Chinese hotels are a long way behind their western counterparts in developing themed hotels to differentiate themselves in a highly competitive market, according to two industry experts.

In a recently published article, postdoctoral Fellow Philipp Wassler and associate professor Kam Hung of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University said locally-owned hotels on the Chinese mainland are “significantly weaker” than their international competitors.

The researchers situate their study in the context of a rapidly growing tourism market in China that has prompted a more than $44bn increase in investment over the past five years. This has resulted in increased competition among hotels, exacerbated by the government’s recent loosening of control over foreign chains.

A particular problem, according to the researchers, is that many domestic hotels lack sophisticated marketing practices, undifferentiated products and poor brand development.

Wassler and Kam were interested in investigating whether Chinese hoteliers might be able to gain a competitive edge by introducing niche marketing in the form of hotel theming.

“Themed hotels are widely used as marketing tools in the west,” they stated, “most notably in locations such as Disney theme parks and casino resorts such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

“In a themed hotel, the design, décor and facilities, staff, service and activities, are all based on a unique and strong theme that provides a memorable experience. Themes may be based around a country or location, or more specific themes such as sports, nature, cartoons and celebrities.”

Although China does have some themed hotels, they are far less common than in the west, the researchers stated. After interviewing numerous hoteliers, the researchers said local culturally-themed hotel could attract many potential guests.

“By adopting a local theme, hotels could help to preserve the local cultural heritage and act as cultural ambassadors,” they noted. “A local theme would also be more environmentally friendly, with the use of local materials, which tourists regard as having greater authenticity.”