Speaking exclusively to TTG, vice president – sales, The Peninsula Hotels, Simon Yip reveals that in order for a hotel to fit perfectly into its scene, an alignment of stars is the ultimate necessity
TTG: What is the latest news that we can expect to see from Peninsula Hotels?
The Peninsula Hotels arrive in Europe with the announcement of the forthcoming opening of The Peninsula Paris in 2013. Ideally located in a magnificent historic building – formerly The Hotel Majestic – on Avenue Kléber just off the Arc de Triomphe on the prestigious Champs Elysées, The Peninsula Paris will bring a new level of distinction to Paris’ luxury hotel scene.
The Peninsula Hotels also launches the Lifestyle Academy in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. A unique series of bespoke guest-oriented programmes appreciating the finer things in life, including personal style, etiquette, epicurean connoisseurship, floral design and golf, taught in English or Mandarin.
Furthermore, The Peninsula Hong Kong unveiled a room enhancement programme. To offer guests the highest levels of comfort and experiential luxury, The Peninsula Hong Kong has embarked on a landmark room enhancement programme of all 297 rooms and suites. The first phase of the room enhancement programme in the Tower will be completed in August 2012, followed by the Original Building which will be completed in April 2013.
TTG: After gaining a firm foothold within Asia, why was the US chosen as the first destination to expand to outside of the continent?
Our horizons are – and have always been – about long-term development and we want to stay very focused on high-quality city hotels in gateway business destinations. We want to grow our brand in a responsible way with a long-term vision based on quality in everything we do, and thus our first US hotel, The Peninsula New York (acquired in 1988) was followed by The Peninsula Beverly Hills in 1991 and The Peninsula Chicago in 2001.
TTG: Peninsula Hotels places strong emphasis on its Asian roots throughout each property, what is it about Asian hospitality that appeals to other markets?
The essence of the Asian hospitality culture is that of graciously welcoming guests into your own home, and at The Peninsula, we go to great lengths to make sure our guests feel as comfortable and as relaxed as they would be at home – yet they can feel indulged.
Our service goes beyond the mere provision of creature comforts. It involves an intuitive understanding of a guest's needs, knowing their preferences and then taking care of them effectively and efficiently without fuss – service from the heart is the true meaning of Asian hospitality.
TTG: As a luxury hotel group how does Peninsula Hotels define luxury throughout its hotel portfolio?
There are a few factors. It is a family-owned business – the Kadoorie family. Our current chairman is The Hon Sir Michael Kadoorie, and the family has been involved since the inception of The Peninsula Hotels.
In today’s hotel landscape it is a very important dimension of the company that it is family owned, as it means there is not the same constant pressure with regards to return on investment.
Another thing is our philosophy. We believe it is best to own the hotels we manage – or at least have a significant stake in those hotels – so we don’t do management contracts. Again, that allows us to focus on our brand and our standards of quality without having to make too many compromises. Having such a large financial involvement in the hotels gives us a greater say in what we do with them and how we run them. These are the two most distinct differentiators.
The Peninsula Hotels is a small group with world-class hotels in Asia and the US. While the traditional measures of luxury are a given at our hotels, for example the excellent facilities and services, Rolls-Royce fleets, sumptuous fabrics, gourmet restaurants – the new luxury of today comprises a major intangible.
As our lives become ever more busy and hectic with all the communication and travel that go into a day, time is becoming the ultimate luxury – time to be still, to think, to reflect, to plan, to savour the experience when one travels or just to relax and do nothing.
TTG: Which are your flagship properties, and why is this the case?
The legendary Peninsula Hong Kong, opened in December 1928, was built with the vision of being “the finest hotel east of Suez”. From the moment the first guest arrived, The Peninsula has been synonymous with Hong Kong, welcoming the rich, the famous, the titled and the tycoon, with an embrace of unsurpassed luxury and warmth, for over eight decades.
Our company has important roots in Shanghai, and so our return to the city with the opening of The Peninsula Shanghai in 2009 impacts the very core of our business and our heritage. The Hon Sir Michael Kadoorie – our chairman and controlling shareholder – was raised in Shanghai and thus has very fond memories of the city. Added to this, of course, is the fact that Shanghai is becoming one of the most important and thriving commercial cities in the world, and so as our company has its roots in China, this return was very important to us.
TTG: What is the process you undertake when deciding to expand into a new destination and how to design the property?
The way we go about launching a hotel really depends on the location. In order to start to work on a project, the ‘stars’ have to be aligned correctly. One of these stars is finding the right location.
Setting up a hotel is obviously very expensive, so the next star to have in place is a partner. Then you need to get the right building, and then the city to approve the planning.
We have a philosophy that each hotel should reflect the city that it is in. For example, with our Tokyo property we employed local architects and interior designers, so guests should feel like they are in Japan, but they should also feel a little bit of Peninsula, with signature elements like the page boys in their uniforms. It should always be a combination and it should never be cookie-cutter.
TTG: Peninsula Hotels’ first expansion into Europe sees the company enter France in 2013, what can you tell us about this, and why France?
In our strategic expansion plan we have had certain cities on the list for a number of years. Paris and London are the two cities in Europe that we have earmarked.
The stars has aligned correctly in Paris before London for no particular reason other than it all came together – we did not choose one over the other.
The Peninsula Paris is on Avenue Kléber, one of the streets leading off the Arc de Triomphe, just one block away from the monument. It is right next door to an existing hotel called the Raphael.
It is a building that was opened in 1908 as a hotel called Le Majestic and has a very distinguished history: George Gershwin wrote ‘An American in Paris’ there and then it became an international conference centre owned by the French government. It was there that Henry Kissinger signed the Paris Peace Accords, bringing the Vietnam War to a close.
When you walk inside the building you can feel the old hotel and it is a pleasure for us now to put a Peninsula in there. There will be 200 rooms, a large lobby, a Chinese restaurant, some banquet rooms and a rooftop restaurant.
TTG: Are your properties popular with guests from the MENA region? If so why and how do you cater to their specific needs and requirements?
Yes, we have a significant Middle Eastern clientele – particularly for our hotels in the US – and this is a very important and growing market for us. We have an Arabic language website, and our hotels are equipped to serve Middle Eastern guests with a range of amenities and facilities, including prayer mats, copies of the Qur’an and other requirements, and in-room guest collaterals in Arabic.
TTG: What about expansion into the MENA region? Do you feel this is a realistic possibility for Peninsula Hotels?
Yes, absolutely – we are interested in looking at the Middle East, but again, there are a number of necessary steps to take before we can raise the Peninsula banner on a new hotel, including finding the correct location, partner, building and planning permission.