Final Project Presentation: Economic Relativity

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Holiday Inn Northeast Entrance

The Holiday Inn located in 北京 Haidian District is a large, luxurious hotel that caters to clients with both business and leisure agendas. After several complete evolutions of my research topic, this was my final field site– the location from which I would gather the majority of my fieldwork regarding the tourism and hospitality industry. American-Chinese economic relativity had always been my focus, yet I had various subjects on which I wanted to focus. My interests included banking, food, communications, automobile, agriculture, and of course, tourism industries. I chose tourism not because it was the most interesting, but because it was the most accessible, and I felt, with the information I would be capable of gathering, that I could make the most accurate and conclusive parallel.

I focused my research upon two main points: The first was regarding relativity, but in a concrete form. To successfully do this, I compared the Haidian Holiday Inn with the one located in Manhattan West Side, New York City. This was due to the fact that the populations these two hotels both cater to are very similar, both nearing around 20 million people.[i],[ii] The second was the abstract dynamic. Which hotel seemed to be more successful? Was this success by way of clientele numbers or positive clientele reviews? Did the reviews vary dependent about the guest’s ethnicity? What about the staff? There were many things I needed to consider, and the more I delved into the topic, the more subjects it seemed I needed to address.

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Sketched map of the 清华大学东北门, 五道口, 旅馆 三角形.

Regarding the concrete factors, I examined many aspects of the hotel. To begin with, where was it located? Why? Along with this came degree of accessibility, size, staff presence at the door and front desk, lobby comfort, general amenities, etcetera. Though I have never stayed at the specific Holiday Inn in New York City I was using as a comparison, it was useful to compare available amenities and services with that of Haidian’s Holiday Inn. In addition to location and reputation, the amenities hotel has to offer certainly plays a role into where a guest will choose to stay.

Yet, this comparison is only a half of the foundation of my research. Regarding the abstract dynamic, it became much more complex. As Robert MacCoun describes in his article The Relativity of Judgment as a Challenge for Law and Economics, there are two contending structures for analyzing economic relativity—“the rational economic framework with clear predictions but shaky foundations, and a psychological framework with a strong empirical foundations but uncertain a priori implications for a given situation.”(p.16).[iii] He claims that even the most superior scientists and scholars have to work to balance the two—to figure how to gracefully collide the two frameworks. The reasons for either economic success or failure, one must successfully conduct research via pathways of both the concrete and abstract.

China’s economy is renowned for the giant leaps it has taken recently. Not only has its GDP ballooned, but its infrastructure has also notably improved. Things such as the massive influx of high-speed railways have remarkably modernized the country within the last decade. According to The Economist, China has not only exceeded most of the predictions that were placed on the country’s economy, but (even despite the very recent slowdown) it also will easily overtake the American economy within the next couple years.[iv]

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Chen, Li & Fang, Fiona. “Economy Hotel Development Trends in Mainland China.” Hospitalitynet. 2008 Jan 18. 2013 Jul 31.

Why is this relevant to my research? “Economic Relativity” is a vague term, and my project focuses on a very miniscule part of it. I selected an American business had locations in two densely populated cities—New York City and Beijing. One, obviously in one of the United State’s most popular locations, would cater to an American populous (though I do acknowledge New York as being very diverse), would be ran, staffed, and managed in an American-business fashion. This hotel served as my “independent variable.” The Holiday Inn in Haidian District of Beijing, was the main focus of my research. This hotel was my dependent variable. How differently does an American company located in China function?

To answer this, I first examined my concrete factors: I studied the hotel inside and out, I went online for my initial research and then checked for the legitimacy of the hotel’s claims—did they really have all the amenities they claimed to? Did the reviews on the website seem to mirror those that I gathered myself while I was actually there? Was this hotel really a ” bilingual ” establishment? I even snuck down into the staff basement to see what was behind the scenes and acted under the pretense that I was lost after sternly being caught and questioned by two staff members. Regarding my research’s abstract dynamic, I gathered observations on the guests, the staff, as well as the interaction between the two. I would respond to the valets, doormen, and front desk workers in both Mandarin and English, alternating the use of each language between visits and surveying their reactions. I recorded the number of guests and staff that appeared to be Chinese versus foreign. I spoke with both guests and staff in both Mandarin and English, to both Chinese and Foreigner people.

In my research, I also had to keep in mind that many things can play into a guest being dissatisfied with his or her stay at a hotel. This said, that dissatisfaction can be from a superficial, fleeting moment, or it could stem from a much more deeply rooted problem. Take, for example, unstable managerial infrastructure. Say, for example, a guest is dissatisfied with the front desk’s assistance. What if the person who manages the front desk staff is doing a poor job? Consequently, those employees are unhappy working for him or her, and therefore indifferent about the Holiday Inn’s success and reputation. This dissatisfaction trickles down the guest themself, who by negative word of mouth or review writing, directly and indirectly hinders the Holiday Inn’s business. By analyzing my research, I tried to target the more deeply rooted differences rather than those of a more superficial context.

To do this, I had to speak with both the guests and the staff. I wanted to get different perspectives, and I thought there were two ways of going about that. My first strategy was to ask guests that shared few qualities—a girl my age prospectively visiting Tsinghua, an older American woman, an older Chinese man on business, the staff member that was moving chairs, the staff member answering the phone, the manager that was only “available over the phone.” My second strategy was to actually ask different questions, in a different manner. For example, some of the people I spoke with knew I was a student at Tsinghua conducting research, and that the questions I was asking were about my project. Yet, some of the people with whom I spoke thought I was just a stranger asking if the hotel had wifi or if they happened to know where the pool was. Obviously, this was not to obtain an actual literal answer, but to get a feel of the clientele or staff’s (for lack of a better word) “attitude,” without coloring their answer with a formal approach of being a researching student.

I regarded the Haidian Holiday Inn as my “dependent variable” because the Holiday Inn (Express) of West Manhattan was to serve as my “standard American hotel.” This was not by way of typical amenities or clientele, because this hotel is 4-star, on average more luxurious than that of the standard American hotel. It also caters to a more diverse and dense population than an average hotel would. It does however, serve as the standard American hotel in my individual research as it caters to a similar environment (bordering 20 million people), is also located in a popular destination, and is on par with the extravagance of the Haidian District Holiday Inn.

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The average size of Chinese 4-star hotel bedrooms has recently exceeded that of American standards.

This said, there were notable differences my research that I needed to take into account. Despite my efforts to minimize the variables between the two hotels, some contrasts still surfaced. For example, the Manhattan Holiday Inn in was almost impossibly booked—the first available reservation was in October. The Haidian Holiday Inn was much more flexible. In addition, the subsets of guests the hotels cater to are not exactly the same. While the Manhattan Holiday Inn does have clientele traveling on business, it is located near one of the most popular destinations in America, so much of the guests are on instead on a leisurely agenda. The impression I got from the Haidian Holiday Inn was much more business oriented. Regardless of these differences, the Manhattan Holiday Inn served as a good base comparison against its’ Chinese counterpart because many factors, such as degree of hotel lavishness or number of rooms, matched up.

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The Haidian Holiday Inn has a variety of lobbies, such as the one above.

The chief executive of Best Western, David Kong, claims Chinese hotels (through a global lens) are above par. As of late, their standards have actually exceeded that of American hotels. He claims this isn’t just valid for Best Westerns, but seems to be the case across the board. He claims that the Best Westerns in China have their standards dictated by local representatives; this way the hotel can best cater to its region. He says “local habits go some way to determining the requirements.”[v]After my own research, I couldn’t agree with this more; it’s difficult to create an equal playing ground. This is because because preferences and expectations can of course be starkly different as one crosses international borders, but they can differ within a nationality as well.

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Segment from the email I received from one of my interviewees, highlighting some of the negativities she expressed about the Haidian Holiday Inn.

One of my more interesting interviews came from an American, and it contrasted Mr. Kong’s claim of American-Chinese hotels being above par. My interviewee claimed that she was dissatisfied, though she admitted a lot of the dissatisfaction came from simple cultural and preferential differences (such as harder beds or un-iced drinks), but she said she had additional complaints regarding how the hotel handled certain things. For example, she said she gave the front desk simple instructions—to give an envelope to another guest when that guest checked in. Though she thought these instructions were straightforward, the front desk claimed they couldn’t do that, that they needed the other guest’s phone number, estimated arrival time, etc. She was a little frustrated with what she saw as unnecessary complication and inefficiency.

I feel an important part of meaningful research is acknowledging the faults or weaknesses of one’s work. After seven weeks of work and many more weeks of pre-departure consideration, I have pinpointed several ways I could have improved my research. Firstly, I wish I could have had more firm connections before arriving in China. Though this was perhaps unavoidable as my research, and even my field site, were still being molded a couple weeks after I arrived in Beijing. This said, I feel the time it took to get in touch with some of those individuals that I needed to speak with, namely managers, took an unnecessary amount of time. If the time I had here had not been severely limited, this would not have been a problem. But as it is, with seven weeks and a slow launch to my research, I had to analyze feedback from mostly staff members who worked the floor instead of those higher up the managerial ladder. The second thing that would have improved my research was to find a Chinese individual that had stayed in both an American hotel (of the given standard and Haidian Holiday Inn. Though I was able to get this perspective from a foreigner, I was too time-strapped to find a Chinese individual that could give me this feedback. I feel having that perspective from both a native Chinese person as well as a foreigner would have made the contrasts and comparisons that much stronger.

After spending the summer conducting research on the Holiday Inn in the Haidian District, my conclusions are similar to Mr. Kong’s—that the Chinese have indeed gone beyond the status quo and that the Haidian Holiday Inn is superior. The atmosphere of the hotel is an appealing combination of both comfort and expertise. The staff is distinguished, but in the most welcoming and helpful way. The rooms, lobbies, and even “staff-designated” basement are beautiful and clean.  Though this is the case for many American hotels as well, I have yet to be in an American hotel where the aura of the hotel so well accomplished being both professional and receiving.

 

Bibliography:


[i] “State & County Quickfacts.” United States Census Bureau. 2013. Jun 27 2013. Jul 29 2013.

http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36000.html

 

[ii] “Population of Beijing 2013.” World Population Review. Jul 29 2013.

http://worldpopulationreview.com/population-of-beijing/

 

[iii] MacCoun, J. Robert. 2006 August 7. The Relativity of Judgment as a Challenge for Behavioral Law and Economics. Retrieved from University Law Review Database. 2013 July 30.

 

[iv] “Rancho Eclipse.” The Economist. Jun 6 2013. Jul 30 2013. http://www.economist.com/node/21578919

 

[v] “Best Western; Chinese Differences.” The Economist. 20 June 2011. 27 July 2013. http://www.economist.com/blogs/gulliver/2011/06/best-western