‘We operate with leadership, integrity and having a caring spirit’
The takeover of its hotel group by a Chinese mainland conglomerate earlier this year has given Carlson Hospitality Group’s expansion into China — especially gateway cities to meet rising demand — a much-needed boost, says Chief Executive Officer David Berg.
T h e c o m p a n y ’s C a r l s o n Hotels Inc currently has about 1,400 hotels across 120 countries and regions worldwide, which includes the Radisson brand, Berg told China Daily.
Carlson has been in the hotels business for about 50 years, including operating in the Asia-Pacific for about 25 years with its primary focus in India where it has 77 hotels. The company’s portfolio in the region now numbers more than 100 hotels — including 13 hotels on the mainland, two in Australia and a few in Southeast Asia — with another 15 in pipeline, Berg says.
Under the new ownership of HNA Tourism Group, Berg says Carlson is excited about opportunities to explore other gateway cities in China, and is not afraid of entering secondor third-tier cities.
HNA Tourism Group Co L t d , a d i v i s i o n o f Ha i n a n province-based conglomerate HNA Group Co Ltd which owns Hainan Airlines, agreed to buy Carlson Hotels Inc in April in a deal reportedly worth $2 billion, Bloomberg reported.
Carlson operates seven brands from mid-scale up to luxury, he explains, which are Quorvus Collection, Radisson Blu, Radisson, Radisson RED, Park Plaza, Park Inn by Radisson and Country Inns & Suites brands.
Berg says while the company will continue to focus on Shanghai and Chongqing, the takeover by HNA means there may be better opportunities in Hainan province.
“We are very excited about the Chinese market in par- tic ular. We are e xpanding our brands and historically it has been Radisson Blu and Park Plaza. In Chongqing and Shanghai we have four hotels, and then we (will) expand around those two cities,” Berg says.
“This year, we are introducing the Park Inn and Radisson brand of our hotels into Chinese market.”
Berg says that Carlson is working very close with HNA to develop its next strategy.
“The exciting thing about the new partnership with HNA is they are committed to put in the right capital, the right resources to Carlson’s portfolio and the management team to grow the business to be a top global hotel company. The exact roadmap is what we are working on right now.”
Berg stresses the strength of the Chinese economy, with a real GDP growth of around 6.5 percent, the middle-class will continue to grow so many opportunities remain in China.
He says one of the strengths of the company is the diversity of its brands, so it can tailor to China’s many cities and its different types of customers.
He says the Radisson RED brand targets millennials who love fashion, art and music, and who are looking for a hip experience. The more traditional Radisson hotels are more upscale, but also provide good value.
“We are seeing more intraChina and intra-Asia travel from the Chinese travelers. We have our newest brand called Radisson RED, from our lifestyle selective category, which is a heavy bent on technology … so it is very attractive for our developers to build,” he says.
“We think with the growing millennial base in China, while consumers have that extra money to spend, it will be a very good offering from us.”
A Radisson RED will soon open in Shenzhen, following launches in Shenyang and Guangzhou, and Berg says the company is excited about the opportunity for that brand.
He says there are also less c ustomers looking for full service hotels, with the trend moving towards people that
Originally a lawyer, Carlson Hospitality Group Chief Executive Officer David Berg only made the jump to hospitality and travel when he joined in early 2014.
After graduating with an economics degree from Emory University, he also completed his law degree from the University of Florida College Of Law.
“I made the move from being a lawyer to international business when I joined a fitness company,” Berg says.
“I wanted to find new ways to generate revenue so we put a business plan together and started an international business for that.”
He also has a background in retail industry, where he as the executive vice-president of Best Buy International, leading the $13 billion inter- don’t need 24-hour service — they don’t even need a front desk. Instead, they want to be technology-enabled, which means not only great Wi-Fi but “wow factor” when it comes to advanced technology.
“They want to see some cut-
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national division. He was also formerly the chief operating officer of GNC.
Previously, he worked as executive vice-president and president of Outback Steakhouse International, responsible for more than 200 restaurants in 20 countries and regions.
Berg now leads Carlson’s corporate center, and also heads and manages the global hotel business with the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group’s global executive team reporting to him.
“As a leader, I would like to think of myself as a coach and it is my job to make it clear to the team about what we are trying to accomplish, and then let the team go and get it done,” he says.
“My job is to help remove obstacles for my people so that they can do their best work.” ting-edge things from a technology standpoint.”
A hotel’s lobby and social s p a c e s h av e n o w b e c o m e incredibly important, he says. Hotels are ditching traditional couches and formal settings, instead preferring open areas
One of his main goals at Carlson is inviting people to bring their own unique capabilities to work every day and not be stifled by a uniform way of completing tasks, Berg says. It is this strategy that allows employees to do things their own way, so they can unleash and perform at their best.
“The family history about Carlson Group and the strong heritage around our values — being leaders, operating with integrity and having a caring spirit. Those are the things that were developed 80 years ago, and they are still very much at the forefront of our business.”
Starting from the bottom
Berg says the hospitality industry is unique in the sense that young people can join at the bottom of the ladder, and eventually grow within an organization. He has seen youngsters can come in as a front desk clerk, or working at the housekeeping department, and work their way up to eventually run the hotel.
“I think it is an incredible industry. It is an industry that has performed really well during the past six or seven years,” he says.
“It has its cycles like any industr y, but people will always need a place to stay (when they are traveling) — there will always be a place for hotels in the economy.”
As for those who want to enter the hotel business, Berg says they must be willing to take risks and not be too concerned about having a concrete plan for the future.
“You don’t just climb the ladder. It is more like a jungle gym, so be open to change, be open to new opportunities, don’t be afraid of taking on different experiences, even if it does not fit into your plan perfectly.” where customers can share a communal table.
Another growing trend is loyalty programs and rewards, where people still value “points” that they can cash in for complimentary stays. Berg says millennial travelers are looking for better customer service as an elite member, which could include getting an upgrade or a free bottle of wine.
Chief Executive Officer David Berg of Carlson Hospitality Group says the group has moved to lead toward promotion that targets millennials on the Chinese mainland who love fashion, art and music, and who are looking for a hip experience. David Berg, chief executive officer of Carlson Hospitality Group