Langham builds on excellence
Great Eagle unit Langham Hospitality Group is going all out to woo new-age travelers, reveals CEO Robert Warman. Luo Weiteng gets the story.
Admittedly, we cannot take it for granted any more that tourists will come to Hong Kong as we did in the good old days.”
As tourists worldwide show an increasing appetite for better travel options and as market trends move toward redefining the luxury hotel sector, Langham Hospitality Group has set its sights on getting the word out about its impeccable pedigree, with a history of excellence and British heritage going back more than 150 years.
The fast-growing company is Hong Kong-based, but its flagship hotel in London, “The Langham” dates back to 1865.
The first Langham Hotel, located in the West End, “astonished Victorian London with the scope of its luxury, technology and grandeur” and was crowned as Europe’s first “Grand Hotel,” according to the company website.
Great Eagle, a property development company chaired by billionaire Lo Ka-shui and listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, acquired the London property in 1996.
Hong Kong-based Great Eagle’s extensive international hotel portfolio currently includes 20 luxury properties with more than 8,000 rooms under three established brands: Langham Hotels and Resorts, Cordis Hotels and Resorts and Eaton Hotels.
In 2005, it set up the Langham Hospitality Group to manage its hotel portfolio and which now boasts three addresses in Hong Kong — Langham in Tsim Sha Tsui, the former Langham Place reborn as Cordis in Mong Kok, and Eaton in Jordan.
Robert Warman, chief executive officer of Langham Hospitality Group, said the company is bullish on Chinese mainland business, which he believes is one of the few “self-sustained” markets globally, set to match the US as a key tourism and hospitality market.
Even as the outbound tourist wave spreads to dozens of foreign destinations, the booming domestic travel in the world’s second-largest economy is also going to be extremely important, noted Warman.
He believes more effort therefore should be put into getting the word around the nation about the Langham group, informing more people that they are a company with great hotels that are big on customer satisfaction. Today, Langham Hospitality Group has more than 30 projects currently either confirmed or in a developed stage of negotiation in markets ranging from Asia, Europe and North America to the Middle East.
This year the group will continue to bulk up its presence on the Chinese mainland, with the opening of a new hotel in Haikou, on the opposite side of Hainan Island from the resort area of Sanya, with more than half a dozen others in the works countrywide.
Warman is upbeat also about business opportunities from corporate travel.
Though leisure travel currently dominates the national tourism sector, as more and more companies “go out” to do business around the world, there is certainly going to be a growing appetite for executive travel, he observed.
The Chinese mainland saw outbound travel rise by 7.8 percent in 2015 compared to the previous year, and is projected by market intelligence firm Euromonitor International to jump a further 6.2 percent in 2016 to total over 72.5 million trips.
Some 80 percent of mainland companies forecast a 8.6-percent rise in travel and entertainment spending in 2016, which would see the country lead corporate travel growth in Asia, according to a study by research firm East & Partners Asia.
In contrast, Hong Kong appears to have waved goodbye to the boom in tourist arrivals.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board forecasts a 1.8-percent drop in overall visitor arrivals to the city in 2016, following a 2.5-percent decline last year.
Per-capita tourist spending is expected to slide 4 percent to HK$6,948 this year, sending total tourism revenue 1.6 percent lower to HK$328.4 billion.
According to a MasterCard survey, Hong Kong fell from fourth in 2014 to seventh last year among the most popular destinations in the Asia-Pacific region, after welcoming just 8.3 million international visitors.
Although Warman has full faith in the prospects of the city’s now-flagging tourism sector, he believes the coming few years will still be rather challenging amid concerns about a stronger Hong Kong dollar and tumbling tourist numbers.
“Admittedly, we cannot take it for granted any more that tourists will come to Hong Kong as we did in the good old days,” noted Warman.
“With the value of mainland visitors being realized by more and more tourist destinations, it really takes tremendous work for Hong Kong to figure out how to better appeal to mainland and international travelers.”
As mainland visitors spark a new travel boom in neighboring countries like Thailand and Vietnam, Warman said the company would expand its footprint in these markets in a bid to follow profits by going where the mainland tourists go.
Today’s savvy traveler has clear and individual ideas about what they seek from new destinations and travel packages, and Warman believes the luxury hotel business therefore has to adapt itself to draw these increasingly discerning guests.
Of particular interest to the hospitality industry are millennial travelers, the projected dominant consumer group in the next few years, who tend to seek experiential products and brands that reflect their personal values.
Many hospitality giants are jumping into the race to reach these travelers as they are projected to be the dominant consumer group by 2017.
The luxury hotel business today, Warman pointed out, is transforming from a phase of “aggressive hospitality” — when hotel staff bombarded guests with a battery of “What can I do for you” — to cultivating a sense of hospitality in a more balanced way.
“Travelers nowadays are increasingly familiar with luxury since luxury hotels can be found in almost every corner of every major city. People are actually growing up with them,” noted Warman.
These sophisticated guests come to luxury hotels apparently for the best of design, services and experiences, but also in the expectation of having a comfortable and friendly stay.
“That requires us to strike a balance between traditional elegance and comfort as well as friendliness,” added Warman.
For the Langham group, it really makes sense to have several distinct offerings under one master brand.
The Langham represents its traditional side and Cordis, previously known as Langham Place, stands as its forwardlooking modern take on luxury.
Warman is betting big on expanding the company’s fledgling upscale brand Cordis, in response to the growing lifestyle business in the hospitality industry.
He said the Langham name is still in the process of building up a level of brand recognition akin to its global competitors who run several more properties worldwide — including well-known hospitality chains such as the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and Marriott International.
But this also gives the company an edge in terms of the preferred style of design for luxury hotels — which is currently switching from a “harsh” style to “softer” tones with guests focusing more on a comfortable environment and “sense of place”.
But being smaller may actually have its advantages.
Unlike other bigger hospitality brands, Langham does not need to renovate old hotels to move with the times and implement the trend of a softer design style, Warman pointed out.
Moreover, the group prides itself on its ability to create a comfortable environment that engages the senses right away.
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Robert Warman, CEO, Langham Hospitality Group Robert Warman, CEO at Langham Hospitality Group, believes that, with the value of mainland visitors being realized by more and more tourist destinations, it really takes tremendous work for Hong Kong to fifigure out how to better appeal to mainland and international travelers.