Peninsula Hotels boss on the long term vision of his company – Exclusive interview

Mr Clement Kwok, Managing Director and CEO of Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, the company which controls Peninsula Hotels, has recently shared exclusively his outlook for the future of his company in an exclusive interview with CPP-LUXURY.COM

How has your Paris property performed since opening? 

The Peninsula Paris held its soft opening in 2014 and has already received very high acclaim and recognition as one of the best hotels in Europe. However, the entire Paris market remains soft following the terrorist attacks in late 2015 and we have also been impacted. We have been seeing some pickup since the beginning of 2016, with some major events being held at the hotel, and we are hopeful for a stronger recovery in the leisure market during the high season.

Peninsula London is one of the world´s anticipated luxury hotel openings in the world. Could you please update us on the development project

We were delighted to announce in December 2015 that Westminster City Council’s planning committee resolved to grant in principle planning consent for the new hotel, to be known as The Peninsula London. We aim to start construction in summer 2017.

Considering the renovation of the rooms at Peninsula Chicago completed earlier this year, tell us more about the DNA of the Peninsula brand in regards to your accommodation product.

The Peninsula Hotels is recognised as one of the leading luxury hotel brands in the world, and is Asia’s oldest hospitality brand, dating back to 1866. It is managed in a unique ownership structure that comes from the Kadoorie family whose commitment and interests in the company means assurance for quality, in that our majority shareholders are upholding this brand on a long-term basis regardless of fluctuating global markets and crises. It is also our philosophy to own and operate all of our properties, as it allows us to focus on our brand and our standards of quality without having to compromise. Having such a large financial involvement in the hotels give us a greater say in what we do with them and how we run them.

The vision for the room design is conceived internally, but further developed by external design teams to bring it to reality. In order to avoid a “cookie cutter” approach, the ‘sense of place’ of a location is fundamental to the overall design as well as the choice of designers to be able to understand, appreciate and design accordingly. We have collaborated with noted designers including Yves-Pierre Rochon, Yabu Pushelberg and Chhada Siembieda Leung on various projects that benefit from their ability to create a unique design while understanding the locality and our brand essence. We combine their inspirational design with functionality and the needs of our guests to create a beautiful but functional room for our guests’ supreme comfort.

To give you a recent example, the rooms and suites at The Peninsula Beijing were designed by Henry Leung of CAP Atelier Ltd in conjunction with The Peninsula Hotels’ in-house team.   The designers were inspired by the world of imperial Chinese architecture, design and artisanal expertise from across the centuries, and combined with modern Chinese art and proprietary Peninsula technology and service, The Peninsula Beijing upholds China’s noble traditions of artisanship and innovation, providing guests with an authentic sense of destination
Among the largest in the city (ranging on average from 65 sq m for standard rooms), they are the most technologically advanced and most personalised rooms in the city. In addition to the bedroom area, living room and bathroom, each room offers a self-contained dressing area and walk-in closet, including a seated dressing table, a large electronic safe, a luggage rack for two suitcases, internet radio and a weather display panel. Unique Peninsula features include the signature full-length valet box for discreet pick-up and delivery of laundry, dry-cleaning and polished shoes, and a portable nail dryer.

Peninsula Hotels has been leading in providing most innovative products related to lifestyle experience. Please share more on what novelties we should expect in the future.

We see an increasing demand too for bespoke and privileged access offerings, with personalisation a vital element. To give you an example, as we see more families travelling together, we have created a series of bespoke programmes, including family-friendly packages and Peninsula Academy activities, to showcase the heritage and culture of each Peninsula destination from an insider’s perspective to give our guests an exclusive and memorable experience for them and their families.

Insider information is also key to travelling with sophistication, we offer our guests such with PenCities, an online and hard-copy luxury lifestyle journal with tightly edited selection of informed recommendations on our hotel destinations to enhance the overall travel experience for guests in Peninsula style.

What is your strategic approach to human resources which has ensured your consistency in providing the highest customer service levels at your properties around the world?

-      Our people are at the heart of our business and our brand. As a company with 150 years of history, we are very concerned about maintaining the company culture and family environment of our Group.
-      We have developed retention strategies for our talents, in particular, younger employees in the under-30s age group, and to ensure they are given adequate career progression opportunities and development plans
-      We have invested on learning and development programmes across the group, including cross exposure programmes.
-      We expanded our Corporate Management Trainee Programme in 2015 where graduates were assigned to corporate office roles. Since the inception of the programme eight years ago, we are delighted that one of our graduates of the programme has reached the level of Director of Food and Beverage.
Spas have been a critical component of your properties. What are the latest developments in your approach towards Spas?

The Peninsula Spas have been taken to the next level by providing more than just treatments through a programme entitled “Peninsula Wellness” which has offerings to appeal to all five senses both during the guests’ stay and beyond.  This, in turn, offers additional options in dining and lifestyle to our guests and gives us an opportunity to extend our branding beyond the hotel property and into our customers’ homes. I am attaching the wellness release here for your reference.

How has the internet been influencing (if in any way) your marketing and sales strategy?

Guests are coming to our hotels with much greater knowledge thanks to the internet, which translates to greater expectations on the luxury experience, and thus it is up to us to ensure that we deliver on that promise.  Besides, social media has already become an integral part of many consumers’ daily life and will definitely become a critical part of hotels’ marketing strategies. Up until recently, hotels primarily relied on traditional media or partners, such as travel agents or professionals, travel publications, airlines partners, corporate accounts to find and market to potential guests. The developments in online social media have suddenly allowed hotels connect with guests in an interactive two-way communication process, beyond traditional guests from previous mentioned mediums.

The Peninsula Hotels believes the key to success in the online social network space is to utilize this to “meaningful connect” to guests, instead of simply using it as another carriage for pure promotional or sales messages. The exponentially growing number of online social network users present hotels with an infinite number of groups of guests with specific interests, needs, status … etc,  more importantly the opportunity to find and use “meaningful connections” to enable the hotel to become a member a particular community.

What are the destinations you possibly consider for future expansion? Would you consider a resort property? 

We are pleased to have made good progress with our partners in the ongoing development of our three projects in London, Istanbul and Yangon. We are open to new possibilities in different markets and continue to explore India, Australia and South America. We don’t have any plans for a resort property.

Clement Kwok, Managing Director and CEO of Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels (Peninsula Hotels)