Hospitality’s an all family affair
Born with that ‘travel bug’ in her, Marco Polo Hotels President Jennifer Cronin tells Sophie He her mission is to serve a set of multigeneration travelers in Asia where opportunities galore.
To hotelier Jennifer Cronin, Hong Kong’s bruised hospitality business may be fast turning the corner after a slump brought about by a dwindling world economy and a steep downturn in inbound visitors.
The city, she advises, should not “walk away” from its traditional reliance on the Chinese mainland’s vast tourism market.
“We’ ll leave no stone unturned in seizing the opportunities ahead,” Cronin tells China Daily.
The president of Marco Polo Hotels — a wholly owned subsidiary of real estate and hotel conglomerate Wharf (Holdings) — says the company now has its eyes trained on business, as well as “multi-generation” family travelers.
Marco Polo Hotels currently operates three hotels in Hong Kong, three in the Philippines and eight on the Chinese mainland, with four more in the pipeline.
“I think Hong Kong is a very resilient city and, for many years, it has had its fair share of ups and downs. At the moment, we (Hong Kong’s hotel industry) are about at the bottom and ready to move on to the next phase,” says Cronin.
The SAR’s dependence on the mainland has been very strong in the past, she says, adding she doesn’t think Hong Kong should throw it away.
“Travelers from the Chinese mainland form an important part of our business. At present, just 6 percent of mainland people have passports, meaning there’re enormous opportunities in the future as more passports are issued.”
Cronin maintains that Hong Kong remains a very popular first tourist destination outside the mainland, so once the local tourism business starts recovering, there’ll be boundless opportunities.
Besides, Hong Kong is a very stable economy and she believes this is something that no one could take it away.
“In every crisis, there’re opportunities. We just have to find them and must not leave any stone unturned.”
Marco Polo Hotels, like its local peers, has seen a downturn in the past two years. But, with the onset of the summer holidays, its three hotels in Hong Kong have enjoyed an occupancy rate of over 90 percent and, on weekends, the room rates are quite strong.
It’s a little bit of a rollercoaster ride at the moment, says Cronin, but she believes that, compared with other cities worldwide, it’s not bad seeing Marco Polo hotels’ occupancy down by just 5 to 10 percent.
“I think the potential is still there, we’ll grow and return to those levels again.”
In Hong Kong, Marco Polo Hotels has been exploring several partnerships, and working collaboratively with various organizations. For instance, in Harbour City, it’s working with many partners in the shopping centers, and teams up with airlines too. The hotel group is a member of the Global Hotel Alliance, so it works very closely with other members.
On the mainland, Marco Polo Hotels launched its new luxury international hotel brand — Niccolo by Marco Polo — in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in April last year.
Niccolo — the name of Marco Polo’s father — will have three more brand hotels opening in Chongqing, Changsha and Suzhou.
“We believe there’re so many opportunities on the Chinese mainland. With the power of economic gravity moving toward this part of the world, we believe here’s where our focus will be.”
According to Cronin, when they chose to launch its new luxury hotel brand in Chengdu, people thought they were a bit crazy. But, in fact, Chengdu is one of the fastest growing cities on the mainland and Marco Polo Hotels has proven its critics wrong.
“Chengdu is a great location for a luxury hotel. Niccolo is now number one in market share against other international luxury brands. So, when we open another Niccolo in Chongqing and Changsha, it will prove that we’ve made the right decision in establishing the brand in China.”
Cronin notes that most of the cities Marco Polo Hotels has ventured into are secondtier cities on the mainland. “Very often, it’s the first international luxury hotel going there although when you’re the first to go in, there are certain establishment costs. At the same time, the Chinese traveling public is looking for that higher standard in those cities, so the investments are all worth it.
She stresses that the company is in the Chinese mainland market for the long run and this is about its long-term future. The future focus is on the mass business market, meetings and events.
“Ten years ago, they said video conferencing meant that people wouldn’t be going and doing meetings and conventions, but people do need to meet, they need to collaborate, they need to meet and learn from each other,” she says, explaining that meetings and events are very important to the group’s business, and most of its hotels have great meeting facilities which enable them to deliver great services. So, it’s an important part of the company’s future.
Another part is the “family” market, says Cronin, as there are a lot of multi-generation travelers now — it’s not just mum and dad with the children, now the grandparents who are retired, wealthy and who want to spend more time with their grandchildren.
“Actually, we started a program called Piccolo Kids Club, which is a program for kids to learn English and play with other children in some of our hotels on the mainland. At the same time, their parents or grandparents can relax and enjoy their break, and there will be new programs to attract new travelers.”
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