China's hotel service needs a smile

Staff at a hotel in China check a customer's billing.

TEXT OF STORY

Renita Jablonski: Hilton announced yesterday it'll build 300 hotels in Asia over the next decade, mostly in Indian and China. Right now, there are 100 star-rated hotels under construction in Beijing. That'll bring the city's total to 800 by the time the torch arrives. But there's one problem: finding enough qualified employees to staff these fancy hotels before the games begin. Lisa Chow reports from Beijing.


Lisa Chow: If you're Chinese and staying at a hotel, you probably don't expect much. That's because China still breaks some important rules when it comes to customer service.

First, most people in the service industry don't really smile. And they usually don't see it as their job to solve customers' problems.

Franco Io is general manager of the brand new JW Marriott in Beijing. He has this message for employees: Good manners are a good substitute for inexperience.

Franco Io: Policy, procedure, all the technical skills, they will come over time. We go in, first day, hi welcome, Ms. Chow. Welcome to the JW Marriott. And I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm smiling.

At an orientation, Io asks more than 60 new hotel staff to practice smiling at each other. They compiled -- awkwardly.

Dai Bin is an expert in tourism. He says Chinese people aren't used to showing affection.

Dai Bin (voice of interpreter): When I was growing up, my parents, especially my dad, never hugged me. He never laughed with me. But I knew he loved me. I think this is a cultural difference between Chinese and Westerners.

He also points out that in China, there's no real financial incentive to be nice.
People in the service industry don't get tipped, and they average less than $2,600 a year.

But Franco Io says if you work hard, you can move up.

Io: So I went from a door man, got promoted and become a bell man. From there, I became a night auditor, a front desk clerk . . .

Long story short, several promotions and 15 years later, Io became general manager.
But his biggest challenge lies ahead: getting his staff of 1,000 young and inexperienced hotel employees ready for the Olympics.

In Beijing, I'm Lisa Chow for Marketplace.

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