Room for optimism
Qingdao's hotel and hospitality industry has experienced a boom. Cosmopolitan and picturesquely placed by the sea, the city is home to one of northeast Asia's leading logistics hubs, while its port also lays claim to being the seventh largest in the world.
The city came under the international spotlight during the 2008 Olympic Games when its green seas and moderate climate made it a hit location for water sports. Qingdao is now home to several international sailing races and windsurfing competitions.
Hoteliers are also reassured by government programmes to ensure the development of the city. For example, the 'blue economy' initiative is a long-term project that, among others, aims to use Qingdao's strategic significance as a regional marine centre to create an ocean-related economy by 2015. 'This will no doubt have a positive influence on the region's economy and the type of traveller that comes to Qingdao's hotels,' says Veronica Rong of Crowne Plaza.
The hotels also strive to offer customers a different experience by using Qingdao's unique environment. 'Being fully integrated into the city, we offer a full range of experiences, both from a leisure point of view and a business standpoint,' says Alexander Wassermann, general manager at InterContinental Qingdao. The hotel offers tourists and business travellers activities such as lunches in vineyards in the outskirts of the city, sailing lessons and water events in addition to the usual host of business activities.
Oversupply, which is arguably a common problem in other second-tier cities throughout the nation, does not seem to be a problem at the high end of the market in Qingdao. 'There's a relative lack of oversupply for high-quality hotels in Qingdao,' says Wasserman. 'We're growing with business demand.'
The city's long colonial history and distinctive international characteristics still hold true today, and its expatriate population is surprisingly large for a second-tier city. Many overseas visitors to northeast China often include a trip to Qingdao as a highlight. Visitors from the United States and Southeast Asia represent most of the foreign market, according to Le Meridien's Jessica Guo.
But Qingdao's hotel sector has been able to straddle the divide between the city's bourgeoning wealth and developing sectors. Corporate social responsibility is an area in which its hotels are taking the lead. 'In one of our latest initiatives, we've linked up with Qingdao Blind Association,' says Wasserman. 'We bring blind people to the hotel to enjoy movies with sighted people who are blindfolded.'