convenient to get there and that’s the first measure of a good trip.  But don’t buy your ticket just yet, because we still have a bit of a learning curve before we can grab our passports and pack our bags.

For instance at present, the only way Americans can travel to Cuba is understanding the regulations in place, and you can bank on the fact that any time you see the word ‘regulation’ the U.S. government is involved.  For the time being, consider your pending Havana dream trip as a government supervised visit, and here are the 12-and-only-12 approved categories for Americans to travel to Cuba:

  1. Family visits (yes, documented proof is necessary)
  2. Official Government business (um, do we really want to go there?)
  3. Journalistic activity (yes, so the Hospitality Maven has a chance!)
  4. Professional research and meetings (again, the Maven has a chance!)
  5. Educational activities (pretty broad category)
  6. Religious activities
  7. Public performances, competitions, workshops, etc. (think your baseball team is good enough to compete with the Cubans?)
  8. Support for the Cuban people (?)
  9. Humanitarian projects (RE bringing in aid to the Cubans)
  10. Private research, educational or foundation activities (another broad-stroke opportunity. . .)
  11. Exportation, importation or transmission of informational materials (this will be interesting)
  12. Authorized export transactions (other than cigars, what do they have that we want?)

 

And rest assured that American travel is being watched, so if you go make sure you stay on your best behavior and follow the rules to make this journey memorable in a good way.  That means going through a *licensed purveyor*, and that’s where my colleague, Renee, comes in.  Her aforementioned business, Cultural Explorations Cuba, is one of only a few licensed operatives which means they seriously know what they’re doing and have the government sanctioned licensing to back that up.  Being that it’s still such a young business in a new endeavor, I’d go so far as to compare her to Diana Nyblad, whom you may recall educated herself by dipping her toe in those shark infested waters multiple times prior to that final successful swim completed on September 3, 2013 across the Straits of FL from Key West to Havana. Diana’s journey was 53 hours and 110 miles enduring poisonous jellyfish and plenty of other dangers to be the first one to say “I did it!”.

But don’t worry, your journey shouldn’t be that treacherous.  I checked with Renee on a few facts and rumors about ‘our’ trip to Cuba, and here’s a brief recap of some of my education:

FACT or FICTIONNo good hotels?  FICTION: Plenty of good hotels, but “standards of greatness may vary.” Like any good trip planner you need to book through reputable sources and ask questions to understand what you’re getting.  Another way to look at this is to take note of how many different opinions, reviews, stars and ratings you can find on sites like Trip Advisor for any particular hotel or venue you’re investigating.  (HINT:  that’s why the USA is issuing licenses to specific companies so you can deal with people that know what they’re doing in Cuba.)

FACT or FICTIONNo American credit cards accepted?  FACT.  There’s no American banking in place – yet, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t banks.  Just be prepared for large exchange rates on your US money, and/or travel with cash.  There’s currently no limit on daily expenditures for American travelers, but there is a cap on the amount of merchandise a person can bring back to the USA, so go easy on those cigars and rum for abuela.

FACT OR FICTIONWhat about those antiquated taxis?  Reliable?  For real?  FACT:  They’re real, alright!  Those retro-antique cars may be patched together with Japanese engines and parts from a Russian lawn mower, but they’re dependable and everywhere.

 

Cuba 1

Now that’s quite a ride, right?

 

Then there are these - which quaint taxi do you prefer in Cuba?
Then there are these – which quaint taxi do you prefer in Cuba?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are tons more travel details to report, but basically Renee summed things up nicely when she told me this:  “You need to remember that Americans are the ONLY ones that haven’t been free to travel to Cuba [since 1961].  Canadians, Europeans – they’ve all been visiting for a long time, so there is an infrastructure in place for tourism as well as business travel.  But opening the airwaves and waterways to US travelers requires different levels of groundwork and support services, and that will be an ongoing growth process.   Presently, the overall goal of approved travel is still going to be cultural exchange in the context of people-to-people education and being able to immerse yourself in their history.”

And in the end, isn’t that what the joy of travel is all about? 

 

*licensed purveyor* = Cultural Explorations Cuba has a specific people-to-people license issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s, Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). Pursuant to section 31 C.F.R. § 515.565(b)(2) of the Cuban Asset Control Regulations, this license allows U.S. Citizens who book a package with Cultural Explorations Cuba the ability to travel to Cuba legally. License # CT-2014-313195-1

 

 

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