View from the Top: Winnie Chiu

She may be all of 31, but Chiu has mapped out an ambitious plan to take the Hong Kong chain global

Winnie Chiu, President and executive director, Kosmopolito Hotels International

Tell us more about Kosmopolito Hotels International (KHI), which is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
KHI is a developer, owner and operator of hotels. It has 17 properties in Hong Kong, China, Malaysia and Singapore, with another six in the pipeline. They cover the brands of Boutique Series by Kosmopolito, Grand Dorsett, Dorsett Regency and Silka Hotels.

How did you get started in hospitality?
I first worked for an investment bank and later became involved in property development. When I joined KHI, I started in business development. I looked at sourcing new land and properties and strengthening the brands. In 2010, I became the executive director of KHI and, subsequently, also its chief strategy officer. In 2011, I was appointed president by the board.

I have always been driven and inspired by the service industry. To be able to head a leading hotel chain is indeed a huge task but definitely one which I enjoy immensely.

How difficult is it being the daughter of the chairman?
The pressure of being entrusted with the role of president and executive director of the hotel group is greater in this instance. People definitely have higher expectations of me.

I also have the responsibility to live up to the trust and confidence bestowed upon me not only by my father, but also all our shareholders.

What difference do you think you’ve brought to the company?
Since coming on board, I have emphasised the importance of developing a strong brand positioning statement of offering an Asian-inspired experience to the world.

We recognise the growing importance of branding to ensure consistency of product and service match customer expectations. As a growing company, we are prepared to invest in marketing and technology platforms that can support such a strategy.

I also believe in investing in the right human resources. Over the last 12 months, we have brought in key senior managers and strategic personnel to spur innovation and the capabilities of the team.

How would you describe the group’s progress so far?
Our journey has just started, and the KHI branding is kicking in now. We participated in our very first travel trade show – ITB Asia – last October.

We are developing a website for the trade, implementing our own central reservation and e-commerce systems, as well as establishing loyalty programmes and a social network presence. We are also working to create a prominent media presence so that there is top-of-mind awareness about our properties. One such initiative is maximising search engine optimisation.

The first quarter of 2012 will be an exciting time for our group as we zoom in to further strengthen our brand presence and product offerings in the market.

There will, of course, be continuous investment in our hotels be it in terms of innovative technologies or renovation/refurbishment programmes to ensure our hotels continue to offer a competitive edge.

“We have a Chinese wallet strategy, targeting Chinese travellers who head overseas.”

Who are you looking to attract?
We have a Chinese wallet strategy, targeting Chinese travellers who head overseas. Hong Kong is always their first overseas destination and KHI is on track to have the most number of hotel rooms in this city in 2012.

Complementing this is our focus on offering an Asian experience and culture to Asians who travel overseas. Asia is the fastest-growing outbound market and KHI knows its needs because it is located in the same region.

Being Asian-minded also gives us greater flexibility when addressing issues like the brand standard. Why do we need to provide a swimming pool when the weather is freezing for nine months in a year even if it is a brand standard? Also, we will not include meeting rooms if the location does not support the need. Why have them when they will not be used?

Which segments are you targeting with your brands?
Grand Dorsett hotels are five-star luxury; Dorsett Regency is aimed at the midscale market; Silka Hotels represents value; and the boutique hotels are upscale.

We are currently promoting the Dorsett Regency brand as top-of-the-four-star-range business hotels offering uniquely-designed accommodation, reliable technology-driven facilities and easy accessibility to city centres and business districts. With the opening of five properties in 2012, this brand will be our main focus for this year. We will make its presence felt in the industry.

The Silka Hotels brand was introduced in mid-2011 with three properties in Hong Kong and one in Kuala Lumpur. While geared towards value-conscious travellers, this brand offers service excellence and amenities.

Our Boutique Series by Kosmopolito properties – Central Park, Cosmo, Lan Kwai Fong, Mercer – are sleek and upscale. Customers are the young and young at heart, with 70 per cent of bookings coming through the Internet. Each property is unique with its own edge. Some of their suites are thematically set up with business partners such as Ocean Park, Sony and OSIM, whose products are incorporated.

What is KHI’s expansion plan?
We are currently developing six hotels, all of which are under the Dorsett Regency brand. Five of them are scheduled to open in 2012 – two in Hong Kong, two in China and one in Singapore. The group’s first property beyond Asia will open in London in 2014.

What will your distribution strategy be like?
Travel consultants remain important business partners for us. However we must also acknowledge that consumer behaviour has changed and guests inform themselves very well about destinations, hotels and pricing before picking up the phone.

One thing’s for sure – online reservation has gained momentum.

When our own central reservation system kicks in, we will definitely see a further improvement in both direct and online reservations. We will also be able to drive business to all hotels by cross-selling them.

This article was first published in TTG Asia, February 24 issue, on page 6. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe.

By N. Nithiyananthan

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