Ho­tel col­lec­tions

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - HOTEL COLLECTIONS - slh.com, pre­ferred­ho­tels.com, star­wood­ho­tels.com/lux­ury, au­to­graph-ho­tels.mar­riott.com, star­wood­ho­tels.com/trib­uteport­fo­lio, de­sign­ho­tels.com

and the per­sonal touch rather than pro­vid­ing a sim­ple lodg­ing solution. These in­de­pen­dent ho­tels de­liver the au­then­tic­ity of a des­ti­na­tion – fea­tur­ing the unique char­ac­ter­is­tics of spe­cific cul­tures within their own brand of hos­pi­tal­ity that al­lows dis­cern­ing trav­ellers to ‘live like the lo­cals’, so they get a true sense of their des­ti­na­tion, even if they never get the chance to ex­plore out­side, which can be the case on many busi­ness trips.”

Filip Boyen, CEO of Small Lux­ury Ho­tels of the World (SLH), agrees. What’s im­por­tant is “the char­ac­ter of the ho­tel and the way in which it con­nects with the lo­cal com­mu­nity and des­ti­na­tion,” he says.“That’s what the mod­ern trav­eller is look­ing for – a more per­son­alised ex­pe­ri­ence.”

This de­mand is es­pe­cially com­mon among mil­len­nial trav­ellers – a group on ev­ery­one’s radar. Ac­cord­ing to re­cent fig­ures from the United Na­tions, 200 mil­lion mil­len­nial trav­ellers gen­er­ated some US$180 bil­lion in an­nual tourism rev­enue in 2016, an in­crease of nearly 30 per cent since 2007. Lim says younger trav­ellers have a clear de­sire “to in­vest more in life­style and re­lated ex­pe­ri­ences, in con­trast to per­haps a more con­ser­va­tive out­look by some of the pre­ced­ing gen­er­a­tions”.

But it’s not just the younger gen­er­a­tion hunt­ing for ex­pe­ri­en­tial stays; grow­ing de­mand for this trend can also be at­trib­uted to other groups, with Lim high­light­ing the ris­ing num­bers of out­bound main­land Chinese trav­ellers as an­other ex­am­ple.

In a Busi­ness Trav­eller Asia-Pa­cific on­line poll, 57 per cent of read­ers said they would con­sider stay­ing at an in­de­pen­dent ho­tel for busi­ness and leisure (24 per cent would do so only for leisure, and 20 per cent wouldn’t con­sider stay­ing at an in­de­pen­dent ho­tel at all). CHAIN RE­AC­TION So strong is this new trend that even tra­di­tional hos­pi­tal­ity be­he­moths like Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional are get­ting in on the act.“We see a lot more busi­ness trav­ellers who, when they come, are do­ing so for busi­ness and leisure,” says Carol Chung, vice pres­i­dent of global sales for Greater China at Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional.

De­spite own­ing close to 30 brands, Mar­riott also op­er­ates three sep­a­rate col­lec­tions of in­de­pen­dent ho­tels: The Lux­ury Col­lec­tion, Au­to­graph Col­lec­tion and Trib­ute Port­fo­lio.

Chung says: “This is a space that is grow­ing, where busi­ness trav­ellers com­bine a leisure trip af­ter their busi­ness. If they plan a trip like this, these in­de­pen­dent ho­tels are where they can ac­tu­ally do their busi­ness and then have a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing their leisure time.”

In June Mar­riott pre­dicted its in­de­pen­dent port­fo­lio would grow by 20 per cent in 2017 and by nearly 50 per cent in 2019 – the group’s Au­to­graph Col­lec­tion made its de­but in China ear­lier this year with the open­ing in March of The Shan­haitian Re­sort Sanya on Hainan Is­land.

In the same month an­other chain-brand hos­pi­tal­ity gi­ant, Wyn­d­ham Ho­tel Group, un­veiled The Trade­mark Ho­tel Col­lec­tion, its 19th brand. The new la­bel launched with a pipe­line of “more than 50 ho­tels and in­ter­ested own­ers of both ex­ist­ing ho­tels and new con­struc­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties in top ur­ban mar­kets around the world”. QUAL­ITY CON­TROL One of the ad­van­tages that large chains have tra­di­tion­ally en­joyed is the up­per hand on main­tain­ing con­sis­tent stan­dards of qual­ity – a must for most busi­ness trav­ellers. How­ever, to­day’s in­de­pen­dent col­lec­tions have in­tro­duced strict cri­te­ria for prospec­tive mem­bers and strin­gent mon­i­tor­ing pro­cesses to close this gap.

“It’ “It’s a th thor­ough h and dl length­yth process, usu­ally tak­ing about six months,” says SLH’s Boyen.“On a yearly ba­sis we get be­tween 900 and 950 ap­pli­ca­tions, and only about 4 to 5 per cent of those are ac­cepted. We do ba­sic on­line re­search through web­sites like Tripad­vi­sor to see what the cus­tomers think, and if we like what we see then one of our de­vel­op­ment team goes out to do a full in­spec­tion of the ho­tel, which is a phys­i­cal in­spec­tion but also as­sesses the ser­vice lev­els, hard­ware and soft­ware, and so on.”

This strict stan­dard can ac­tu­ally re­sult in a col­lec­tion get­ting smaller, not larger, even when the sec­tor over­all is far­ing well.“We cur­rently have 517 prop­er­ties, which is less than last year,” says Boyen.“If a ho­tel fails an incog­nito in­spec­tion, we give them de­tailed feed­back of where they are fall­ing short, and they have three months to come back up to speed or we ter­mi­nate our re­la­tion­ship.”

Greater vis­i­bil­ity and mar­ket­ing of in­de­pen­dent prop­er­ties has also helped con­sumers to feel safer with their choices, as it’s be­come eas­ier to know what to ex­pect from an in­de­pen­dent ho­tel be­fore book­ing. “Pre­ferred Ho­tels & Re­sorts aligns its ho­tels based on ex­pe­ri­ence, al­low­ing trav­ellers to eas­ily se­lect the ho­tel that will meet their per­sonal idea of lux­ury for each trip,” says Lim.

“As the def­i­ni­tions of hos­pi­tal­ity evolved dra­mat­i­cally, the com­pany made a par­a­digm shift in March 2015 by re­brand­ing, with the goal of ap­peal­ing di­rectly to the con­sumer and mak­ing the ho­tel search an ef­fort­less, in­tu­itive process.”This has in­volved cat­e­goris­ing all its 650 prop­er­ties into one of five dif­fer­ent col­lec­tions (Leg­end, LVX, Life­style, Con­nect and Pre­ferred Res­i­dences), based on lo­ca­tion and de­sign, food and bev­er­age, dé­cor and recog­ni­tion from lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional travel or­gan­i­sa­tions.

The group’s Leg­end Col­lec­tion, for in­stance, is re­served for its most lux­u­ri­ous prop­er­ties and cur­rently only 10 per cent of Pre­ferred’s port­fo­lio have qual­i­fied. The Life­style Col­lec­tion, mean­while, is fo­cused more on mem­o­rable and au­then­tic mo­ments. RE­WARD­ING EX­PE­RI­ENCE An­other key area that fre­quent trav­ellers are con­cerned about is loy­alty pro­grammes, and it is here that larger ho­tel groups such as Mar­riott or Wyn­d­ham can of­ten of­fer con­sid­er­able added value. Trav­ellers stay­ing at Mar­riott’s Au­to­graph Col­lec­tion, Trib­ute Port­fo­lio or Lux­ury Col­lec­tion ho­tels, for ex­am­ple, have ac­cess to the com­pany’s sub­stan­tial Mar­riott Re­wards, SPG and Ritz-Carl­ton Re­wards pro­grammes.

But the smaller, stand­alone i in­de­pen­dent col­lec­tions are fi fight­ing back with their own l loy­alty schemes. Pre­ferred Ho­tels a and Re­sorts has the iPre­fer Ho­tel R Re­wards pro­gramme, one of t the largest points-based loy­alty p pro­grammes for in­de­pen­dent h ho­tels. The pro­gramme’s two-tier struc­ture (mem­bers at­tain Insider and then Elite sta­tus) pro­vides the same sort of benefits trav­ellers are used to in the chain ho­tels (late check­out, room up­grades, etc), and the group also launched its iPre­fer mo­bile app in April, which pro­vides ex­clu­sive of­fers and mem­ber rates.

Mean­while, SLH re­vamped its old The Club pro­gramme in June, now go­ing un­der the name In­vited. The pro­gramme has three set tiers – In­vited, In­spired and In­dulged – along with a fourth “se­cret” tier (mem­bers “won’t know what it is un­til they get there”, ac­cord­ing to Boyen).

“In­vited is about the lit­tle things that are im­por­tant in life, the mean­ing­ful de­tails,” Boyen says.“For ex­am­ple, we called a very good SLH cus­tomer in New York and asked him if there was any­thing he would re­ally like to do there. He said he’d seen a he­li­copter cir­cling the Statue of Lib­erty and thought ‘that would be cool’. Three hours later he and his fam­ily were on a he­li­copter do­ing just that – ar­ranged and paid for by us.”

De­spite these sorts of perks, ded­i­ca­tion to smaller loy­alty

pro­grammes can be dif­fi­cult to foster. From a busi­ness trav­eller’s per­spec­tive, if stay­ing at an in­de­pen­dent ho­tel dur­ing a work trip is only an oc­ca­sional op­tion, be­ing part of a pro­gramme that re­wards stays in both in­de­pen­dent and chain-brand ho­tels is naturally the bet­ter choice.

Some col­lec­tions, how­ever, cross the di­vide. For in­stance, mem­bers of Star­wood Ho­tels and Re­sorts’ SPG pro­gramme re­ceive cer­tain benefits (eg points earn­ing and sta­tus credit) when stay­ing at par­tic­i­pat­ing De­sign Ho­tels prop­er­ties. (De­sign Ho­tels boasts 280 in­de­pen­dent prop­er­ties but is not di­rectly af­fil­i­ated with Star­wood – and by ex­ten­sion Mar­riott.)

Weigh­ing up the pros and cons is ul­ti­mately a per­sonal de­ci­sion, but there’s no deny­ing that in­de­pen­dent ho­tels are be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly vi­able op­tion for busi­ness trav­ellers. Even travel man­agers are start­ing to see the benefits of of­fer­ing in­de­pen­dent ho­tels to em­ploy­ees: “[In­de­pen­dent ho­tels] are in­creas­ingly in de­mand, and when we talk to our cor­po­rate cus­tomers they are ac­tu­ally very happy to have this kind of ho­tel in our sys­tem,” says Mar­riott’s Chung. “These days, trav­ellers are on the road all the time and they want a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Clock­wise from op­po­site page: Coco Prive Is­land and Palm Res­i­dence mas­ter bed­room; the Cigar Lounge at the Her­mitage, a Trib­ute Port­fo­lio Ho­tel, Jakarta; and Ho­tel Eclat Bei­jing

Clock­wise from this page top left: Shilla Stay Seo­cho gue­stroom; LN Ho­tel Five; Tokyo Sta­tion Ho­tel; and 8 On Clay­more Res­i­dents’ Lounge

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