Hotels cater to foreign guests’ tastes
The Charles Hotel recently added a “China Ready” package for tourists coming on the new nonstop flight from Beijing that includes a foot massage and complimentary slippers.
The W Hotel in Boston now offers slippers, tea kettles, and loose tea. In-house menus are available in Cantonese and Mandarin and include congee, a traditional Chinese rice porridge, for breakfast.
And for tourists arriving on direct flights from Dubai or Istanbul, the Four Seasons in Boston offers copies of the Koran, prayer mats, and compasses to locate the direction of Mecca. With Ramadan underway, the hotel has plates of sweets, such as baklava pastry and dates, ready for when Muslim guests break their daily fast.
Boston is experiencing a boom in tourists from the far corners of the world, as new direct flights from Dubai, Istanbul, and Beijing join other nonstops from Panama City and Tokyo into Logan International Airport. And the city’s hotels are responding by immersing themselves in the cultures of their new guests, aiming to make them comfortable through attention to detail.
“You want to offer the comforts of back home,” said Gurki Singh, general manager of the W Hotel in Boston. “We may put honey in the room as opposed to sugar. We’ll have dry fruits and dates in the room. [We’re] very mindful of the small touches and acknowledging their culture.”
Massport, the authority that oversees Logan, landed the new direct flights to boost Boston’s international trade and tourism. Some 5.7 million international travelers passed through the airport in 2013.
With flights from 39 foreign cities coming into Logan — and more nonstops from overseas capitals expected soon — local hotels are giddy at the prospect of an extended burst of business from some of the best customers in tourism.
“The international traveler is a very big spender,” said Jon Bryan, a management professor at Bridgewater State University and former US Airways employee. “An international traveler tends to stay longer and spend more money than a domestic traveler.”
Singh said Boston hotels are “still at the very tip of this trend” in international travel.
“Long term, we’ll really gain as we become a top convention destination,” he said. “Boston is now a gateway city, so people don’t have to fly in to New York and stay there a few days. Now they’re coming right here, which is phenomenal.”
But each new flight from a distant part of the world brings with it challenges for hotels to quickly learn the habits, tastes, and sensitivities of a foreign culture. The Charles Hotel canvassed its employees of Asian descent and learned that slippers and foot massages are treasured among Chinese.
“They love to relax their feet in China,” Charles general manager Alex Attia said.
And at the Four Seasons, hotel staffers understand that some Chinese travelers might want to avoid certain floors, marketing director Michelle Ray said.
“There’s a superstition in China that certain floors are taboo to stay on,” Ray said. “Some travelers want to avoid floor four, so we’re aware of that.”
With Ramadan running through the end of July, the Four Seasons has adjusted its kitchen staffing to accommodate the rush at sundown, when Muslim travelers break their fasts, while being mindful that during the day, those guests will be trying to avoid food altogether.
“If we know a guest is fasting, we won’t put normal arrival amenities or food in their room,” Ray said.
Many hotels are adjusting their menus to offer familiar dishes. At the request of international guests, the Charles added more vegetarian options, such as tofu, to the menu at its restaurant, Henrietta’s Table, which traditionally serves New England comfort food such as chicken pot pie and clam chowder.
“Everybody likes comfort food,” said Michael Holtz, owner of the travel firm SmartFlyer. He said Boston hotels would do well to learn from their overseas counterparts how to cater to the whims of foreign travelers.
“If an American turns up at a Shanghai hotel at midnight and wants a burger, they can do it,” he said. “But here, if a Chinese person checks in at an American hotel at midnight and wants dim sum, many hotels don’t do it.”
Even before the direct flight to Beijing, China was one of the biggest and fastest-growing sources of tourism for Massachusetts, with nearly 150,000 Chinese travelers visiting the state in 2012. That year, they spent $4.65 million.
Hotel officials said most of their Chinese guests are here to tour colleges and universities, particularly Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Education is very important for them, and Harvard is as famous as Coca-Cola,” said Attia, the Charles Hotel manager.
In the year after the Tokyo direct flight was launched, the number of Japanese visitors to Massachusetts grew by 43 percent, said Betsy Wall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism.
“There’s no doubt these flights are very significant,” Wall said.
The Revere Hotel in Boston has seen significant international business increase in the last two years, marketing and sales director Jennifer Kavanagh said.
“Iceland is huge,” Kavanagh said, “and they love coming here to shop. Every November, they come here with empty suitcases and leave in January with full ones.”