Chinese Tourists in Hawai‘i
Dragon 'Em Around: We hopped on the bus with China’s pioneers of leisure travel to see Hawaii through their bleary eyes.
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Nobody, however, has rolled out the red carpet quite like Starwood Hotels & Resorts, whose Hawaii hotels include The Royal Hawaiian, the Moana Surfrider and the Sheraton Waikiki. Mandarin speakers greet Chinese visitors at the front desk when they check in and check out, and are on hand around the clock to troubleshoot. There are amenities in the rooms to which the Chinese are accustomed, such as tea pots, green tea, slippers and fresh toothbrushes. There’s Chinese programming on the TVs and Mandarin translations of most hotel literature, including menus, which feature dumplings and congee (rice porridge) for breakfast. There’s a general awareness of Chinese cultural indiosyncracies, such as the association of the number four with death. A Canadian traveler probably wouldn’t think twice about Room 444, but a Chinese traveler might sleep better elsewhere.
Using the curriculum Starwood developed, more than 2,000 hospitality workers throughout the visitor industry have gone through crash courses in Chinese cultural fundamentals at Kapiolani Community College, learning that “nihao” means hello and that one should not be taken aback if the Chinese, not the world’s greatest huggers, seem a little stiff during the Hawaiian lei greeting.
While Hawaii is figuring out how to make the Chinese feel at home, the Chinese are figuring out how to travel abroad gracefully.
There are some high cross-cultural hurdles to clear. Take tipping, for instance, which isn’t something they are accustomed to doing, or haggling, which isn’t something they are accustomed to suppressing. “Bargaining and haggling are the Chinese tradition,” says Ted Sturdivant, president of the Hawaii Chinese Tour Association and publisher of a guidebook to Hawaii for the Chinese. “In fact, it’s fun for them.” Tour companies don’t typically warn Chinese visitors that U.S. retail prices aren’t negotiable, according to one visitor-industry insider, because they don’t want to deflate their morale.
Then there’s the delicate matter of bad manners. Complaints about the bad behavior of early waves of Chinese leisure travelers abroad so alarmed the state-run China Daily that it declared the culprits had “damaged the image of China as a civilized country.” The China National Tourism Administration, along with the Office of Spiritual Civilization Development Steering Commission, followed up with a list of dos and don’ts for international travelers, including: don’t spit, don’t litter, don’t talk loudly, don’t cut in line and do observe the “ladies first” rule.
Lu’s group wasn’t ill-behaved, so perhaps the outbound Chinese are absorbing the government’s etiquette tips. Or maybe everybody was just too tired to get into any trouble. In any case, after 12 minutes at Kamehameha’s statue, the group got back on the motor coach and headed for The Waikiki Sand Villa, an aging budget hotel located across the street from the Ala Wai Canal. It is not a Starwood property. There are no Mandarin speakers at the front desk, and breakfast consists of toast, juice and coffee. But the signs warning pedestrians to stay off the automobile ramp have been translated into Mandarin.