2013 saw an aggressive expansion of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. What is your current strategy for exploring the opportunities of the Chinese MICE market?
China has become the second largest market for Starwood Hotels & Resorts globally, behind only the United States. When it comes to the number of new additions, China is the fastest growing market of the group. Looking ahead, Starwood is poised to expand its footprint in China’s provincial capital cities and enter more emerging cities. Also, we are looking to set up more resort hotels here given that larger numbers of Chinese consumers desire to enjoy inspired and relaxed spaces. All the listed types of hotels are premier choices for organizing MICE activities. To my knowledge, the tastes of Chinese MICE guests are changing all the time, but this highlights the advantages that Starwood boasts over its peers. Take Hainan Island for example, we tapped the market in an all-round manner – not only opening Sanya Sheraton Resort which features substantial conferencing capacity, but also unveiling signature brands such as the Westin and Luxury Collection.
Could you give us a brief introduction of your loyalty programs? What particular requests do MICE guests have?
Besides the SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest®) club that caters to individual guests, we have also rolled out the meeting planner-centered SPP (Starwood Preferred Planer) program. Last year, SPP introduced a promotion campaign which encourages members to exchange points for meal coupons, with the aim of further satisfying the needs of MICE guests. As for the habits of Chinese MICE guests, they tend to do short-term plans, which, on the flip side, set higher requirements for hotel operation teams. Noticeably, Starwood is always able to present the most ideal meeting propositions by the following day for guests.
Your hotels have achieved remarkable digital success in recent years. How do you apply relevant innovations onto the MICE sector?
We will be sure to embrace more digital innovations in the hospitality industry in the future. And to some extent, China will lead the market. Interaction via mobiles is widely accepted among Chinese people, and the hospitality industry is closely following this trend. Starwood made a leap into the digital sector in recent years with mobile booking numbers surging by triple digits. Hence, we plan to develop more MICE-focused digital application products. In fact, the PC services system of Starwood is well-established – starwoodmeeting.com serves as a handy guide for MICE guests.
What types of hotels do you prefer to stay at as a holidaymaker? What details services are most important to you?
As a travel fan, I prefer to stay at hotels with exclusive features, or to be more exact, a place that can tell an interesting story about the destination. Just like the Le Meridien, a sub-brand under the umbrella of Starwood, recently unveiled theme “unlock destination, destination unlocked”. I also cannot resist when I am in front of delicacies which showcase local tastes.
How will the MICE industry evolve in the coming years?
I am sure there will be more changes. Meeting planners will tend to organize mid-to-small sized gatherings instead of mega events. Technology demands will also go up as MICE guests become more sophisticated, and that’s why almost all hotels are ramping up efforts to upgrade their amenities.