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Hoteliers eye Asia
Rosewood Hotel Group
IF Sonia Cheng has her way, it won't be long before a Rosewood Hotel becomes a household name in Asian hospitality just like the Shangri-La or Peninsula. For sure, she's in a good position to make it happen as the chief executive officer of the Hong Kong-based Rosewood Hotel group, which her family bought and renamed from the Texas-based Rosewood Hotels & Resorts for US$229.5 million.
While already well known in North America and the Middle East, the 33-year old - whose family already controls New World Hospitality - wants the ultra-luxury Rosewood to make inroads in the booming Asian region, starting with Rosewood Beijing.
The 283-room property located opposite the iconic CCTV Tower boasts some of the largest guest rooms in Beijing with lush bedlinens, marble-tiled bathrooms, fine furnishings with subtle colour palettes, and carefully selected art pieces and books on Chinese art, architecture and customs reflecting the location.
Ms Cheng already has the successful Rosewood London under her belt. She was heavily involved in the hotel, which was named Hotel of the Year 2014 at Virtuoso's Best of the Best Awards.
Big expansion plans are afoot for the region. In 2016, Rosewood hotels will open in Phnom Penh and Phuket. The following year, there will be Rosewood hotels in Guangzhou, Sanya, Bangkok and Bali. And in 2018, Jakarta will have a Rosewood hotel.
"I want to raise the hotel industry to the next level with the Rosewood brand," says Ms Cheng, who recalls spending a lot of staycations at her family's hotels even as a child. She has also set her sights on a Rosewood hotel in Singapore. "The country is a strategic market for us, and so it is a top priority for the brand."
Apart from Rosewood, Ms Cheng also handles two other hotel brands - New World and Pentahotels. New World are deluxe properties favoured by business travellers, located located in cities such as Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.
Pentahotels is a design-driven, neighbourhood lifestyle brand providing independent travellers with comfort and style. The hallmark of the hotels is the Pentalounge - a combined lobby, reception, bar and cafe.
Despite Rosewood being Ms Cheng's priority for Singapore, she does not rule out also setting up a Pentahotel here. "Singaporeans would be able to appreciate and resonate with the design-driven hotel," she says.
Before joining the family business six years ago, Ms Cheng worked with a major international investment bank and a global American private equity firm, specialising in real estate investments. While there was no set timeline for her to join the family company, she says, it had always been at the back of her mind to do so.
"I love being in hotels, because it is so dynamic, and there is something new every day. And where else can you work on interior design, finance, branding, and create F&B concepts under one roof? It is very holistic," she says. With no prior education in hospitality, she had to take a three-month crash course on hotel operations.
Her youth, she says, works to her advantage. "I have a team of strong hoteliers who have many years of experience, and I think we make a great team together."
She adds: "I am the type of customer that the group is targeting - which helps with the company's future."
Rosewood Hotel Group manages 49 hotels globally across the three brands, with 28 new hotels announced, and targets 90 hotels in operation or in the pipeline in the next five years. Some of the foreign hospitality markets that she wants to penetrate include Japan, the Maldives, Turkey and Italy. "There are definitely many more locations to be at."
Presence in gateway cities
YOU know you're a new-generation traveller if you've spent a night at a citizenM hotel in Amsterdam or London. Your old-school counterparts would probably be bewildered by the absence of a conventional lobby, which has been replaced by a living room filled with art and designer furniture from Vitra; and multiple zones to relax, meet and work in.
Dinner would be at its canteenM, a 24/7 cocktail bar and restaurant. Check-in is through touch-screen terminals, assisted by the hotel's "ambassadors". And the rooms are a combination of modern design, user-friendly technology and functional space.
The brand was launched in 2008, by Rattan Chadha, founder and former CEO of the fashion brand Mexx, and recently opened in New York and Paris. Come late 2016, Singaporeans will no longer have to travel halfway across the world to earn hip hotel cred, as the brand will be opening its first hotel in Asia in Taipei.
The 260-room citizenM hotel will be located in Ximending, easily accessible by public transport and close to the city's popular pedestrian mall. "We are developing citizenM hotels in gateway cities in Asia and within these cities on specific locations where we can target the customers we have designed the product for," says Robbert van der Mass, president of Artyzen Hospitality Group Management, which together with citizenM hotels has set up Artyzen citizenM Asia, to manage the development of the brand in Asia. "You will find us in key commercial or entertainment hubs in capital cities, at airports but you will not find a citizenM in suburban settings, resorts, smaller cities and towns."
Some cities that Artyzen is looking to open in Asia include Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau, Jakarta and Bangkok. Mr van der Mass doesn't rule out Singapore either. "citizenM is perfect for Singapore," he says, adding that the city-state is one of his priorities. "Commitment to efficiency, productivity and technology have been driving factors for the Singapore economy and the hospitality industry since the 1980s when I lived and worked in Singapore," he elaborates. "Our target markets and industry segments are widely represented here and there is an appreciation for the arts and the quality products we stand for."
The hospitality industry veteran has acquired a particular expertise in "opening" hotels, with his launches of the Grand Hyatt Bali, Hyatt Regency Osaka and two Four Seasons Hotels in the Maldives. When conceptualising citizenM, the company established a clear vision of who they are designing for and who they are not. "Efficiency, reservation speed, a great bed, shower, in-room entertainment and connectivity are essentials," says Mr van der Mass. "Our target customer needs a place to collaborate and meet, communicate and network - and that is where we develop our unique living room, instead of a lobby and Society M, instead of a traditional conference room concept, so that our hotels become a place to conduct business, socialise, network and relax."
In place of traditional service staff, the hotel's ambassadors play multiple roles, from concierge to barista and bartender. "Our ambassadors capture the hearts and minds of our guests rather than perform operational tasks through traditional 'counter staff', such as bellhop, front desk and concierge. This is the true essence of our service model," says Mr van der Mass.
He is confident that citizenM will do well in Asia, just as it has in Europe. "Travel is all about choice. Decisions about where to stay are based on a number of factors, including whether staff members are tuned into their guests, the community and whether the staff can connect the guest to the local culture and places of interest," he says. "All other factors being equal, a choice to stay in citizenM will be a choice of lifestyle and value."
Premier British hospitality
SAY you're visiting a new country - how do you pick which hotel to stay in? If it's comfort and good value you seek, rather than luxe surroundings, Britain's largest hotel brand, Premier Inn, wants you to pick them. The UK-based company, Whitbread PLC, which owns and operates the British brand, prides itself on having numerous hotels in a selected number of countries. For the record, it has over 650 hotels in the UK, and eight hotels across the United Arab Emirates and India.
It has now set its sights on South-east Asia, namely Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand. It hopes to have nearly 2,000 rooms in 12 hotels in these three countries by 2017. "Our edge is that we have a vast number of hotels in a location, which helps create brand recognition," says Erik van Keulen, senior vice-president of development for the Asia-Pacific and South Asia. "We go for brand density."
Mr van Keulen adds that brand recognition, "makes it easy for travellers to pick a hotel". Premier Inn hotels cater mostly to domestic and inter-regional travellers. Depending on the size of the country, Premier Inns will appear across the various cities. For example, there are plans to have 10 hotels in Indonesia, including three in Bali, namely Jimbaran, Denpasar and Benoa.
Singapore will have one Premier Inn hotel, a 300-room development on Beach Road, that will open in the second quarter of 2016. Bangkok will also have one Premier Inn hotel in 2016, with 224 rooms. But while the brand goes for quantity, it does not stint on quality. Premier Inn Beach Road will have amenities that cater to both business and leisure travellers including a swimming pool, state-of-the-art gym and meeting facilities. Whitbread has set up a mock-up of its hotel room at its office in Telok Ayer.
Mr van Keulen says that this is fairly typical of a Premier Inn Room. Each room can fit a maximum of four guests with no extra charge, regardless of the number of occupants. Besides a queen-sized bed, there is a roll-away bed, and a sofa bed. The bathroom is spacious and comes with a rain shower too. Premier Inn uses only Hypnos mattresses, the same brand that supplies to the royal family in the UK. "What we offer are not glorified dormitories but proper hotel rooms," says Mr van Keulen.
- Prices for the rooms are expected to be from S$160 to S$200
Variety of choices
ANOTHER two brands that are also expanding their wings into Asia are Element and Avani Hotel & Resorts. Element, a brand under Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, was launched in 2008 and is the first major hotel brand to mandate that all its properties pursue the US Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for high-performance buildings with energy-efficient appliances.
There are 12 Element hotels in the United States. In September, Element opened its first hotel outside of the US, at Frankfurt Airport. Element will open in Asia, with a new hotel at the Suzhou Science and Technology Town next May.
Like other Element hotels, the design for this first hotel in Asia will have naturally lit interiors, and green amenities such as saline swimming pools, bicycles for loan, and electric vehicle charging stations. Its second hotel in Asia will be Element Chongli in Zhangjiakou, Hebei, which will open in 2017.
Meanwhile, three-year-old brand Avani is fast expanding in Asia. It just opened its fifth property, the Avani Sepang Gold Coast Resort, which is surrounded by the sheltered waters of the Malacca Strait, and is designed in the shape of a palm tree.
The overwater palm features 392 contemporary Polynesian-inspired guest rooms and one, two and three-bedroom villas, all with a sea view. Its facilities include five restaurants and two bars, an Avani Spa and an extensive selection of activities, such as go-karting and cart sailing.
The resort is located in the country's West Coast in the state of Selangor, close to Sepang International Circuit - home to the Malaysian Formula 1 Grand Prix, and 45 minutes' drive from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.