China's Haiyatt Not the Hotel It Sounds like ; Similar-Sounding Brands Lure Travelers Who Either Don't Know, or Don't Care

By Weed, Julie | International New York Times, April 30, 2014 | Go to article overview

China's Haiyatt Not the Hotel It Sounds like ; Similar-Sounding Brands Lure Travelers Who Either Don't Know, or Don't Care


Weed, Julie, International New York Times


Like many Chinese businesses with names resembling well-known brands, hotels see the value in borrowing the prestige of Western names.

Is the Peninsula Hotel in Yangcheng part of the five-star Peninsula Hotels group known for its Rolls-Royces? Can you accrue Marriott rewards points at the Marvelot Hotel, which includes the Chinese characters for Marriott in its name? Is the Haiyatt hotel in China a Hyatt brand hotel? No, no and no.

Like many Chinese businesses with names and products closely resembling well-known international brands, hotels that look and sound somewhat familiar to international travelers are popping up in China.

As established chains expand deeper into China, they find that they are competing with reasonable facsimiles of themselves.

The Haiyatt Suzhou is in Suzhou, a large cultural and industrial city in Eastern China. The hotel offers deluxe rooms, suites, conference rooms, European cuisine and a "Haiyatt Grand Nightclub" - - just about everything a business traveler would expect in a Hyatt Hotel, in a city where travelers might expect to find a Hyatt. In fact, the Haiyatt Suzhou will be joined this spring by the Hyatt Regency Suzhou.

Western brands are often seen as higher in quality than their Chinese counterparts, said Kunal Sinha, chief knowledge officer for Ogilvy China, so giving a product, whether it is a shampoo or a hotel, a name similar to a Western brand is valuable.

"The hotel business is expanding rapidly in China," Mr. Sinha said. "Owners of new hotels will use Western-sounding names to connote better service and quality."

The name may even be mistaken for the original.

Last year, a travel agent told Mr. Sinha he was booked at the Shenyang Marriott for a business trip. When he arrived, Mr. Sinha was surprised to find he was not checking into a Marriott hotel, but at the Marvelot. "Local people assume it is a Western hotel because it is a big and impressive property," he said.

Brand names that sound and look similar to established successful brands are viewed more benignly in China. "Throughout Chinese history, skillful reproduction by artists, poets and crafts workers has been highly regarded," said Prof. William P. Alford, the director of the East Asian Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School.

The emphasis placed on originality is a Western ideal, he said.

This cultural influence, with weak Chinese laws and uneven enforcement regarding internationally famous trademarks, has fostered the proliferation of knockoff consumer goods, restaurant chains and hotels.

"Copying successful brands is a backdoor scheme to make money, and lots of unscrupulous people are doing what they know is wrong, but one of the reasons they can have some success doing it is that there is cultural ambivalence," Professor Alford said.

Foreign companies, and more recently some Chinese entities, too, have pressed for better enforcement, but it has been slow in coming, Professor Alford added.

Peninsula is a popular name for hotels in China, even when they are inland. These include the Yangcheng Peninsula Hotel, the Guobin Peninsula Hotel and the Peninsula Hotel Chengdu Zongfu, none of which are affiliated with the high-end global chain known for its liveried chauffeurs. The chain's only official hotels in China are in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Even in Shanghai, the Hengsheng Peninsula International Hotel, which is not part of the chain, is just a 10-minute walk from the Peninsula Shanghai.

Li Quan, a pharmaceutical sales representative traveling on business this week in Shanghai, said he knew the Hengsheng Peninsula International Hotel was not part of the international Peninsula chain, but believed it would be an "upscale hotel because of the obvious name resemblance. …

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