Starwood Hotels & Resorts plans to open 12 more hotels in Hainan province
Starwood Hotels & Resorts ran a series of Expos in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou from May 16 to 20, 2011. Carol Chung, Starwood's Regional Director for Greater China attended the Expos and sat for an exclusive interview with the China Daily website.
According to Chung, China is now the second largest market for Starwood outside the United States. "On average, 50 percent of our guests are Chinese, and I believe this figure will continue to rise," she said with full confidence.
This success is helped by the vast size and potential of the Chinese market, but is also made possible by the strong Starwood brands. "Each of our brands is unique, and I think that's what really sets us apart," Chung said.
To thrive in a competitive and diverse market like China, Chung believes that Starwood "needs to take full advantage of its vision and layout." Although the qualified and experienced team and employee-centered corporate culture also contributes to the vitality of Starwood, "in the end, it all comes back to our brand," explained Chung.
The Chinese market is important to Starwood, and it has taken a series of measures to attract more Chinese guests, said Chung.
The Starwood Made for China campaign aims to provide more tailored and seamless services to Chinese guests. It includes a newly-launched online Chinese reservation system, which allows hotel reservations and registrations for Starwood's customer loyalty programme to be made in Chinese, and a toll-free customer call center in Guangzhou, which allows guests to make reservations at Starwood Hotels & Resorts in China and abroad, in Chinese. According to Chung, such Chinese-language services are unique.
Chung is also excited about the Wish Upon A Star promotional videos, starring Peter Ho and Celina Jade. She hopes the video series will connect Starwood with more Chinese guests.
Furthermore, selected hotels worldwide are providing additional guest services, specially designed to make Chinese guests more comfortable, including providing Chinese-style breakfast options, and services in Chinese, said Chung. Many Starwood hotels now also supply hot water pots for their Chinese guests, a friendly and much welcomed gesture, to suit Chinese customs.
At present, one out of every three new Starwood hotels opened is in China and Chung believes this trend will continue. "This year, we plan to open 20 to 25 hotels here. By the first quarter of 2012, there will be 100 Starwood hotels in China."
Popular tourist destinations like Hainan are already on Starwood's list of coverage expansion. "We already have three hotels there: Sheraton Haikou Resort, Sheraton Sanya Resort and Le Méridien Shimei Bay Beach Resort & Spa. The plan is to open 12 more Starwood hotels," said Chung, adding that Hainan's tax-free policies encourage tourism development in the province. "We have so many projects in the pipeline."
In addition, Starwood's coverage is broadening to include more than the major Chinese cities. "Many of our newly-opened hotels in China are in second- and third-tier cities. Aloft Nanhai in Foshan, Guangdong was just opened, and we expect another one in Zhengzhou in July."
Chung said the company is also establishing themselves in Central China, where there is a lack of international hotel brands and a rising demand for high-quality service. "The upcoming Westin Wuhan Wuchang is a good start for this strategic move, and this trend will continue." Starwood is also set to expand in Western China, and their St. Regis Lhasa has thus far outperformed expectations.
"Besides that, we opened our first Luxury Collection – the Astor Hotel, in Tianjin last year. It is also doing better than we thought."
Chung thinks guests today demand more choice, hence why Starwood is committing to broad expansion across China. "People don't just want to visit major cities like Beijing or Shanghai anymore. They are searching out new destinations," said Chung.
"More people own their own cars, and high speed train networks are improving, making travelling much more convenient. Many are opting to leave the city for short trips on long weekends."
The Chinese Government is focused on tourism promotion and Starwood is taking full advantage of this golden opportunity. "Coverage expansion in China can also benefit our businesses abroad," said Chung. "If guests get to know our brands here and are satisfied with them, they are more likely to choose our hotels when they travel abroad."
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