The future of ASEAN hotel industry

But while the future spells growth, a more meaningful yardstick lies in how the industry will overcome the talent shortage in the region...

Raini Hamdi

Last month on August 8, ASEAN turned 50. The ASEAN hotel industry without doubt, is one of its fascinating economic successes.

Hotels, unlike office buildings and retail centres, can open up destinations or bring a whole new market segment to a country. Being labour intensive, they provide jobs, but can also change the destiny of thousands of locals by equipping them with lifelong skills that will take them far – and faraway. Hotels are an integral part of communities, bearing witness to weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and other important occasions. They are a personal choice; everyone has a say about them.

It’s the sector I love covering the most in travel & tourism. There’s never a dull moment in the business. Hotel GMs love publicity – we knew a few who actually jostled to see who could get more photo airtime in TTG. ASEAN’s hotel industry was also peopled with unforgettable characters who played a huge in shaping it.

There were the educators such as Pakir Singh and Chanin Donavanik, who believed in local talent and built the first hotel schools in ASEAN; industry giants such as Adrian Zecha, who brought out the best of ASEAN’s service culture and beautiful locations; or Ho Kwon Ping, who turned a tin mine into a hotel goldmine, long before the word ‘sustainability’ was bandied about in the industry. There were the first ladies such as Jennie Chua, the first female GM in Singapore if not ASEAN, or Kamala Sukosol, the first and only female hotel owner who is at the same time, an accomplished jazz singer.

But ASEAN’s hotel industry wasn’t shaped just by locals. In fact, in the early years, it was the Westerners, individuals or international chains that came and set new standards. Brands such as Holiday Inn, Novotel, Hilton, Four Seasons, Meliá, etc were earlier than others. Today, these major chains have hundreds of hotels in operation throughout ASEAN and with more to come. AccorHotels and Marriott International alone have 100 hotels each in the pipeline.

But while the future spells growth, a more meaningful yardstick lies in how the industry will overcome the talent shortage in the region, how it will embrace sustainable development, and how it will address the changes technology will continue to bring on distribution, operations, alternative accommodations, among other key issues.

The next five decades look set to be even more fascinating for the ASEAN hotel industry.

What’s there not to love about covering it!

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