Each morning, Linda Yu leaves her home and drives to her Pasadena, Calif., office in a two-door gray Mitsubishi. The half-hour drive has her answering cell phone calls from tour guides who are guiding her clients, and giving tour advice to travel agents. A call from a Chinese colleague has her switching from English to Chinese as easily as she changes lanes on Interstate 210.
Her Spartan office is well-equipped with electronic necessities and colorful Chinese maps and calendars splash colors on beige walls. Faxes overflow onto the floor. She picks them up, connects her laptop to a DSL line and powers up a larger, desktop computer.
The day’s list of contacts is long, with many American travel agents and suppliers in China to call. The screen flickers before flooding with a barrage of Chinese characters in a column of messages. She types equally fast in both languages. Her parent office in Shanghai works 24 hours a day, and soon, questions from her colleagues and managers flood her instant message screen. Once she gets on the phone, she goes nonstop until 1 p.m., takes a break for lunch, and then does it all over again. At 5 p.m., when most people start thinking about heading home, her real workday begins as it’s 9 a.m. in China. She is arranging tours and trips, and negotiating prices for inbound and outbound tours.
As the manager for Jin Jiang Tours and China Century Tours in the U.S., she is on the forefront of a new wave of travel for your China-bound clients built on a foundation of individual tours and guaranteed satisfaction.
If you aren’t familiar with the name Jin Jiang, you should be.
Savvy professionals know that Jin Jiang can be a key to profitability and customer satisfaction in China tourism. Examining Jin Jiang’s individual subsidiaries reveals why it is such a dominant player.
Jin Jiang is a nationally famous trademark that is 40th among the top 500 brands in China and ranked fourth in Shanghai.
Jin Jiang Tours is one of 23 subsidiaries and companies that comprise Jin Jiang International Holdings Company. According to the Shanghai Daily, Shanghai Jin Jiang International Group is China’s leading tourism and transport conglomerate and is listed in Forbes as among the world’s top 500 companies. It specializes in hotels, transport, travel, realty, trade and finance, with total assets over $2 billion.
Jin Jiang Transport division has over 7,000 standard and luxury cars and coaches of various types, with the largest fleet of vehicles in Shanghai. Jin Jiang Hotels is the largest Asian-owned hotel company in China, and is ranked 22nd among the top 300 major hotel companies in the world. Jin Jiang owns, manages or franchises more than 230 hotels and inns, with more than 46,000 rooms in China.
The company is capitalizing on China’s red-hot economic growth. Its three- to five-year strategic plan calls for it to become China’s premier hotel manager and operator, and tour and transport provider.
Linda Yu of China Century Tours, a Jin Jiang
off-shoot, on the Great Wall of China.
Over the period of a year, I spent six weeks interviewing and reviewing the company’s hotels and tours, visiting with its guides and travel offices in Shanghai and across China.
Upon my arrival in Shanghai, Jin Jiang’s advertising and trademark was prominent throughout the city. According to Zhong Ming Chen, American-European inbound tours manager, there are nearly 50 Jin Jiang travel stores in Shanghai.
The company also has more than 200 hotels and inns operating or under development in 59 cities.
In Shanghai, I stayed at the Jin Jiang Hotel, a centrally located five-star business hotel with services and amenities such as a pool, meeting rooms, restaurants and health club.
Its nearby sister hotel, Jin Jiang Tower, is another equally impressive five-star, featuring the revolving Blue Heaven restaurant. The hotel has housed over 100 heads of state and distinguished guests. Hotels for budget-minded guests in other cities I visited ranged from two- to five-star properties.
On the tour operator side, the heart of a Jin Jiang tour is personalization and flexibility. With many group tours, your clients show up at a hotel lobby as an unknown, and along with 20 other people, meet a guide, see the sights and return to the hotel with perhaps a new tour and guide the next day.
“Our American and European clients who visit China usually opt for a personalized or FIT program,” Yu said. “A group of two or three people, such as a family, a group of businessmen or a local club can tour the attractions in the comfort of a Jin Jiang town car or limo, arrive and depart at their leisure, stop where they want and for as long as they want and have the same guide for their entire tour.”
I observed it firsthand. While other group tours were whisked away after a half-day Guilin tour, I toured the city, took photos and shopped at my own pace. The driver waited patiently. I made a last-minute request to enjoy a bamboo raft tour
of a local river tributary. The tour guide called, made the arrangements, and in 15 minutes, I was being poled downstream, taking in the sunshine and Guilin scenery. No haggling over schedules, payment up front or waiting for others to arrive.
This priority service works because Jin Jiang International’s extensive ownership of hotels, bus and tour fleets and an extensive web of travel/tour agencies gives its customers a priority.
“If there is a shortage of buses or spaces on a tour,” Yu said, “Jin Jiang businesses and tours receive priority over others.”
But the reason is also financial.
Wan Jun Ge, general manager,
Shanghai Jin Jiang Tours; Xu Ming,
general manager, Jin Jiang Hotel;
and Linda Yu, American manager,
Jin Jiang Tours/China Century Tours.
“Because of our infrastructure, Jin Jiang can offer tours and service at an affordable price that other companies without the infrastructure can’t match,” she said.
Historically, guaranteed customer satisfaction has been a tough promise to keep for many American-based tour companies or foreign tour consolidators subcontracting out to Chinese tour companies.
“Many wholesale and retail tour companies offer fine print in their contracts that ... can jeopardize their clients’ tours,” Yu said.
Research proves her point. One major tour operator has posted on its Web site: “When the total number of tour members should fall below 10 persons, [company name] reserves the right to cancel the tour prior to departure.”
I found several tours and operators with cancellation policies such as this.
“They are basically telling you, the travel agent, that they are not responsible, which is shirking their responsibility,” Yu said. “Your customer’s long-awaited anticipation to see a particular attraction is suddenly not possible, not because tours aren’t going there. They are. It’s because the subcontracted, local tour agency won’t make enough money by sending eight out of 20 people. American agents trying to reschedule or communicate with local operators with the major time change is often a lesson in futility, especially when time is of the essence.”
When it happens, it hurts. While on a Li River cruise, I met a woman from Great Britain who had her multi-day tour canceled while in China because not enough people showed up. Frustrated, a Jin Jiang tour affiliate saved the day by squeezing her and her three guests on our tour.
“Many tour companies organize groups that exceed 20 people,” Yu said. “This allows them to make more money, but some customers don’t like it. “In our large group tours, if a group size can’t be met, our customers know they won’t be canceled,” she said. “We also are concerned with comfort. If the group size exceeds 20, we will split them into groups of 10. If two of them are the only ones on a tour, we’ll go with just the two.”
Back at the Office
Shanghai is the headquarters for the
company’s tourism empire.
In a bustling section of downtown Shanghai, I walked into the Jin Jiang Tours office where Wan Jun Ge, general manager, met me and showed me around this three-story beehive of travel.
Ge said Jin Jiang Tours has over 21 years experience in inbound and outbound travel. Such longevity, he said, depends on a quality staff.
“Jin Jiang recruits the best translators and guides from China’s leading schools. Investing in our valued employees has paid big dividends,” he said.
During the slow season, the company has its guides go through special training in people skills, speech and guide-client dynamics, in addition to annual government requirements for tour guide license and proficiency. Jin Jiang International has partnered with Switzerland’s famous Les Roches International Hotel Management School, which is one of the largest providers of hospitality education in Switzerland. The local Jin Jiang International Hotel Management College serves as a central location to train its China-based staff.
Jin Jiang International employs over 32,000 people, and as a U.S. manager, Yu knows how to tap into the power of the 241 employees in the travel departments. She drops in on several offices during her visits to Shanghai, and checks with her supervisors for updates on tours so she can continue spearheading these tours to U.S. travel agents.
“I work with these people every day from my U.S. office, so when we see each other face-to-face here in Shanghai, it’s like a big homecoming,” Yu said. She is respected by the younger employees for having worked up through the ranks and capturing a position spearheading the company’s tours in America, which is a big honor.
Many of her workers see her as the human interface that connects American and Chinese tourists with the Jin Jiang tour empire. But she modestly defers the praise, and credits her fellow workers and the people who run Jin Jiang.
“Our people here at Jin Jiang Tours pride themselves on knowing more about China attractions, tours, tourism, connections and logistics than anyone inside or outside of China,” she said.
Ge includes Yu in that group, highlighting her education and expertise. At 52, Yu has extensive experience in China working as a tour guide, and as a manager in structuring new China tours for Americans, both under Jin Jiang and China Century Tours.
“Oftentimes I need to invest a few hours working on site with a new tour supplier to work out the kinks to ensure customer satisfaction,” she said. “It only happens if you have a good working relationship with tour providers, can speak Chinese and know the options available.”
Yu said she sometimes answers calls at 2 a.m. from China. She makes herself available 24 hours a day when she has American tour groups in China that she has personally arranged and booked.
A problem rarely happens, she said, but if it does, it’s knowing what to say to a tour guide or limo driver on the street that often makes all the difference in making the customer happy.
“Ours is a 100 percent guarantee,” Yu said. “Agents unfamiliar with China tourism often choose less-than-desirable tours, and when something goes wrong, they blame the operator in China. They tell their customer the cancellation is not their fault, as they are not in control. Yet they represent the tour. Because Jin Jiang owns most of our tour infrastructure, we don’t have these problems. If an attraction closes, and it is beyond our control, we immediately reimburse funds, or arrange for other tours on the spot, not several days later.
“The local government requires that we put up a bond on all our tours,” she said. “If we don’t make it right or ensure customer satisfaction, they can withdraw money from that bond and refund the cost of the tour to the client. We make sure this doesn’t happen.”
Jin Jiang specializes in
small group tours.
With more American investors and name brands now in China, American tour and hospitality corporations are fast becoming an integral part of Chinese commerce.
Yu said many of the advertised, low-cost group tours, however, have serious flaws and aren’t for everyone.
“This type of large tour is adequate for people on either a budget or a hurried schedule, and Jin Jiang offers these tours also,” she said. “But we’re finding many Americans have been the group-tour route, and have returned to China wanting a more detailed, in-depth tour taken at their own pace to see the things that interest them. Jin Jiang offers tours where guides allow the client to decide how long to remain.”
Yu said arranging individual tours that highlight destinations as well as the specialized interests of the single traveler are important for Americans visiting China. “When customers see what they are getting for $30 to $60 more, and they know the limitations that go with a group tour, they upgrade without hesitation, no questions asked,” she said.
“China is our home, we’re proud to share it with you” is one of the Jin Jiang service marks. The company’s entrenched infrastructure, custom individual tour options and a mix of West-meets-East hospitality is continuing to take it to new heights in China tourism.
Guided night shopping and walking
tours are often not listed, but can make
for a trip highlight.
While visiting the various Jin Jiang offices in China, I observed ample evidence of a growing popularity of optional side tours and extended day tours. I also experienced this on my own tours where nighttime guided shopping and walking tours were highlights of the trip for me. These optional add-ons allowed me to see areas I might not have enjoyed if I was touring with a large group and its generally more rigid itineraries.
There are an infinite number of such niche offerings available from Jin Jiang. “We even have medical tours, where health-care professionals can visit the hospitals and medical universities in China and exchange views,” Ge said. “American doctors can do surgery for Chinese people, and give some lectures to Chinese doctors.”
He said culinary and hiking tours are popular with American tourists now and predicts the Beijing Olympics and Shanghai’s World Expo in 2010 will invigorate China’s tourism industry unlike any other time in history.
CONTACT JIN JIANG
Tours: Jin Jiang Tours is one of the biggest companies in China. Jin Jiang Transport has over 7,000 cars and coaches of all types.
In the U.S.: China Century Tours
Hotels: More than 230 hotels and inns, and over 46,000 rooms in China