Is Bill Heinecke about to invest in a major project in China? This is certainly the country everyone wants to be in. And everyone wants the Chinese outbound market too. This is one of the prime attractions that has brought 450 luxury travel suppliers here to Shanghai, from 20 countries (over 158 are exhibiting at ILTM Asia for the first time). There will be a staggering 21,500 pre-scheduled appointments over the next three days as these exhibitors have one-to-ones, nearly 50 each, with the 446 hosted buyers, an increase of nearly 20 percent over last year (and 231 of these buyers are first-timers) • At the Forum yesterday we heard from The Future Laboratory – a group so much more funky, and therefore more central to the action, than many forecasters – about what they see coming. Yes, there will be frugal millionaires who challenge brands to deliver five-star luxury with elements of economy, but there will also be experienced Chinese luxury travellers who want experiences coupled with comfort foods. The Laboratory’s findings were mainly based on interviews with ILTM’s exhibition director, Alison Gilmore, plus travel agents and niche-player hoteliers.
ILTM forums, the creation of Simon Mayle, the talented head of marketing for Reed’s ILTM shows, are fast becoming the luxury industry trendsetter, on a truly global scale. This year Mayle concentrated on entrepreneurial thought-leaders who are also innovators, and he added a flair of luxury lifestyle in the form of Leonardo Ferragamo. Since introducing the Salvatore Ferragamo brand to China in 1993, its presence has grown to nearly 60 stores – one happens to be in the Portman Ritz-Carlton complex, just behind the show. As Leonardo Ferragamo shared at the Forum, the family’s Lungarno hotels are all family owned, and have three cornerstones of location, art involvement and the timeless style that is also the essence of the fashion brand • Also on branding, David Williams, Chief Marketing Officer, Orient-Express, stressed the essential need not to change strategy but, where possible, be sympathetic to adapting where appropriate.
Klara Glowczewska, editor of Condé Nast Traveler, flew in from New York to interview Banyan Tree’s Ho Kwon Ping, who could have flown in from anywhere as his company base is Bangkok, he is mostly in Singapore but he has board commitments in London. KP Ho, known affectionately as KP, heads a multi-headed company, with a total of 30 Banyan Tree hotels, resorts and spas, and Angsana and Colours by Angsana. Now he is tightening the company, with a more definite expansion plan, which will be headed by his first-ever CEO. Last Friday he appointed Abid Butt, a one-time Banyan Tree GM who has recently been working with Host Hotels in the USA.
The luxury travel industry continues strongly to court highflyers of all emerging nations, led by the BRIC nations plus, in Asia, Indonesia. Brazil’s top social media specialist, Amadeu Castanho, is making his first visit to Shanghai. He says his fellow Brazilians, when travelling, want to be taken care of, to be treated as important and unique. They want to know someone is thinking how to make them happy and comfortable. His first day here, in sensational Shanghai, he was blown away when, walking across the street from Park Hyatt Shanghai to Grand Hyatt Shanghai, a young Park Hyatt bellman, Frank Wang, insisted on escorting him over, pulling his small wheelie-bag for him. On arrival at the Grand Hyatt, Frank took off his glove to shake hands and wish the visitor a happy stay. (At Grand Hyatt, by the way, Castanho was also impressed he could order any dish from any restaurant, regardless where he was sitting.)
Interest in the Indian outbound market was illustrated by yesterday’s panel discussion which I had the honour to moderate. Ashwini Kakkar, Mercury Travels, stressed time replacing money, and new travelers wanting shorter, later. Sushil Wahwa, Platinum, said watch Bollywood. He urged more attention to sourcing from tertiary cities and, when inhouse, guests need more attention to true vegetarian food (nothing that moves, even eggs). Seema Makhija, Travel Voyages, stressed shopping, shopping, and weddings. She is currently organizing nuptials for 750 guests at the InterContinental Mauritius Resort Balaclava Fort Balaclava Resort & Spa, just north of the Mauritian capital, Port Louis, June 20-25, 2012. Fortunately the hotel, owned by Mauritius’ biggest real estate giant, Lateral Holdings, has MICE space for up to a thousand. The challenge is that it only has 210 rooms and since high society does not like sharing four-to-a-room she is blocking masses of Starwood rooms, too. She is also flying in 250 maids, hairdressers and beauticians, an ABBA group from UK, and 50 cooks from India.
Another Mauritius property, Maradiva, is represented at ILTM Asia by high-flying owner, Sanjiv Randanee, son of Sir Kailash Ramdanee. Sanjiv took his ten-year old daughter to Hollywood for the Golden Globe and she, particularly, charmed all the A-listers, who undoubtedly will find an excuse to rush to Mauritius for an ultimate luxury break. They can also head to Harrods, London, where therapists from the Maradiva spa will be ‘guest-cheffing’, so to speak, October 8th through to November 5th, 2012 • Other knowledgeable travellers will head to Four Seasons Tented Camp in northern Thailand, which has opened an Elephant Research Programme • Also on the educational tack, John Tue Nguyen’s Trails of Indochina, under newly-appointed COO Matt Masson, introduces a vintage car in Luang Prabang, and a traditional luxury boat, the Sarus, sailing on Tonle Sap Lake.
Talking of sailing, The Peninsula Hotels announces its own 40-foot Signal 8 racing yacht, named for the tropical cyclone warning signals that the Hong Kong Government has issued since 1884 (also, the number eight is particularly auspicious as ‘ba’, eight, rhymes with ‘fa’, fortune). Owned by Hong Kong-based investors, the Jason Ker-designed boat will race in England (Cowes) and Ireland (Cork) during the period June through August 2012 and then it will return to Asia, for the China Coast Regatta and China Coast International Regatta, and races around Hong Kong Island and in Phuket. Between races it will be available for hospitality and hotel team member lifestyle enhancement • Rainy Chan, GM of The Peninsula Hong Kong, is enthusing about the new-look Tower rooms opening this August – and next year the Original Building rooms will be re-opened in April, as part of the hotel’s 85th anniversary celebrations (this is a seismic time, she says) • Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow is also renovating – the entire hotel is being redone by Tony Chi , who is also redoing the premium suites at InterContinental Hotel Geneva (its new 18th floor Grand Royal Suite will be a staggering 600 sq m)• Among the splendid new luxury hotels on the horizon is Beijing’s Waldorf Astoria, next to the Peninsula and Hilton Wangfujing. Designed by Yabu Pushelberg, it opens next year with 171 rooms and suites, including four specially-converted original Hutong houses • Also scheduled for 2013 is the 347-room highly-modern Shangri-La Jingan Shanghai, near the ILTM exhibition: designer here is Wilson Associates, and opening GM, Ed Brea, is one of the Shang crowd into serious fitness – he and his successor at Kerry Pudong, Peter Clarke, plus Shangri-La’s corporate fitness guru, Andrew West, are Saturday morning regulars cycling and running around Pudong’s Century Park • Manila will see a twin complex, with a 32-room Raffles, plus a 300-room Fairmont, both with branded residences.
Back to China. As luck would have it, Minor International’s founding Chairman/CEO Bill Heinecke was Christine Tan’s guest on CNBC on Sunday (June 3rd, 2012) – he laughingly said he named his company because he was only 18 when he started it and had he been a couple of years older he would have called it Major International. Now his 70-plus hotels represent 48 percent of his current market cap of US$2 billion, which he hopes to take up to US$5 billion within five years. With his strong representation in fast foods, which are led by his son John, this is perfectly feasible, says the boss. Every year he receives about a hundred potential hotel projects, of which a maximum four could lead to anything. So far, he is still losing money in China but he hopes to break even by the end of 2013. China is not easy, he says. You need to think long-term and be prepared for a tough playing field, but he is certainly prepared to invest in China (as he would in the Middle East) if the right deal comes along. Is this deal about to materialise?
Have a great day and see you tonight – the official ILTM party is at the fabulous and historic Fairmont Peace Hotel, right on The Bund, 7.30 through to 11.30. It first opened in 1926 as the business home of Sir Victor Sassoon and when it reopened, July 28th, 2010, the first guests were Mr and Mrs Tong who were married there, in what was then the Cathay Hotel in 1957.