Sound-Alike Hotels in China Borrow Western Brands’ Prestige
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.
吴江海悦花园大酒店位于中国东部的文化与工业大都市苏州。酒店提供豪华客房、套房、会议室、欧洲美食和“金殿夜总会”——几乎囊括了商务旅行者对凯悦酒店的所有期待。在这座城市，游客或许也会期待找到一家凯悦。实际上，吴江海悦花园大酒店今年春天就将面临苏州凯悦酒店(Hyatt Regency Suzhou)的竞争。
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.
奥美中国(Ogilvy China)的首席知识长辛默(Kunal Sinha)称，人们常常认为西方品牌的产品质量高于中国品牌，所以，给产品取个与西方品牌相似的名字，无论是洗发水还是酒店，都是有好处的。
“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 Shengyan 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 Professor 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.
在中国，对于听起来和看起来与知名成功品牌类似的名称，人们的态度较为宽容。哈佛大学法学院(Harvard Law School)东亚法律研究项目主任安守廉(William P. Alford)教授说，“纵观中国历史，艺术家、诗人和手工艺者的技艺高超的模仿之作一直能获得极高的评价。”他还表示，强调原创是西方的理念。
“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,” said Professor Alford.
Foreign companies, and more recently some Chinese entities, too, have pressed for better enforcement, but it has been slow in coming, Professor Alford said.
Peninsula is a popular name for hotels in China, even when they are inland. These include the Yangcheng Peninsula Hotel, Guobin Peninsula Hotel and 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.”
He was disappointed to find “so-so facilities and worse-than-average service,” and said that some domestic hotels tried “to boost their value and brand awareness by sharing names with other reputable hotel chains so they can achieve a make-believe attachment to those hotels.”
None of the similarly named Peninsula hotels in China are five-star hotels, so experienced travelers who see photos of the property, compare nightly rates, look at online reviews or stay there once would most likely know the difference. Similarly, the Savoy Hotel in Lanzhou, a business hotel with 788 rooms, bears little resemblance to the iconic Savoy Hotel in London built in the 1800s.
The established brands are keenly aware of the others.
“We do take steps to protect our brand, " said Sian Griffiths, director of communications for the Hong Kong Peninsula Hotel. “However, we also feel that our target customers are sufficiently discerning not to confuse the Peninsula-branded hotels with the copycats.”
Farley Kern, vice president for corporate communications for Hyatt, said the company took “this matter very seriously,” and was working within China’s legal channels to address hotel operators that use names that might cause confusion. Still, foreign companies can be reluctant to push too hard because they do not want to antagonize the government and lose access to the Chinese market.
In the case of the Marvelot, the hotel used to operate under a Marriott franchise agreement, and chose to keep the Chinese characters for “Marriott” when the relationship ended in 2006. Marriott pursued legal action to protect its name and had some success. The hotel is not permitted to use Marriott as a stand-alone word in Chinese, but may use it as part of a name, said Thomas Marder, vice president for global corporate relations at Marriott International. Marriott has 66 hotels in China and plans more.
Haiyatt versus Hyatt may confuse Westerners more than Chinese speakers. “English speakers may confuse Haiyatt and Hyatt because they sound alike, but the hotel names look and sound different when they are spelled in Chinese characters,” said Wenjun Chen, a real estate broker who lives in Seattle and travels to China.
Some guests, though, are confused by the sound-alike names, judging from comments on the travel website TripAdvisor. A few Chinese and English reviews have compared a hotel’s standards to those of a brand of which it is not part. A recent guest posted on TripAdvisor about being surprised to discover upon checking in that a hotel was not a Marriott and being upgraded to the executive floor as compensation.
Ayumu Watanabe, a Japanese business traveler staying at the Shanghai Haiyatt Hotel this week, said he was not bothered that it was not affiliated with the Hyatt brand, but that the name was “really misleading and confusing.”
As China develops more of its own valuable intellectual property, including its own hotel and other consumer brands, and looks toward establishing them worldwide, its government will have more of an incentive to provide fuller legal protection for trademarks, Professor Alford said. “That may be the time we see the copycats start to go away,” he said.