For U.S. hotels hoping to attract big-spending Chinese travelers, it may start with learning to say "Nin Hao" but it's also about knowing the lucky numbers, unlucky colors, and which carafes to order for the coffeemakers.
"We replaced the carafes so these guests could make tea each morning," Kathleen Duffy, Marriott International's Market Director of Public Relations/NYC, told CNBC. "And we brought in Terri Morrison, author of 'Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands,' to give a course for managers to learn all the cultural things we need to be aware of."
From the days when its only Chinese visitors were high government officials, the Marquis had already assigned names (Royal, Pinnacle, etc.) to presidential suites on the 44th and 45th floors, because the number 4 is considered unlucky in Chinese culture.
But now that many more Chinese citizens are heading to the United States on business and leisure trips, Marriott International hotels, as well as Starwood, Hilton and many other lodging brands, are working harder to boost brand recognition and make the hotel visit a more important part of the Chinese tourist's visit.
The target market is big – and getting bigger.
In 2013, an estimated 1.8 million Chinese tourists visited the United States. For 2014, the U.S. Department of Commerce's Office of Travel and Tourism Industries expects that number to rise by 21 percent, to more than 2.1 million, with increases of about 20 percent per year through 2018.
Los Angeles and New York City received the most Chinese tourists in 2012, according to the Department of Commerce. And in the New York region alone, Marriott has seen a 17 percent growth in 2013 over 2012 for the Chinese market, according to Robert Ambrozy, Marriott International Sales Director for the New York City region.
On an internal website for its associates, Marriott International provides tips and guidelines for properties to use to "customize, personalize and cater to the Chinese traveler."
The suggestions are separated into categories that include pre-arrival, food and beverage, guest amenities, concierge, and things to avoid, such as writing a guest's name in red ink – which signifies death in Chinese culture.