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.

China Daily (Canada) - - HONG KONG -

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.”

Con­tact the writer at so­phiehe@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

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