In 1978, when China opened its doors to the rest of the world, a hospitality industry (as people in the West know it) did not exist.
At that time, internal travel within China was primarily limited to government business, the building industry was archaic and the Chinese design industry was unsophisticated.
Twenty years later, at the turn of the century, a rapidly modernizing China was benchmarked by a plethora of massive, large-scale developments. China was a country that was becoming architecturally defined by highrise buildings that attempted to imitate Western buildings but often were being built just for the sake of being iconic. These modern developments turned away from Chinese cultural tradition and architectural heritage.
Then, in the first decade of the 21st century, an aesthetic and cultural consciousness emerged. The architectural world was mesmerized as China unveiled the purposeful, iconic, internationally designed Bird’s Nest and Aquatic Stadiums at the 2008 Olympics. This decade also reawakened a respect for traditional Chinese architecture as exemplified by Xintiandi, Shanghai’s renowned urban renewal project designed by international architects.
Today, China continues with government-moderated modernization initiatives, which will result in tremendous development opportunities for the hospitality industry. This increased hospitality demand will be a result of:
- The extensive infrastructure of highways, railways and airports, which allow for ease of travel;
- An emerging middle class, increasing to almost 700 million people who will be seeking new experiences with their disposable income;
- The enhanced quality of life focus of China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, resulting in more leisure time to experience the beauties of China, including the 43 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage sites; and
- The predictions that China will be the world’s top travel destination by 2015.
China’s hospitality industry is rapidly maturing. Consumers are demanding destinations, not merely hotels. The distinction between urban and resort hotels is blurring as urban resorts are emerging. The strength of the Chinese culture combined with the sheer number of travellers is creating an opportunity to create and re-create brands specifically for the Chinese traveller, in both the domestic and international arenas. Travel decisions are strongly influenced by social media, brand affiliation and environmental care.
Due to the sheer number of rooms required to fulfill demand, China has a rare opportunity or, perhaps, responsibility to inspire a revolutionary advancement in the global hospitality industry, taking a leadership position in providing new experiences for travellers throughout the world.
Julia Monk is a managing partner of BBG-BBGM, an internationally renowned architecture and interior design firm. Julia was part of the development team that built one of the first international hotels in China – The Great Wall Sheraton Hotel Beijing.