A hotel employee sanitizes a room in Hohhot, the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, on Jan 13. (PHOTO / CHINA NEWS SERVICE)
To avoid the spread of COVID-19 cases during Spring Festival－the most important holiday of the year－China is encouraging people to stay in the city or town where they work and refrain from traveling for traditional family reunions in their hometowns.
In response, many people are reconciling to the pandemic situation and settling for a stay at a nearby hotel, reframing it as the best possible getaway or "staycation"－a portmanteau of "stay" and "vacation"－under the circumstances.
This year is likely to institutionalize staycations as mainstream lifestyle options involving local bookings made by local residents in China, thanks to a unique combination of "freshness and uniqueness.
Jeff Yu, partner at consultancy Roland Berger
The latest data from Ctrip, China's largest online travel agency, showed that searches for "staying put during the holiday" on the platform jumped 260 percent in January year-on-year and those for "local travel" accounted for more than 40 percent of the total.
Tongcheng-Elong, another travel agency, found that online searches for nearby hotels and scenic spots via the site increased nearly 60 percent in late January from a year ago.
Hotels in first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have witnessed surging festival bookings in particular, according to the sites, and many of them have introduced new offerings and services for local customers during this special period.
For instance, global hospitality company Hilton has launched a torrent of Lunar New Year's Eve Dinner packages, take-away services, and festive-themed items, as it witnessed a surge in Spring Festival dining bookings at many of its hotels.
"Our focus will be on families and kids as they represent a key staycation demographic," said Joseph Khairallah, vice-president of Hilton China and Mongolia.
"We have also been promoting seasonal dishes from different hotels that would enable our guests to enjoy our award-winning cuisine without traveling far from home."
The company has managed to introduce famous intellectual properties including Marbury, Transformers and Real Estate Tycoons to Chinese consumers through a tie-up with the world's largest toymaker Hasbro. Services outside the guest room include intellectual property-themed afternoon tea, picnics, catering events and photo walls, Khairallah said.
Ctrip said that two-thirds of hotel reservations booked for this year's Spring Festival are targeting four－or five-star hotels, an indication that people are seeking luxurious hospitality experiences.
An aerial view of a Hilton hotel in Danzhou, Hainan province. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Upscale hotels are rolling out events to add flavor to the staycation wave. Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund introduced a bespoke romantic suite package for couples during the Valentine's Day, which falls within the Spring Festival period－Feb 11 to Feb 17－this year.
Hilton Shenzhen Futian and Conrad Shenyang have rolled out family room packages, some of which feature recreational classes on cooking, calligraphy and tea art.
This year is likely to institutionalize staycations as mainstream lifestyle options involving local bookings made by local residents in China, thanks to a unique combination of "freshness and uniqueness", said Jeff Yu, a partner at consultancy Roland Berger.
"Staycations used to be sought after only among a niche group of 'travelaholics' who seek the very experience of staying in a hotel with delicate features. Now that the pandemic is barring long-distance travel, more people will start to appreciate the immersive experience a fancy hotel offers, the quality catering and local services and the ease of transportation," he said.
Facing a sporadic resurgence of COVID-19 cases in certain areas of late, Hilton has also implemented a series of sanitary measures to address potential concerns of guests.
Under a new initiative dubbed CleanStay, the company introduced stringent disinfection policies in public and private spaces, offered contactless room service and re-arranged table settings in the restaurants to maintain social distancing.
And to tailor its services to the longer-term remote e-meeting trend brought about by the pandemic lockdowns, Hilton is on course to introduce its new EventReady Hybrid Solutions in China. That will mark its bid to meet guests' requirements from IT readiness to multi-venue offerings when they host small online and offline events.
Confident about growth momentum in China, Khairallah said Hilton is set to open its 400th hotel in the country this year, marching steadily toward its target of 1,000 hotels by 2025.
"In typically higher-tier cities, upscaling and characteristic hotels are becoming new magnets for those with strong spending power and seeking authentic experience," said Yu. "With deliberative product design, 'staycations', as an under-tapped sector, is likely to enjoy very robust growth from 2021 on."
HONG KONG NEWS