to Move the Chain to the Top of the Ladder
Hotel Asia PacificBy Steve Shellum
Let's talk about an evolution. With the proliferation of designer hotels,
high-tech hotels and arty-tarty hotels, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is
having none of it. Although the Asian born-and-bred brand has its eyes
focused on new horizons, it is keeping its feet firmly on the ground.
Renovation projects are being phased in at 14 of the group’s 38 properties. Major renovations are also ongoing at: the Shangri-La Hotel, Kuala Lumpur; the Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok; the Makati Shangri-La Hotel; the China World Hotel, Beijing; and the Kowloon Shangri-La, Hong Kong.
The renovation programme will bring a “rich, contemporary look” to Shangri-La’s hotels, and will extend beyond guestrooms and public areas to encompass everything from staff uniforms to collateral and hotel signage.
A major component of the programme is the development of innovative
restaurants and lounges, with 12 new concepts debuting this year and others
“It’s not a new look, and we are not trying to reinvent the Shangri-La wheel. We will retain the character of our hotels, even though there will be some new technology, which is critical and needs to be expanded with business.
“But a computer will never cook your dinner or make your bed. We are a people business and will always be a people business.”
The brand, whose name was inspired by James Hilton's legendary novel Lost Horizon, was born in 1971 when Malaysian entrepreneur Robert Kuok opened the first Shangri-La hotel in Singapore.
The company - which is now based in Hong Kong - has since grown into the largest Asian-based deluxe hotel group in the region. Its portfolio includes five Traders Hotels – a sister brand that was launched in 1989 (with the Traders Hotel Beijing) to deliver high-value, mid-range, quality accommodation to business travellers.
It is regarded as one of the world's finest hotel-management companies,
and has garnered numerous international awards for its uncompromising standards
Even in the region, there are some notable gaps – particularly Tokyo, Seoul and Sydney.
“We are keen to get into these markets, but only if it makes financial sense,” says Angelini.
“In Tokyo, for instance, the price of construction has come down, but not to the level that would make a new hotel viable.
“It’s still a very delicate market, and we won’t put up our flag just to say we are there, even though we would like to be there for our reputation.
“In the rest of the region, though, we are very well covered.”
What about key gateway cities outside of Asia, which are crucial for any hotel brand that has aspirations of becoming a true global player?
“Key gateway cities in the US and Europe are very important – but, again, only if we get the right deal to make financial sense. We won’t go in just for the sake of putting our flag there.
“We have been looking for a number of years and, even though prices
have come down in many markets post 9-11, everything we do has to be financially
Whatever opportunities might occur elsewhere, the group’s focus will
remain in Asia.
“It’s a moving target, but the Shangri-La brandname recognition and reputation are significant elements that make the group stand out among local, regional and other smaller competitors.
“Our size also affords us greater flexibility to respond to market needs, compared to the larger groups, and our brand is our biggest asset that differentiates us from a number of other hotel companies.”
Although there may be some big gaps in its portfolio, there is one crucial market that Shangri-La has almost sewn up – the luxury hotel sector in China, where it currently operates 16 hotels.
The group opened its first property there, the Shangri-La Hotel, Hangzhou, in 1984 when the country was just opening up to outside investment. It has since firmly established itself not only as a trailblazer in China’s hotel industry, but also as a highly respected and recognised brand.
It’s left other luxury brands – both from within and outside Asia – desperate to catch up in what many industry analysts believe will become both the world’s leading tourist destination and the biggest generator of outbound travellers.
And when mainland Chinese do start travelling en masse and with thick wallets, says Angelini, many of them will be staying in Shangri-La properties, whether in Hong Kong, New York or London.
The group last month signed a 505-room resort hotel in Hainan, which is scheduled to open in 2005. Other properties under development include the 264-room Shangri-La Hotel Zhongshan, the 280-room Shangri-La Hotel Zhengzhou and the 416-room Shangri-La Hotel Fuzhou, all of which are scheduled to open next year.
Currently, of the group’s nearly 20,000 rooms, 8,293 are in mainland China.
Two of its landmark China properties are currently undergoing massive extensions and renovations: phase three of the China World in Beijing; and an extension tower at the Pudong Shangri-La in Shanghai.
“These hotels will reinforce Shangri-La’s dominant position as the luxury hotel group in China,” says Angelini. “We see huge potential in the country, which is benefiting both from the major growth in domestic travel as well as the increase in business and leisure travellers.
“As we have been in China for 18 years with an established brandname, we are well placed to capture much of this new business in the secondary cities, which will increase now it has entered the WTO.”
The group is currently in negotiations for a hotel in Xian and its second
in Shenzhen. “We are also in talks for many others, but I am not at liberty
at this stage to disclose where,” says Angelini. “I can say, though, that
we are close to signing in two cities.
Angelini sees strong growth potential in China for the Traders brand.
“Most owners want to see the Shangri-La flag flying on their hotels but,
in all honesty, some properties in some destinations would be better suited
to the Traders brand.
“Just look at what the Japanese have done to the travel industry around the world. The Chinese will do the same, only much faster.”
The company has not ruled out launching a 3-star brand in China. “Some cities are overbuilt at the moment, but that won’t be the case in the long-term. We are not closing any doors,” says Angelini.
Shangri-La has taken its first step out of Asia and into the Middle East, where it has three properties under development: the 301-room Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai (opening March 2003); the 250-room Traders Hotel, Dubai (July 2003); and the 703-room Shangri-La's Barr Al Josiah Resort, Muscat, Oman (July 2005).
Negotiations are also ongoing for several others. “The region has enormous
potential, and we are looking at about seven hotels in the next five years,”
He is particularly excited about the Muscat property, which will feature four concepts: deluxe; 5-star; 4-star; and apartments. “We are very proud of it. It will be the best integrated resort in the Middle East.”
Explaining his Middle East philosophy, Angelini says: “It is a logical move for us to gradually expand there. It is between Europe and Asia, and the area attracts both Europeans and Asians.”
The move also marks a basic change in the group’s philosophy as all
three Middle Eastern properties are management contracts, with no equity
“We look to control our own destiny,” says Angelini. “That is very important. The whole owner/operator relationship – in fact, the whole management structure - is based on that.
“But having firmly established Shangri-La in Asia, we are now looking at management contracts in key destinations to expand the brand.
“We have got our heart in it and are totally committed, both to the brand and to quality, and that is greatly appreciated by the owners,” says Angellini.
“An essential element of our operating policy is the belief that the interests of individual hotels are best served by a clearly defined partnership between the operator and owner.
”While maintaining the required high standards of product and service, all efforts are focused on perceiving each hotel as a business operation that must achieve a return on capital investment.”
Each property has a Policy Implementation Committee (PIC), which comprises representatives of both the owner and the operator.
“The structure of the PIC emphasises that the management is responsible for the hotel's day-to-day operation and marketing, while the owner sets down the principles and broad policies under which the hotel will operate.”
He adds: “But that doesn’t mean we can spend, say $20 million, on renovations to a particular property without defending and justifying our reasons for it.”
Does he ever see the day when the group will join its more hip competitors and launch a brand of “S” hotels, along the lines of Starwood’s “W” and M&C’s “M”?
“Hip? No. We see hospitality more in terms of comfort and consistency. When I want to go to sleep in a hotel room, I should know where to switch everything off. It’s time to go back to the basics.”
Projects that Are Management Contracts Include:
THE company will open eight new hotels, plus the extension of the Pudong Shangri-La, Shanghai within the next three and a half years:
Hotel Asia Pacific
15B Casey Building
38 Lok Ku Road
Tel: +852 2882-7352
Fax: +852 2882-2461