Mr. Hu found us when we arrived at the train station around a 40 minute taxi ride from Tangkou. Mr. Hu is famous after his appearance in Lonely Planet’s guide to China. He’s earned it. Kindly and trustworthy, at least according to page after page of testimony he’s received in dozens of languages from travelers around the world. He handed us the book to read through during our ride to his hotel.
Travelers wrote about him as an island of honesty, an all purpose travel guide who appears out of nowhere to rescue weary travelers. That’s not exactly how it was for us, but, close enough. We were tired after the train ride, and we weren’t mobbed by people offering us transport alternatives. They were busy thronging around all the Chinese tourists, but we had a few choices. Eventually, his offer of transport and arrangements seemed the best so we followed him to his taxi and hotel.
We had planned on taking the train from Huang Shan area to Guilin after we hiked the mountain, but we promptly discovered that there weren’t any compartments left on the train! Suddenly, we’ve got no idea how to get from here to our next stop, even with a couple of days of advanced planning. Mr. Hu came to the rescue (we’ll see how that works out later…) by pointing out that we can take a sleeper bus from Tangkou to Wuhan, a giant city west of where we were, and from there, we’ll surely be able to make a connection to Guilin. Mr. Hu wound up finding the bus and arranging tickets for us. He helped us to book a hotel up on Huang Shan, yellow mountain, where we were headed and we had an early lunch prepared by his wife.
40 RMB: Taxi drive from the train station to Tangkou
12 RMB: Breakfast from Mrs. Hu
235 RMB: Bus ticket to Wuham
330 RMB: Four star hotel up on the mountain. They only have four star hotels up there.
2 RMB: Bottled water for the ensuing hike
Mr. Hu is one of two economics questions in this and the next China Travelogue post. Many travelers he meets are on a budget. They don’t always stay in his hotel and it’s clearly quite a bit more effort to work with these Chinese illiterates. Worse, according to Mr. Hu, himself, maybe 1% or fewer of the people coming to this popular tourist attraction are Westerners. He circles the train station hunting Westerners (they’re easy to spot) and generously gives them a good deal on the ride to his hotel and restaurant. He walks them to the bus stop or makes hotel arrangements for them on his own time (although, you can bet he does get a commission on those hotels at least.) All of this without any obligation at all. What’s his deal?
Mr. Hu has found a market niche. It may not be the most profitable niche, but in a town with a lot of competition for tourist yuan, it’s not such a bad plan. We didn’t end up staying in his hotel, but we did have lunch there and on our way back down from the mountain two days later, we stopped there again. We even took the time to write in his book. In a country where catering to Westerners is far from the norm, Mr. Hu has a well defended market niche with barriers to market for his competitors (language skills) and free advertising (effective testimonials from his customers and Lonely Planet). Quite the business man, this Mr. Hu.