With a million millionaires now in China, the pursuit of sophisticated luxury travel is more fervid than ever before. Hurun credits this to the strength and appreciation the Renminbi has developed – which makes international travel less expensive – as well as to the rise of private wealth and the relaxation of China’s visa application process.
In Hurun’s list of preferred international luxury destinations among China’s richest citizens, France edges out the United States by 0.3%. However, interest in French vacations is up to 13% in 2011 from 11.1% in 2010, while the United States has seen a decline in Chinese luxury visitors, from 15.9% in 2010 to 12.7% in 2011.
Now that France is one of the brighter blips on China’s travel radar, it seems as though the French are upping the ante to make their country especially hospitable to Chinese guests: they are embracing Chinese cuisine, an area once scorned by France’s renowned restaurateurs and food critics.
Following the growing interest wealthy Chinese have in rare wines and precious art, luxury hotels are offering – and Chinese tourists are clamoring – for peerless, authentic Chinese cuisine. Shang Palace restaurant, one of three restaurants at the new ultra-luxury Shangri-La Hotel, opened September 8 to fill this need.
The restaurant boasts authentic Chinese cuisine inspired by South East China’s culinary traditions and three private dining rooms named for the Tang, Ming, and Quing dynasties.
Head chef Frank Xu insists, “There is no adaptation to European tastes. Our aim is to be absolutely authentic.” Xu achieves this with the help of the four sous-chefs he brought to Shang Palace Paris from China: a chopper, a dimsum maker, a barbecue expert, and a wok chef. The menu at Shang Palace offers over 60 traditional dishes, including crispy suckling pig and lion’s head soup.
Opening a high-class Cantonese restaurant in Paris was certainly a gamble, and Shang Palace has plenty of stereotypes and challenges to overcome. Only one Chinese restaurant in Paris, Michelin Guide firmament, ever rose to greatness. It earned one star in 1999 and lost it in 2007. Rectifying Chinese and western table manners also presented logistical roadblocks in setting up the dining room.
But times have changed, and Western hotels cannot afford to ignore the wants and needs of Chinese travelers. Both Hilton and Starwood hotels have tried to add a few flourishes to their hospitality regime aimed at appeasing Chinese guests. They have stocked a favorite of rich and poor alike –instant noodles, as well as Chinese teas and tea kettles in minibars. Chinese TV channels and slippers are now a staple of rooms, and congee and dim sum now make the breakfast menu.
Essentially, the key to success for hotels is to make Chinese luxury travelers feel at home when they are abroad.
Gary Rosen, who recently resigned as senior VP and head of global operations for InterContinental Hotels, said, “The most important thing the hotels need to be thinking about is understanding and tapping into the cultural differences, and ensuring they understand what’s important to Chinese travelers.”