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CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World on the future outlook of luxury travel

Ted Teng, President & CEO, The Leading Hotels of the World

CPP-LUXURY.COM has recently interviewed, exclusively, Mr Ted Teng, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Leading Hotels of the World

With the current turbulent worldwide economic environment, which are the most important changes in luxury travel consumer behaviour you have noticed in the first half of 2012?

I do not think economic volatility will have a negative impact on our customer’s travel patterns.  Travel is an integral part of life for the luxury consumer, and this sector of the market has historically proven to be resilient in the face of economic and geo-political turmoil. Our hotels have been taking advantage of the recent periods of economic softening to invest in refurbishing and upgrading their properties to ensure our customers get the same quality of service, and to maintain adherence to LHW standards.

In 2012, you have continued to add properties to your collection. Which are your key competitive advantages which make luxury hotels opt for your chain versus other similar chains?

At Leading Hotels we follow a “made-to-measure luxury” philosophy and all our efforts are increasingly geared towards independence; whereas the luxury hotel chains opt for the standardization of their services and veer towards “mass luxury”. We therefore operate over two very different segments, with a different clientele. We celebrate the unique qualities of each of our independent luxury hotels. So we attract properties which thrive on emphasizing their uniqueness, and nurture that strength by not insisting on their adherence to a corporately mandated set of requirements.  We offer global sales infrastructure and marketing support to our hotels, while honoring their individuality, bringing more business to them without insisting that they fit into a uniform mould.

Brazil and Russia were two of the top producing countries for your company in 2011. What are your expectations of the BRIC countries in 2012?

We anticipate that these markets will continue to grow and develop as travellers from these regions become more familiar with the Leading Hotels portfolio.

China has become one of the most important luxury markets for all luxury sectors in the past years. How has the Chinese market been performing for your company? What are your strategic on-going and future activities and initiatives on the Chinese market?

We are seeing growth from the Chinese sector.  One way in which we are planning to appeal to this market is by expanding our portfolio of hotels in China to encourage domestic travellers to experience Leading Hotels, and to educate them about our brand and the rest of our collection.  Among our newest members in China are the Mission Hills properties Dongguan, Haikou and Shenzen, which already enjoy an excellent reputation among Chinese travellers.  Based on research, we know that when Chinese travellers go abroad, they like to return with stories to share with their friends and families – so a number of our hotels have created extravagant, memorable packages to give them the most outstanding experiences.  For example, the Hotel Villa Magna in Madrid created a two-night stay in the Royal Suite with personal butler service, and a private guided tour of the Prado Museum – including a dinner for two in a room at the museum, surrounded by artworks – complete with flowers and music. .

Your Spanish and Italian version websites have generated significant additional revenue for your company in 2011. Do you plan to introduce other language versions of your website? How important are these local language version websites?

We do have plans to launch additional language versions of LHW.com. We are currently redesigning our website, and these additional versions will be made available once we have rolled out the upgraded site.  It is imperative that we are able to relate to our global customers in their local languages, in order to make their experiences with our company and our hotels as personal and individualised as possible.

To what extent does The Leading Hotels of The World brand relate to luxury lifestyle?

Throughout our history we have found that affluent individuals regard travel as an integral part of their lifestyle.  Especially in the last decade we have seen that, rather than seeking out the next great thing to buy, our customers are looking for ways to spend more time with family and friends, and for more enriching ways to spend that time.  Travel has become the answer to that quest, and since our hotels embody their destinations, they are not just places to sleep.  They help guests learn more about the local culture and the local people, making that time devoted to travel much more rewarding and fulfilling.

Which are the key elements that make up the desirability DNA of The Leading Hotels of the World brand as a luxury brand?  

In the hotel world, LHW is the anti-formula brand.  For over eight decades, we have been dedicated to providing guests with exceptional travel experiences. The fact that each of our hotels is unique, with its own individual style, is a source of great pride and a hallmark of the LHW brand.  Our hotels are the embodiment of their local destinations – they essentially spring from their communities, offering our guests experiences that are steeped in local color and culture. With this unparalleled portfolio comes an added responsibility to our guests – to ensure that, while each hotel is different from the others, it upholds our stringent quality standards and delivers an outstanding degree of product and service.  Although we ask that a clear set of guidelines are followed, we also encourage each hotel, above all, to remain distinct in character and authentic to its culture, to tell its own special story.

You have been introducing several innovative value added services for the members of your loyalty program, the Leaders Club. Please tell us more.

We want our Leaders Club members to know how important they are to us by providing a personalised welcome, free breakfast, internet access, and the opportunity to enjoy complimentary nights. The program highlights our continuing commitment to providing our guests with genuine out-of-the-ordinary experiences. For example, we introduced the Golf Society in 2012, an exclusive society that brings together all the privileges and advantages of the Leaders Club, coupled with golf privileges at select Leading Hotels. The latest addition to the list of benefits is complimentary arrival transfers for Unlimited level members from airports in the top ten destinations – as indicated by Club members themselves.  We also continue to expand the hometown benefits that members can enjoy at Leading Hotels in their city of residence, expanding the benefits of membership beyond life on the road.  We want our Leaders Club members to be reminded how much we value them, even when they are not traveling. Ultimately, we intend to evolve the Unlimited level to an earned elite level rather than a paid one.

How important is pricing in terms of competing with luxury hotel management chains? (non-members of LHW)

Competitors are always one consideration when considering pricing.  But a hotel must look at its own great location, quality product and high standards of service, in order to price itself accordingly.

Rating and review websites such as Tripadvisor have been growing in influence. Several luxury hotel management chains such as Four Seasons and Sofitel now offer live feeds of Tripadvisor review on their websites. Do you consider implementing similar measures or possibly creating your own review / rating platform.

Our plans do include the launch of a ratings & review platform which will be open to loyal, frequent customers of Leading Hotels.  But we are taking this a step further by giving them the opportunity to network with each other, to offer their own tips and insights, by providing them a trusted forum in which they can share their experiences with other Leading Hotels customers.

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