SOLARE Hotels & Resorts will bid farewell to founding president & CEO, Tony Virili, on October 31. He will be succeeded by Kentaro Ujiie, former president & CEO of PGM Holdings, one of Japan’s largest golf course owner-operators.
The impending change of leadership at Solare heralds the end of a golden era for Virili, who has been instrumental in driving the success of one of Japan’s most progressive hotel chains.
Virili’s most significant achievement was perhaps the massive rebranding exercise he implemented in 2004-06, which saw the group’s core brands repositioned under the Solare umbrella, and involved a ¥5.4-billion (US$69 million) refurbishment programme, plus the construction of 22 Chisun Inns, adding more than 2,000 rooms to the market.
Solare’s Loisir Hotel brand was also launched and the new Healing Oasis, Loisir Spa Tower Naha became Okinawa’s most luxurious city resorts. Meanwhile, the group’s diversified strategies included the franchise of brands such as Marriott, Mercure, Nikko and Sheraton.
In 2011, Virili oversaw measures to guard Solare against a slowdown in investment and the shift from travel agency bookings to online distribution channels.
He took the opportunity to drive Solare’s expansion via third party management, franchising, and an associate hotels programme – an initiative allowing independent hotels to operate under their own brands, but with the added connectivity of Solare’s online distribution and sales network.
“Think of a hybrid between an OTA and RoomKey.com,” said Virili at the time. “We want an online distribution portal where hotel groups not competing in each other’s market can add value, by offering to their own guests, particularly loyalty programme members, direct connectivity in the form of a real-time bookable inventory of associate hotels.”