Travel Daily chats with Anthony Ross, Preferred Hotel Group’s new executive vice president of Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, about the company’s regional growth plans…
1) You recently secured a deal with the Himalayas Group in China that will see two new hotels added to your collection. Does this partnership also have scope for further expansion and cooperation in future?
We like to focus on delivering results on a unit by unit basis. If owners find the results we deliver positive, we believe we put ourselves in a position to grow with that partner. Regarding the Himalaya group, we are very much focused on contributing to the success of the hotels in Qingdao and Nantong respectively.
2) As well as the Himalayas deal, Preferred is also rolling out the ‘China Ready’ strategy. What proportion of your business is currently driven by Chinese guests, and to what extent do you expect this to increase in future?
Our business from Chinese guests varies from city to city, and from hotel to hotel. For sure, the numbers are on the upward trend with Chinese outbound travel looking to smash the 100 million mark by the end of 2014. The Chinese have also surpassed Germans as the biggest travel spenders in the world.
To ensure that we capitalise on this, Preferred Hotel Group introduced China Ready last November. In addition to this, the company will be adding microsites for all of our hotel members in China, and those located in major gateway cities around the globe in our Chinese corporate website (preferredhotelgroup.cn). We are also looking into increasing our presence in the various Chinese social media channels like Sina Weibo and WeChat.
Preferred Hotel Group has also beefed up our resources in China – in the last year alone, the company has established a new sales office in Beijing in addition to its Shanghai office, and recruited key personnel to facilitate our development plans and support our current Chinese hotel members.
3) What further plans do you have to increase your collection in China?
China is a very important market for Preferred Hotel Group – it has become a major focus for the company in terms of development in the last three years. We are very happy with our current portfolio of hotels in the capital city of Beijing, and are now shifting our focus to the second and third tier cities in the country. This includes further development in Shanghai, and the addition of Guangzhou, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Dalian, Shenyang and Nanjing to the portfolio, just to name a few. These destinations boast unique leisure and business potential, and the Chinese government is also in the process of developing designated economic and real estate zones in some of these areas. Nonetheless, the gateway cities still remain very important key markets for international travellers into China.
Chinese hotel owners are also beginning to realise the value proposition of a soft brand, de-flagging from large international chain brands to develop their own brands to compete in the international hospitality arena. Preferred Hotel Group is able to offer these independent and small hotel groups the competitive advantage of our international sales network and connectivity to achieve their goals. We are confident that we will add more hotel members to our current portfolio by the end of the year.
Just as Chinese hotels want to reach out to the world, hotels around the world also want to connect with China. It is a thriving and dynamic reciprocal relationship at the moment that will serve to fuel the momentum of global travel in the years to come.
4) You have also launched a new loyalty programme, iPrefer. How has the take-up for this been in the Asian market, and how can Asian members benefit from it?
There are currently about 50,000 iPrefer members in Asia Pacific, out of 1.3 million members worldwide. Since its launch in August 2013, about 3000 new members from Asia Pacific have signed up for the programme.
iPrefer is the first global loyalty programme that rewards travellers with points for choosing the independent hotel experience. It is truer today than it has ever been that travellers are looking for something new and different, yet high in quality, in their hotel experience. With iPrefer, travelers no longer have to choose between the unique perspective of an independent hotel experience and the appeal of a points-fueled loyalty programme. The programme provides the best of both worlds.
Unlike the constantly changing earning-and-redemption structure of the points programs from the chains, iPrefer presents a simple and flexible model that allows the traveler to dictate where, when, and for what they want to redeem their points. This structure stands out as an attractive alternative to the common “points-for-rooms-only” model.
5) What are Preferred expansion plans for broader Asia region? And which of the company’s brands do you think will drive this growth?
Preferred Hotel Group is looking to expand our reach within Indochina – in particular Ho Chi Minh City, Yangon, Mandalay and Cambodia. Australia and New Zealand are major sources of outbound travel for many countries in Asia, and we are also looking into increasing our presence in these two markets with quality hotel members across all our brands, beginning with the key gateway cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland.