Hotel Chain Launches Chinese Web Site

HONG KONG (08/09/2000) - Bass Hotels & Resorts Inc. will be the first among international hotel groups to offer a Chinese-language Web site, according to company officials.

Bass entered the China market in 1984 and currently operates the largest international hotel chain on the mainland, with 24 hotels and a further nine under construction. Bass has launched more than 50 other hotel- and conference-related Web sites worldwide.

After Bass worked on the Chinese Web site for six months, was launched last week.

Stephen Young, chief operating officer for Greater China, claimed the company is the first international hotel company to embark on a multilingual Web site initiative.

"(The) Chinese Web site is very important to us because (the number of) Internet users in China is increasing very fast, and the China market is very big," Young said.

"(The Chinese Web site) will help maintain our leadership position in China, and improve our competitiveness, not only vs. (other) international hotel players, but also (versus) local hotel players," he added.

Richard Hartman, managing director of Asia-Pacific, added that the new Web site also reinforces the company's overall e-commerce strategy -- to build leadership in new channels of distribution in the digital world, as well as to leverage brand strength and consumer relationships.

"The introduction of the Bass Chinese Web site is an aggressive and positive initiative to provide speed and efficiency to Chinese-speaking consumers who are more comfortable accessing hotel and reservations information in a language they're familiar with," he continued.

The Chinese Web site covers only hotels in China for the time being, and is in simplified Chinese, using the GB character set to serve the needs of the China market, according company officials. The character code is embedded into the Web pages so that the Chinese character set is automatically triggered when it is loaded onto a compatible browser.

When asked why the site is primarily text-based, and not like other sites which have more pictures of the hotels, Gail Tay, regional director of marketing for Greater China, explained that is a design feature for easy navigation.

"As the speed of Internet connection in China is still rather slow, it would take too much time to download the pictures, and keep our customers waiting," she said.

Features of the Web site include information about the company's brands and its loyalty and recognition programs.

"There will also be a news section containing information on the latest developments in China and a promotions section featuring accommodation and food and beverage programs across (the 24 hotels) operating in (mainland) China," said Hartman. "Timely updates are made to the Web site within the promotions Web pages."

Online reservations can be made via the corporate homepage, which is in English only for the time being, company officials said.

"Our main reservation database, which links the whole world -- over 2,000 (Bass) hotels -- is in English. We need to find a way to separate those Chinese hotels in order for that language to be made available," Tay explained. "Most of the bookings are still coming directly through to the hotel. ... We're not seeing that the moment we turn on the Web site, thousands of bookings each day will flow in and change consumer habits."

When asked whether the company is concerned with security and privacy of personal data submitted by their customers when booking online, Tay explained that they only need general information about the customer, such as the name of the person, the dates they want to stay, and whether they belong to the company's Priority Club.

"We do require contact details, but (we don't need) particular personal information such as passport numbers or credit card numbers," she said.

The company believes that the Internet is evolving quickly, and that they have to communicate in the most direct and succinct way with their customers as possible.

"(In order to) make it highly relevant to the market, ... we have to localize the content by translating the data, text, sounds and images," said Peter Gamble, managing director of Open World Asia, who works closely with Bass on developing Web sites.

"...The language (of a good localized Web site) should flow naturally and the layout should also be in accordance to the local language," he said.

According to Young, the percentage of domestic occupancy in hotels varies with the location of the hotel. "For example, in the city of Hefei, we would have a domestic content of up to 90 percent. Whereas in Shanghai, and again depending on the hotel within Shanghai, it could be anywhere from 20 percent (or) below," he said.

Although the Asian financial crisis has slowed down the growth in the foreign-segment arrivals into China, even to negative growth, Young is very optimistic about the hotel industry in China.

"The growth of the domestic segment is very fast. This year, we've seen certain improvements already. ... If you look at the key cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, on the foreign visitor arrival figures, they've shown double-digit percentage growth over the same period last year," Young said.

"...With the entry of China hopefully into (the World Trade Organization) next year, this foreign visitor arrival figures should be even better. This will help the hotel situation in China."

The company has invested US$23 million in the last three years on research and development, and improvement of all 50 Web sites globally. Young said that Bass will continue to improve on the Chinese Web site to provide more information as well as a Chinese online reservation system.

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