Navigating a global shift

With its heavy presence in China, Swire Hotels found itself in a tight spot of navigating the evolving crisis as an independent luxury brand. Managing director Dean Winter dives into the critical roles of teamwork and flexibility in ensuring survival.

As the pandemic laid its claim between 1H2020 to 2H2020, what did crisis management look like for Swire Hotels? How did your concerns evolve as well?
At the start of the outbreak, nobody knew the scale of the pandemic or what was to come. Swire Hotels has a big presence in Mainland China, which was initially the focal point of the virus, so our first concern was on our people in these properties – both colleagues and guests – and ensuring their health and wellbeing.

In Mainland China and Hong Kong, many of us had the muscle memory from SARS, so reverting to social distancing and mask-wearing, as well as increasing hygiene and sanitation practices, happened somewhat smoothly.

Then, our attention turned to focusing on the business and maintaining communication with our guests to keep things ‘ticking’ as best we could. I truly believe that one of the main reasons why Swire Hotels has been able to navigate this period somewhat smoothly is that we empower our people to take control. While we implemented standard operating procedures around the pandemic, we likewise believe in our people to make well-informed decisions based on the situation they find themselves in. I was, and remain, truly impressed by the spirit and positivity shown by my colleagues.

Can you give us some examples of this global team spirit?
I’m blown away by the exceptional attitude of our colleagues throughout the last 12 months; everyone has really taken the time to look out for one another, be kind, and continue to create incredible experiences across the Swire Hotels properties. The lesson that has been reiterated to me in the past year is that building and maintaining a strong team is vital.

What does the path towards recovery look like for Swire Hotels, as well as for your brand of luxury?
Continuous creativity and innovation across all areas of the business is key. Our team has been incredible in learning from one another to create unique experiences through pop-up events, brand collaborations and continuing to create amazing experiences for our guests.

On the overnight stay front, the domestic market is a huge focus, now more than ever. In Mainland China specifically – where we currently have four properties – we were witnessing increased appetite for domestic travels even prior to Covid-19, and (have since been) growing a community of brand advocates.

Over in the US, business has returned quite quickly to EAST Miami, albeit with softer rates and reduced restaurant capacity. The hotel’s online presence and creative communications have generated solid occupancy and satisfactory results, which is especially pleasing for what is still seen as an independent brand in the US.

While it’s true that different countries have taken different approaches to dealing with the pandemic, our dedication to our guests is consistent across all Swire Hotels. With new restrictions in place, we have had to rethink the way we do things. Our operations have been adjusted to incorporate enhanced hygiene practices, social distancing measures and so on; however, we pride ourselves on our guest experience, which has always been personalised and hands-on.

How do you envision Swire Hotels can move forward in 2021? What are your key objectives and goals for this year?
Our properties in Mainland China and EAST Miami are already experiencing stronger occupancy levels. This is driven by the domestic market, so in the meantime, our focus will be on stimulating local demand with attractive packages until international borders have reopened.

We are confident that once this happens, we will see a strong surge in demand and our team will be ready to welcome our guests back. Other key initiatives keeping us busy over at The Upper House in Hong Kong is the renovation of the penthouse and a new dining concept that will be revealed this spring.

We also have ambitious growth plans for The House Collective and EAST Hotels. As we continue to grow, it is vital that we do not dilute our brands, and as managing director, my focus will be on operations and brand, ensuring that the Swire Hotels teams continue to act with intuition and spontaneity to create meaningful experiences and connections with guests.

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