Charles Lai was appointed vice president of sales and marketing for the Greater China Region of Millennium Hotels and Resorts to develop and implement strategic marketing plans, and to establish brand standard and awareness for Millennium Hotels and Resorts in the Greater China Region. He is a 28-year veteran hotelier with extensive international working experience in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore.
What is your opinion of the investment opportunities in China's hospitality industry?
The Chinese government is trying to push the hospitality industry. The industry needs a lot of improvements since it didn't exist 30 years ago (In 1980 there were only 203 hotels in the country). People in China are eager to learn more about the industry and realize the importance of the hospitality industry to the country. The government will monitor and regulate it as much as possible and take a proactive approach towards improving the hospitality industry. In my opinon, new hotel investment opportunities are: First hotel-casinos and hotels are the most profitable form of real estate. Second hotels have a 50% higher building cost as compared to high-end residential apartments but bring intangible benefits to the immediate complex surrounding the hotel. Third intangible benefits include the enhanced value of the total real estate investment. This includes apartments, a shopping plaza, or an office complex in the real estate investment.
Our current target audience is baby boomers and future target audiences are Generation X (1961-1981) and Generation Y (1982-1997). To successfully market to Generations X&Y, there are three major characteristics common to the most popular brands:
a. Clean + Simple = Hip. It's trendy to be simple and easy, quirky and unique.
b. Happy employees (people who work at the popular Generation X&Y brands love their jobs). Therefore, new hotel investment opportunities should be the high-tech, lifestyle, and sleek hotels like Studio M — a hotel that focuses on elegantly restrained accommodation that offers a high degree of connectivity. Studio M is an urban sleek, lifestyle hotel catering to the "Social Business Traveler" who understands the importance of work-life balance and appreciates the authentic "People Experience". The Brand Concept, Differentiation; "Touch Points" a universe set to grow into a comprehensive lifestyle hotel where style is the key, focusing on good-looking business stays, experiential living, elegance meets smart, substance and style, incentive luxury, accessible simplicity, wired sensibility, slick and vibrant energy, the vital element of surprise, and key design details.
Many international hotel management companies are focusing on the second and third tier cities in China, what are your plans in this respect?
China's economic growth boom in the early days of foreign investment was mainly concentrated in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, and the Hong Kong-Shenzhen area. Based on the coast, these early urban developments, had relatively good traffic conditions, and were suitable for the development of international manufacturing with good human resources. They also had a solid foundation, and were more experience in dealings with foreigners. Therefore, the first-line cities were considered first. However, in recent years, these first-line cities while attracting investment, are also waning in attractiveness and competitiveness. Land costs, labor costs, rising investment costs, mean the local investment projects are beginning to be exhausted, and the cities' traffic conditions are getting worse. Compared to these first-tier cities, as a second-tier cities give full play to their advantages, and actively seek to attract the attention of investors, the attitude of foreign investors has started to bring-out a number of changes. Some of the cities most foreigners have never heard of are beginning to gradually attracted people's attention. Second and third-line cities have ambitious hopes of one day replacing other well-developed city, and breaking into the global industrial outsourcing and technology business. Over the past two years, there is a development trend across China and the second and third line cities are becoming a hot investment opportunities for the future. China's new round of hot spots will be in those cities. M&C owns six hotels in China and four of these are located on the second and third-tier cities. The two recently opened M&C hotels are in WuXi and Chengdu. The reason for this is undoubtedly the great focus on the development of second-tier cities.
M&C hotels in China: In August 2006 the first M&C hotel opened in China — Millennium Hongqiao Hotel Shanghai – a five-star International hotel, boasting 369 guestrooms and suites. In January 2008 the second M&C hotel opened in China — Millennium Harbourview Hotel Xiamen – a four-star International hotel, boasting 352 guestrooms & suites. In May 2008 Copthorne Hotel Qingdao opened a four-star International hotel, boasting 455 guestrooms and suites. In April 2008 the newest premier five-star brand of Millennium and Copthorne Hotels plc (M&C) opened — Grand Millennium Beijing – a premier five-star international hotel, boasting 521 guestrooms and suites. In June 2009 Millennium WuXi opened — a five-star International hotel, boasting 306 guestrooms and suites. In January 2010 Millennium Chengdu opened – a five-star international hotel, boasting 360 guestrooms and suites.
M&C's vision for Taiwan is a five-star Millennium international hotel in TaiZhong.
Currently, many well-known international hotel brands loyalty program for frequent travelers, what special programs does Millennium & Copthorne have? What are your views on loyalty plans and hotel services?
Our M&C Loyalty Club program is very flexible with various member levels tailor-made for different markets to satisfy the needs of different clients. Classic Member is for the mass market without limits on joining; Golden Member is mainly designed for business travelers and corporate clients with a more flexible stay time, free newspaper and free Internet etc; Diamond Member is specially for our premium frequent guests with advanced personalized services such as dedicated efficient check-in and check-out procedures, a welcome drink or gift, e-vouchers, and free room upgrades etc. We have a paper-less green policy to protect the environment. Starting from Classic Member, you're required to register on-line. Then we'll send your user ID and password to your designate email address for you to maintain and query your member status. Only on becoming a Golden and Diamond Member will you receive a physical membership card. We use email to communicate with our guests and encourage them to do so as well.
I think loyalty plans and hotel services are complementary and promote each other. If good hotel service is the basic necessity, loyalty plans would be the advanced services from a greatful heart.
Which group market segments are your primarily focus for 2010?
First meetings, incentive travel, conventions, and exhibitions. From a macroeconomic perspective, 2010 will be a very competitive year for the hotel industry in the MICE market. The overall demand is still strong but growth will slow down with a significantly decrease of consumption.
Second domestic travelers. The demand for domestic MICE will be significantly higher than that for outbound. The nearby destinations will be more attractive than far-away ones. The Asian regions will become hot.
Third the ladies' market "PMEB". The market competition is fiercer, because of cost control and budget cuts, price has become the sole criterion for deciding on hotels. So we'll pay more attention on certain market segments, such as the ladies' market to drive more business from the newly independent female business travelers.
What do you perceive to be the epitome of hotel service? How does this fit with your management philosophy?
First the intention of service is the "heart piece" of infrastructure. Until now in China, hotels have not been generally regarded as a service industry, just part of a specialization trend. More and more people look to hotels, for more than simply meeting their room and food needs, they feel the hotel industry is gradually developing into a distinct and specialized industry.
Not only are a hotel's products becoming increasingly personalized, the hotel will boast a brand image, a very essence of this. The industry must understand how the market is segmented and not assume that it is all the same. Previous comparisons between hotels were based on nothing more than the number of rooms and floors, how high the building is, the number of restaurants, and the hardware facilities. Now in addition to hardware and software, hotel facilities and the "heart parts" facilities are particularly important, namely, the so-called "three-one, indispensable." The hotel's brand positioning standards are different from the past, guests choose hotels by more than the procurement requirements, there are emotional purchases as well. The emotional significance of the procurement for the guests to the hotel is for the guests to bring Kai inspection, that is enlightening experiences and feelings.
Second the details of the continuing enthusiasm and care, leaves the guests with a profound impression, so that it will then become a memorable experience. With "person" as a starting point for operating a hotel, staff not only have to have the basic courtesies, but also need to exceed the guest's needs and expectations. Uphold the principle of enthusiastic hospitality, both from the details of the office concerned about the guests, and in every possible way. Based on "Not only what the customers need, but what they want" the principle is to take the initiative to care for guests, know what they really like and want to provide them with products and services.
What are your thoughts on e-marketing? What plans does e-marketing plan Millennium & Copthorne Limited have for e-marketing?
Diversification of distribution channels is the future development trend for hotels In particular, online marketing will become an increasingly important sales channel. We attach great importance to online marketing: the hotel has benefited greatly from its online distribution system. Global synchronous changes in prices and updates, online booking are timely and convenient, the hotel's sales network within the distribution system continues to expand across a wider range of countries and regions.
At present, Millennium & Copthorne Limited has six hotels in China, how will you create a brand identity for these properties in different cities?
Millennium Hotels and Resorts is one of the world's largest owned and managed hotel groups, operating a portfolio of more than 100 hotels worldwide. This dynamic hospitality group manages its network of properties through four key global brands: Grand Millennium, Millennium, Copthorne, and Kingsgate.
Grand Millennium: Grand Millennium Hotels epitomizes the very best in elegance and luxury with outstanding decor, world-class facilities and the ultimate in personalized, gracious service.
Millennium: Millennium hotels are situated in landmark locations across major gateway cities around the world. Our 40 fabulous properties, created with timeless elegance, are famed for their conference and banqueting offerings.
Copthorne: Now firmly established as a true global brand, the iconic Copthorne Hotels are recognized across the world as the preferred choice for both business and leisure travelers alike.
Kingsgate: Our Kingsgate range is expanding across the world. With a fine reputation for the warmth of its service and their premium locations, a Kingsgate stay will always be memorable.