By Paul Doyle
At the beginning of April I had the pleasure of spending three days in lush and luxurious surroundings of the Hilton Sanya Resort & Spa. I was there to be briefed on Hilton's plans for their operations in greater China. This was a major event with Hilton Sanya hosting over 50 corporate clients and over 90 Travel partners, and there were exhibits from 30 hotels from around the Hilton world. We were able to meet with over 30 representatives from Hilton, both corporate and from the Hilton properties in China to learn at how they are shaping their growth in China.
Welcoming us to the Hilton Sanya Resort & Spa, General Manager Jean Pierre Mainardi said: "My personal feeling is that it could not be a better venue of finding a unique leisure environment for a business meeting with all and best requisites that a top award winner five-star hotel can offer."
Andrew Flack, vice president for sales and marketing Asia Pacific, explained how Hilton had become even more aggressive in their expansion plans for Asia Pacific, and China in particular, since the acquisition of Hilton International in 2005. In China, Hilton will be focusing on three brands: Hilton, DoubleTree by Hilton, and Hilton Garden Inn. While the Hilton name is one of the best-known hotel brands in China, the others were less familiar and later we were to hear more about these brands from their respective brand managers.
Flack explained that 2008 is viewed as a super up-cycle for the China travel market driven by the Beijing Olympics in 2008; the Shanghai World Expo; and the Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010.
"There has never been a more opportune time for hotel chains to tap such a buoyant market. However it's crucial to any international brand's success that sales and marketing strategies stay relevant to evolving customer needs, and that these efforts embrace new technologies to reach the rapidly growing middle class consumer in China," Flack said. "We are seeing a trend among Chinese travelers for seamless travel arrangements to offer great experiences, and travel partners are delivering this more and more. We've also witnessed a growing preference for personalized experiences where travelers in and out of China want to choose and tailor their trips as opposed to joining a ready-made tour program."
Timothy Soper, vice president of operations for Hilton Hotels Greater China and Mongolia, gave us a more detailed look of the group's plans for China. In addition to its existing brands, Hilton and Conrad Hotels & Resorts, the company will introduce its U.S. brands to China so that it develops a nationwide presence, across the market segments and price points.
"We are gearing up to expand our presence significantly, from six hotels today to 12 luxury and upscale hotels by the end of this year. By 2011, we will be operating 26 luxury and upscale hotels and will have a strong footprint in the mid-market sector in China. It will be of key importance to grow our reputation for quality accommodation, among potential guests in China whatever their budget and choice of experience," said Soper.
Mike Williams, vice president of brand performance for DoubleTree, briefed us on DoubleTree by Hilton, what it is and what it looks like. Comparing a Doubletree hotel to a Hilton hotel he said, "The main difference between DoubleTree is the scale." He added, "DoubleTree is an eco-friendly brand, famed for its warm chocolate chip cookie welcome at check-in."
Hilton positions DoubleTree as a full-service hotel brand that provides all the conveniences travelers expect, including comfortable accommodation, extensive meeting facilities, a range of F&B outlets, health and fitness facilities and state-of-the-art technology. Hilton is opening two DoubleTree properties in China this year and has plans to extend this number to 10 over the next few years.
Vincent Thomas, brand ambassador for Hilton Garden Inn introduced the brand to us. Hilton Garden Inn hotels are focused service hotels which target business travelers and weekend leisure travelers. The average Hilton Garden Inn hotel in China will have approximately 200 guest rooms and will be located near airports, business parks or major commercial districts. The hotels will provide complimentary high-speed Internet access in all guest rooms, complimentary 24-hour business centers, flexible meeting spaces, a fitness centre, and a restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner. The properties are positioned as affordable accommodation and will be a franchised operation in China.
Hilton has already signed an agreement with RREEF/HQ (a joint venture between RREEF, the global alternative investment management arm of Deutsche Bank, and private equity firm H&Q Asia Pacific) to open 25 Hilton Garden Inns in China over the next five years. Under the terms of the agreement, the joint venture has certain exclusivity rights to develop Hilton Garden Inn hotels in Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin and a number of cities in the Yangtze River Delta region for up to five years. The development value of the investment program planned by RREEF/HQ is expected to be around US$550 million.
Jean Pierre Mainardi the GM of the Hilton Sanya summed up the event saying: "During our Hilton Showcase two guests asked to see me. They wanted to tell 'the manager' what a wonderful experience he and his wife had at the Hilton Sanya Resort and Spa. I thank them, but pointed out that the staff that served them directly were responsible for their enjoyment. The husband turned to me and said, 'But you are the boss here.' 'No' I said. 'You are'."