The number of tourists heading overseas on vacation continues to grow quickly. In 2017, international tourist arrivals rose by 7% and surpassed 1.3 billion.
With such level of growth and the subsequent potential for increased revenue, hotels (especially those in big cities and major tourist destinations) must spend more time catering to the unique needs of overseas guests.
The communication barrier is just one aspect that needs consideration. Different countries and regions have their own range of preferences and expectations, many of which require a strong degree of cultural sensitivity and a flexible level of service.
To help market your hotel successfully and provide a great on-property experience to your international guests, we’ve compiled the following top tips.
If you’re trying to attract overseas travelers, your website needs to be available in their native languages. Along with a translated version of your site, your room rates should be available in different currencies. Having a multilingual chatbot can also be a useful addition in order to provide quick assistance to queries and process bookings.
Google Analytics lets you see the overall traffic to your website by country, which is a useful tool to help you prioritize which languages to translate into.
Unless you attract a significant number of guests from a given country, having a translation service at your hotel probably isn’t necessary. However, it’s certainly good to know a few basic phrases. Learning how to say “hello”, “thank you”, and “enjoy your stay” takes little effort but can make a big difference to first impressions.
Guests with specific religious beliefs will also appreciate your consideration. Providing a prayer room is a nice gesture. But if you’re unable to do this, find out if there’s anywhere they can practice their faith in the local area. When catering to Muslim travelers, some hotels offer gift packs with prayer mats, a Quran, and a Qibla compass.
The way you communicate with different travelers may also need to be adapted. While direct and informative communication may be appreciated in the West, some cultures prefer a softer approach. In Japan, a direct “No” should be avoided in formal situations. Polite, personal, and attentive service are seen as extremely important. Japanese customers also have high expectations of customer service and will likely expect your staff to respond to any issues they have without them needing to be explicitly mentioned.
3. Cultural taboos
Just as important as offering great service, it’s also important to understand different cultural taboos. It’s easy to make a social faux paus with an everyday phrase or gesture that carries a different meaning in another culture.
Most Asian countries consider pointing with your finger as rude. In China, people have many deep-rooted superstitions and it’s bad luck to gift clocks, watches, umbrellas, and cutting implements. The number “4” (which sounds like the word for death) is also unlucky.
In Germany, wishing a person happy birthday before the day itself is regarded as bad luck. And in Russia and former countries of the Soviet Union, offering flowers with even numbers is a no-no: bouquets with even numbers are reserved for funerals.
Small slip ups might not cause any great offense, but they may lead to an uncomfortable situation. If you show an attempt to adapt your service to avoid certain taboos, you’ll gain respect from your guests from having taken the time to understand their culture.
4. In-room experience
To offer a truly personalized in-room experience, the small gestures can really help your international travelers feel settled in. Simple things include providing translated versions of in-room welcome packs and menus, and offering your guests a choice of their country’s national newspapers.
In-room entertainment is also a big deal. Be sure to provide a broad range of global channels so that your guests can watch familiar shows, movies, and news networks. You’ll also want to supply the right adapters so overseas devices can easily be charged. Not being able to charge smartphones and tablets will prove especially stressful to guests who are far from home and eager to contact friends and family.
Mini fridges should also be stocked with preferred drinks and beverages. For Muslim guests, you might want to remove the alcohol from their room as a sign of respect. When it comes to Chinese tourists, they’ll expect to have room temperature water, and might also want warm water so they can fill their own tea thermos or make instant noodles.
5. Tailor your dining options
Food is a huge pleasure for a lot of travelers, and sampling the local cuisine is often a major highlight. That said, a lot of overseas travelers will also be keen to enjoy familiar flavors from their own country.
Experimenting with new dishes is arguably less enticing first thing in the morning, so adapting your breakfast options to regional tastes should be a priority. Across Asia, breakfast often centers around noodles, rice, soups, vegetables, and curries. In Europe, pastries, bread, jam, cold cuts, cheeses, and cereals are popular breakfast staples.
In general terms, having a flexible menu with Kosher, Halal, vegan, and gluten-free options will help you cater to a wide range of tastes. Of course, you might want to offer popular country-specific dishes if you attract a lot of guests from a certain nation.
Some countries also have specific expectations of when and how food is served. In Asia, dishes are often shared ‘family-style’ over a single course, so you might want to adapt your service accordingly. In Europe, eating around 9-10pm is fairly normal, so an extended dining service might be appreciated.
6. Trips and experiences
Your guests may have researched your destination, but they still might need your help and recommendations. Start by asking if there are any specific sights, attractions, or events they’re interested in. Offering maps, helping with transport, and suggesting itineraries will also be greatly appreciated.
While many will want to see the big sights and attractions, it’d be a mistake to assume that is always the case. Young and independent global travelers increasingly want to seek out unique and local experiences, so don’t be afraid to recommend lesser-known attractions and events if they match your guest’s stated preferences.
Bear in mind that while there’s certainly merit in understanding the general travel experiences that people from different nations would enjoy, it’s probably worth avoiding assumptions and tailoring your suggestions to the individual.
7. Events and activities
From Diwali in India and Loy Krathong in Thailand, to St Patrick’s Day in Ireland and Day of the Dead in Mexico, observing national holidays, ceremonies, and festivals is a crucial part of making your overseas guests feel welcome.
In some cases, you might want to host a dedicated event that lets your guests celebrate their national occasions in style. When it comes to religious festivals, it’s worth finding out about any special traditions or dietary requirements that you might need to cater for. At the very least, hold off on hosting raucous parties that clash with important religious events to avoid seeming disrespectful.
8. Make payment easy
Prepare for the fact that international travelers might not always have your hotel’s preferred currency. If you can’t accept payment, it can put your guest in an awkward and embarrassing situation. So while it might require investment, it’s worth providing different payment options around your property.
Research the preferred payment options in different regions. Almost 75% of point-of-sale transactions in the European Union are made by cash. In China, mobile payment is huge. However, around the globe cashless payment alternatives such as WePay, Alipay, Apple Pay, and Samsung Pay are being adopted at speed. Hotels will therefore need to research which alternative payment methods are preferred by different countries
Catering to the international traveler
Adapting your hotel to the needs of your overseas guests can make a huge difference to their experiences with you. Along with learning a few basic language skills, it’s worth taking time to research other important details, such as unique differences in social etiquette, food preferences, entertainment, and payment methods.
The key to success involves training your staff so that everybody offers a consistent and welcoming experience. You might even want to work with specialized consultants to really learn the nuances of your overseas customers.