Worldhotels’ EVP Asia-Pacific Roland Jegge talks to Raini Hamdi about changes in the independent hotels market as he marks 20 years of heading Worldhotels in the region
What’s the Asia-Pacific market like back when you joined then SRS Hotels in 1996 as regional head?
There were very few players in the market. We had a portfolio of 23 hotels in Asia-Pacific in 1996. This has grown to almost 100 hotels today and we have also evolved into a full service provider, i.e. our range of services go beyond just sales and distribution to quality certification, training, revenue consultancy and even branding and procurement.
What was your biggest challenge in increasing marketshare then?
When I started with the company, electronic bookings from Asia-Pacific markets comprised a small percentage, as the massive regional wholesalers were controlling and channelling both the leisure and business bookings via their networks. We had only three sales offices in the region and we were working with a number of GSAs representing us in key markets. We had to expand our own sales offices and footprint, and attract the best sales talent in the region to support our hotels.
What was your biggest break in growing Worldhotels in the region?
There wasn’t a single big break. When I came (to Singapore) we had 23 hotels of various levels and quality. I had to first establish the confidence that we were the right partner, work on our image and curate the portfolio.
A source of pride for me today is that we work with and support many of the finest and largest independent hotels in the region, and important national/regional hotel groups such as Stamford Hotels in Oceania, RIHGA Hotels in Japan and The Lalit in India.
What’s had the most impact on independent hotels in the last 20 years, forcing them to evolve?
The entry of the Gen Y traveller was probably the most prominent force. They desire instant gratification (even in instant booking) and to evolve a trip into an experience.
These travellers started to seek out the unique, individual experience and they continue to explore the world of ‘non-cookie cutter’ hotel models and a way to communicate that was more personal. A chain hotel was no longer a first choice but just one of many being considered. Have you ever seen so many chains trying to create ‘independent’ or ‘boutique’ offerings in their portfolios than now?
So how have Asian independent hotel owners changed?
They are getting younger and are very savvy as they have travelled the world and many of them have studied overseas.
They are bringing a breath of fresh air and a new perspective into our industry with new concepts and designs, and the desire to do things differently.
It is hugely exciting to work with them and to share with them the experience I gained over the years of looking after entrepreneurial independent hoteliers.
What was your goal for the first year at then SRS Hotels and what is it now?
My goal has always been to have happy stakeholders at all levels – be they the hotels, our clients, the large multinationals, travel agencies or OTA partners, and finally my stellar team, of which the senior members all count 10 years and more with the company. It is about being truthful, transparent and sincere, building long-lasting relationships based on knowing and trusting each other.
What is your challenge today?
To be innovative and stay ahead of the curve at all times in a fast-changing environment, and continue driving value to our hoteliers.
It is vital, in the current environment, to ensure that we continue to evolve and provide the best resources. I would say that the speed of evolution seems a lot faster today than years ago.
What are you working on currently to stay ahead of the curve?
This year, we are rolling out a programme called ‘Start with the Why’. We are building the blueprint or the story of each of our independent hotels together with the owner, general manager and senior management team. This helps us bring out the essence and origin of each of our hotels and tell this story to the world.
It is a major project and it involves a certified coach sent from Performance Solutions, a training company, to work with each hotel. We are planning to roll this out over the next two years, as it takes time and resources to meet with each hotel team.
This year, I’ve also had the privilege to design and launch World Luxury, a strictly by-invitation-only collection comprising the most iconic independent hotels that share the same principles, vision and values. We are partnering LRA by Deloitte to certify (these) hotels.
Every independent brand is now focusing on ‘telling the story’. What’s the next stage of telling the story?
It is not just about telling the story, it’s about customising the story into the different distribution channels and for each audience.
This adds spice and relevance to each stay. It also differentiates us from the cookie-cutter experience of the mainstream brands who only ask their own people/staff members to deliver the experience they want them to deliver. This is also why a standalone hotel has a brighter future ahead as customers nowadays are not only looking for a place to stay, but a place to experience and feel something.
And when will you launch World Luxury?
It is being rolled out in stages, starting last January with a workshop for several handpicked hotels from our existing Deluxe Collection of five-star hotels. We will launch it to the world during the upcoming ILTM Asia in Shanghai.