Rosewood Hotel Group CEO on re-branding and ambitious global expansion

Ms. Sonia Cheng, chief executive officer, Rosewood Hotel Group has recently spoken, exclusively, to CPP-LUXURY.COM about the ample re-branding campaign of her company as well as its ambitious global expansion plans.

You have recently an ample re-branding strategy of your company (Rosewood Hotels & Resorts). Why did you choose the Sense of Place as the pillar of the campaign?

A sense of place® philosophy has always been the Rosewood Hotels & Resorts’ guiding principle since the brand was established over 30 years ago. It is not simply the pillar of our marketing campaign, but a longstanding core concept of the group. It is our compass and key differentiator amongst luxury hotels. We launched our re-branding with a pioneering 360-degree marketing programme to enhance and further reinforce our A Sense of Place® concept. We felt this was key at this time of our aggressive expansion and introducing the brand to Asia.

A sense of place applies in all areas from dining, spa, recreation, entertainment to amenities and services – it is holistic and immersive. To convey our commitment, our advertising campaign is actually themed “Living Canvas” – it expresses what we are introducing and reinforcing in the properties in new and exciting ways – dynamic, enriching experiences.

For example, one of our new initiatives, Rosewood Curators involves inviting high profile local experts to share special destination insights for the first time direct to Rosewood guests. Rosewood Curators are featured on our new website which is not only a showcase for our hotels but a platform for insights and insider information about the locations.

This month, you are opening in London your fist hotel in Europe. Some argue that the location is not ideal for a luxury hotel. Tell us more.

On the contrary, we think Rosewood London’s location on High Holborn is a perfect one for both business or leisure travellers! First of all, the hotel is centrally located in the very heart of London. The City is close by while shopping areas and tourist attractions such as Covent Garden, the Royal Opera House, West End theatres, Hatton Garden, museums and galleries are also just a short walk away.

But it’s also a district that is so steeped in history and stories, and a vibrant local life, that it is a very authentic slice of London. Charles Dickens lived in the area and many scenes from his novels are set here. The Inns of Court, the hub of the British legal profession, are right behind the hotel. Not to mention Drury Lane, Fleet Street, Bloomsbury and much more – the area has always been at the centre of London life.

We’re also confident that Rosewood London will become a destination and stylish social centre in its own right. We’re introducing very interesting dining concepts that honour traditional British cuisine in a contemporary way; for example, we worked with the renowned designer Martin Budnizki to create the Holborn Dining Room. And our bar has a fantastic, convivial club ambience with a roaring fire at one end and wooden bar running along the other with intimate, comfortable corners – not to mention one of London’s most extension selections of whisky and gin varieties.

In addition, Rosewood’s signature Sense® spa will have its European debut at Rosewood London. All in all, we believe Rosewood London will become a magnet for upscale and comfortable socialising not just for the immediate area but beyond as well.

What is the comp set you aim to run against in London?

We consider ourselves an ultra-luxury hotel, however at the same time, with our A Sense of Place® philosophy, we believe we are creating our own space.

The majority of your operating hotels are based in the North America. Which market / region do you see biggest potential for growth in the long term?

Rosewood Hotels & Resorts has embarked on an aggressive plan with a focus on Europe and Asia. China, as the world’s fastest growing economy, will be a priority market for us. We anticipate deepening Rosewood’s presence in the Middle East while key gateway cities in Europe and exclusive resort destinations worldwide are also our targets.

What is the business model you apply? Management and/or total/partial ownership?

We intend to grow primarily through hotel management contracts, targeting a portfolio of hotels that is one-quarter owned by the parent company and three-quarters by independent owners.
How important is nowadays to own a stake in the hotels you operate?

Having equity in the hotels we manage allows us more ability to control our own destiny, build a strong and identifiable brand, and quickly capitalise on opportunities and evolving customer needs. However, management contracts with independent owners allow us to penetrate more markets where our guests are going, more quickly. I will say both present opportunities for us.
Which are the biggest challenges a developer/hotelier nowadays face when building a luxury hotel project.

We look for like-minded partners as we seek out potential luxury hotel opportunities, as a common vision between the developer and the hotel operator is key to the long term success of the project. We have been fortunate in that regard, for example in projects where we have recently signed management contracts in locations such as Bali, Jakarta and Bangkok. I think it’s also pivotal to bring together a talented team of architects and interior designers in particular, who can work closely with the management team to realise the “sense of place” that we wish to create. Lastly, having a strong or unique location is also a key component of future success, as one has to realise that not every location will automatically lend itself to the creation of a great luxury hotel, so it’s important to understand which opportunities to explore, which not, in order to protect the integrity of the brand.

It is also important is to understand the values and desires of contemporary luxury travelers. These must be kept in mind from the outset of contemplating and planning a new hotel project, because they impact and guide all decisions being made, from location to design to operations, services and human resources.

In the case of Rosewood, our guests expect the highest quality in products and services – that’s a given – but they really aren’t attracted to traditional, superficial luxury. They seek the luxury of simple pleasures. They don’t want standard experiences of the destination, no matter how luxurious. They want to experience the authentic, the insightful, the exclusive. They want to feel that they are embracing the community and environment they are visiting however that presents itself.

We call the Rosewood guest an “affluential explorer” – it is in their nature to seek out, to learn, to add to their bank of experiences wherever they go – whether for business or pleasure, for short or long haul trips.

It is this profile we keep in mind, guiding us through the hundreds of thousands of decisions that must be made during the course of building one of our hotels.

You do not have a presence or any announced projects in South America? What do you think about the potential?

We’re eager for opportunities to pursue in South America because there is increasing appetite among our target market to explore this region.

Operating in such diverse markets may pose an HR challenge. What is your approach?

We strive to provide an inspiring culture for our associates whereby they have the same goals as the group, so they are proud of where they work and see it as their own – no matter in what part of the world they’re representing us. We focus on selecting the best talent – those who inspired by the Rosewood legacy, style of service, and future growth – and then provide training and career development opportunities for them. And our corporate offices work very closely local teams to ensure all positions are filled with professionals who are passionate about the hotel industry and of course the Rosewood Hotels & Resorts brand. Our “A Sense of Place®” guiding philosophy too helps to ensure cultural sensitivity and responsible corporate citizenship in our locations, which associates respond to positively.

Have you noticed recently consumers expect a more fresh, renovated product than before. Tell us about your strategy

Our guests do have the highest standards and expectations for our products. We meet those, but with added flair; Rosewood hotels and resorts are the opposite of cookie-cutter and genuinely reflect and celebrate their environments. You can visit a property such as the 67-room San Miguel de Allende in the charming former artist colony in Mexico or, when it opens next year, go to Rosewood Beijing, which will be a stunning property in a fabulous location in one of the world’s most exciting cities.

But what our guests really seek is to connect with the destinations and hotels which are portals to that – we bring our A Sense of Place® philosophy in all our properties and create journeys through dining, services, spa and recreation to hotel’s design, amenities and architecture. Our design ethos is to create properties that are true to their origins, contemporary yet timeless. Going forward, as we expand, more and more people will be able to discover this Rosewood difference as we open up in new destinations.