I’m no longer in China, at the moment, but because I like to chat with entrepreneurs wherever I meet them, here is a “Sanyapreneur” interview I conducted while I was in Hainan!–Walt
I happened to be in the city of Sanya, Hainan, People’s Republic of China shortly before, and then after Chinese new year.
I chanced upon UFO hotel while searching all morning (without success) for another hotel in the vicinity. Intrigued by the name in big blue letters above the door, I walked in, discovered the young lady at the front desk spoke English and asked for her help. She was so gracious and helpful–helping me locate the hotel, making calls for me, suggesting other options, given my desire to find a kitchen, and never once suggesting her own hotel as a place to stay–that as I passed back on my way to the bus stop, I decide to thank her again. We talked for a while, one thing led to another, and I ended up staying at the UFO hotel. UFO hotel has four floors, 15 rooms and is located in the heart of Dadonghai.
After staying for a few days, and getting to see the operation, I took the opportunity to speak with Wang Jia Ni (“Niko”), the young proprietress of UFO born and raised in Hainan, who with her boyfriend Li Bing and sole employee, Xiao Mei, run the UFO hotel.
Niko and Bi-Ling
Walt:When did you open your business?
Niko: 2010 Winter
Walt:Wow! So, it hasn’t even been four months! Congratulations
Walt:Many people, especially at such a young age, are thinking about finding a job and working for someone else. How did you come to think so differently than most people?
Niko: Well, it was just to try another life! Before, I also worked for somebody and did not like it. We think about the fact that now when we are young, we can do something different. If we fail, we have more time to recover and try again.
Walt: This your first business?
Walt:Did anyone in your family have their own business?
Niko: Yes, my father had his own business. He was successful initially, but he was a very kindhearted person. And people took advantage of him.
Walt: What about your boyfriend, Li Bing, did his parents?
Niko: Yes, his parents had a business for many years. hotel busines and restaurant in Heilong Jiang a city in north China…. north of Beijing.
Walt: So, why the hotel business?
Niko: To try another life! I used to work at a hotel here in Sanya. First in reception and later I went into the sales department.
Walt:Why did you name the hotel “UFO?”
Niko: Li Bing thought of the name. UFO hotel. It’s an easy name that everyone can remember. English people know it, and even Chinese who may not speak English know enough simple English to remember. It’s also unique and can be easily remembered.
Walt:What is the most difficult thing about running a hotel?
Niko: When we started the hotel, because we are so young, we did not have the money to rent, to paint, to buy all the things we needed for the hotel.
Walt: Did you borrow from the bank?
Niko: No, we both had our savings, but it was not enough. So we borrowed from friends and family.
Walt:Why did you choose to open your hotel in Sanya?
Niko: In Sanya the air is cleaner. it is the best city Hainan. Second, we both worked here before. I worked for 3 years. My boyfriend worked here for 5 years. So we have knowledge of many things about the city that are important to know.
Walt: This is a question I ask all current and aspiring entrepreneurs. WHY SHOULD I CHOOSE UFO? There are so many other hotels and accommodations everywhere. In fact, right across the walkway, there is an 18-story building, and each floor is a different “hotel” rented by someone and offering accommodations to visitors. What makes you different?
Niko: There are a few reasons. First, we have a lobby!
Niko: Yes, that is very important, especially in this area. A lobby can allow a friend to find you quickly. You can meet, talk, plan your day with your friends and family. Having a lobby means it is safer than other hotels in this area. In the buildings where every floor is a hotel, anybody can walk in from the streets, and go to any floor. It is not safe. Here at UFO, because we have a lobby, and there is always someone at the front desk, we only allow guests into the hotel. If you stay here, your room and your things are much safer.
Niko: Second, we offer many conveniences the one-floor hotels do not. We have hair dryer, refrigerator, washing machine, bicycle, surfboards, all free. we offer many things to the guests to make their lives convenient. At other hotels, you would have to buy some things for only a short time, and then leave them behind. Our conveniences are free to use.
Niko: Third is, on the fourth floor, we have a terrace. You can go to relax or even have a small party with your friends. At the one-floor hotels, there are only rooms.
Niko: We are here many years. There are things that we know about Sanya. For example, the other one-floor hotels charge different prices in morning, and lower prices at night. As the evening gets later, these hotels begin to worry, because the room will be wasted and lost, so they will rent a room for as low as 60RMB just to make the income. So many bad people wait until late, and rent a room and then they make a copy of the room key. Then they have the room key, and if you stay in that hotel the next day, someone may have the key to your room!
Walt:Was this building a hotel before? Why did the previous owners leave?
Niko: I think the owners before were not so young. They did not have good ideas. The rooms were not clean, the color was bad. They did not think about the little things that are important. There were no conveniences.
Walt:What intrigued me about your hotel, is that you speak English very well, and Li Bing speaks Russian. I think that makes your hotel very unique.
Niko: Thank you, but my English is no good. I learned English very early, but not well. I took my first class in the third grade. We practice to read and write, but we didn’t get to speak and listen, because we didn’t have other people who speak English. So we know English just for tests. However, in sales and reception at the other hotel, I got to practice.
Walt:And Li Bing?
Niko: He learned Russian before high school–from elementary school to 12th grade. He went to college, and his major is International Economics & Trade.
Walt:Your English is perfect! Do the owners of the other hotels speak English or Russian?
Niko: Not many other hotels here do. They may have friends who can translate for them, but many cannot.
Walt: And the previous owners?
Niko: …spoke only Chinese.
Walt:How long has the hotel been open?
Niko: Four months. First month, we cleaned the rooms, painted the walls, 2nd month, we open to the public.
Walt:Do you remember your first customer?
Niko: Yes, they were from Henan Province. There were two families in three rooms who stayed six days.
Walt:Getting your first customers so quickly after opening must have been great, but I imagine everything might not have been completely ready!
Niko: Yes! It was very funny! They arrived early in the morning. When we went to pick them up, their room wasn’t ready. It was cleaned the day before, but there was now dust from all the painting and sanding we were doing in the hallway.
And the hot water heater for the shower! That wasn’t ready either. We bought it that same morning, and had to install it that afternoon! But, fortunately, the guests were very understanding.
Walt: Speaking of hot water, I notice you have individual wall water heaters for each room. Did you do that to save money? Is that cheaper?
Niko: No, it is actually more expensive! The electricity is high! But the water is always guaranteed to be hot and there will be enough water for many customers.
Niko and two recent guests, Peggy and Fanny!
Also, usually check-in time in Sanya is 3pm and check-out is 12 noon. But, we want to be considerate and different from other hotels. If the room is not ready, then maybe you will have to wait, but if it is ready, you can move in any time.
Walt:I noticed the other morning, when I got up to go running, that the door was locked. It was strange since many hotels keep their doors open 24 hours.
Niko: Yes, but we are a small hotel. Li Bing and I live here.
Walt:And how many employees do you have?
Niko: Only one!
Walt: So, finally what’s the most important thing people should know about UFO in Sanya.
Niko: We can offer a safe, clean and convenient situation for them.
There are two types of visitors who come to Sanya:
1) First type, they do everything by themselves.
2) Other type, they go to the travel company, and the company will arrange everything. We suggest that people come to Sanya by themselves. This way they can be happier than with a group. Maybe you want to sleep late, or wake up early and do different things. We can offer much information to Sanya to you because we know this area. How to get directions, how much to pay, how to enjoy the best of Sanya!