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All eyes on Asia
The battle for global dominance in the hotel industry is being fought in the region - with the world's biggest chains planning massive expansion
By Steve Shellum, Publisher/Editor, HOTEL Asia Pacific
IT'S a battleground out there – and the hotel industry in Asia is the certain winner. The recently bruised and battered sector is calling the shots once again as the global giants slug it out for dominance in the world's fastest-growing and most dynamic hotel arena.
With the North American and European territories more or less carved up and sewn up, the industry's leading players have turned their considerable energies to Asia - with a vengeance.
Starwood chairman Barry Sternlicht sums it up nicely: "The company that has the biggest footprint in Asia and has the strongest presence there five, 10 or 15 years from now, will be the largest and most successful [hotel] company in the world".
The US-based group expects Asia to be its "most exciting and rewarding market", and is planning to increase its portfolio in the region from the current 90 hotels to 107 by 2005.
It's a story repeated by all the North American and European industry giants, who have come to realise that, despite all the hard knocks it has suffered, Asia is still the stage on which the battle for global supremacy in the industry will be played out.
The recent Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific (HICAP) in Hong Kong attracted the industry's leading movers and shakers, and their message was consistently loud and clear: Asia is where it's at.
Sternlicht's unbridled optimism is echoed by his competitors.
"Asia Pacific is, without a doubt, the region with the greatest growth prospects - and the real engine factor is China," says InterContinental Hotels Group CEO Richard North.
Marriott International president and MD Ed Fuller also has his sights firmly set on expansion in Asia, where its 90 existing hotels already contribute just under a third of the group's more than US$3 billion in international revenues. "We try to get into each of the gateways [in a region]. Once we're in, we move to the secondary cities and introduce other brands. In Asia we're at that point right now," he says.
Hilton International, meanwhile, aims to boost its portfolio in the region from the current 34 to 60 within three years and increase revenues by 50%, while Hyatt International plans to quadruple the number of hotels in China by 2008 - making the country its biggest market outside the US.
Over to Tom Higgins, CEO of Best Western International, which plans to add more than 50 hotels in the region in the next two years: "There are risks, but the risks from not being there - and not being there aggressively - are greater".
LET'S take a detailed look at what some of the industry's biggest chains are planning in the region.
Intercontinental plans to increase the number of hotels it manages here by more than half to 230.
According to CEO North, the company, which currently operates about 3,300 properties worldwide under the Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and other brands, will be opening at least 80 hotels in Asia in the next 30 months.
Half of the hotels will be in China - either Holiday Inns or the Express budget-brand.
"The region has tremendous growth potential, and we intend to substantially increase our already wide presence here. Despite the recent problems it has endured, all the fundamentals are solid."
Hilton, meanwhile, is not only extending its reach in the region, but introducing a "new-generation" of properties that will emphasise the group's ambition to "develop and refresh" its Asia Pacific portfolio. The expansion will be "driven without financial investment", according to Koos Klein, president for Asia Pacific and the Middle East.
"Hilton's growth in Asia Pacific will draw on the strength of our relationships with our business partners. The lion's share of our short-term growth will come through franchise and management agreements.
"In terms of franchising, our strategy is to partner only with proven, well-capitalised partners that have a successful track record for business. This will enable Hilton to expand rapidly, and with less risk."
The group recently announced a franchise agreement with India's EIH and Oberoi Hotels, which will see nine Trident Hilton hotels in the country from January 1.
It also aims to become a major player in the region's leisure market by increasing the number of Hilton Worldwide Resorts from the current four to 13.
"Our focus on Asia is based on the powerful demographic and economic growth in the region, despite [recent] trying economic times," says Klein.
"Asia Pacific performed well, both as a destination and as a market, throughout 2001 and 2002."
The group, however, is taking a slightly more cautious approach to China than its competitors - it plans to increase its portfolio there from the current five to just seven by 2006, and is believed to be close to signing properties in Beijing and Shanghai.
Best Western, which bills itself as
"the world's largest hotel chain", has identified Asia - specifically China - as the key geographic region for significant brand growth, according to CEO Higgins.
It plans to add more than 50 hotels in the next two years throughout the region, with the most aggressive growth planned for China, where it currently operates eight hotels. Its ambitious plans call for 100 hotels in China by 2007, starting with recently opened properties in Xian and Kunming.
"While hotel branding is still a relatively new trend in China, Best Western has identified strategic markets that would benefit from a value-priced global brand," says David Kong, senior VP of global strategy and development.
To support its aggressive Asian expansion strategy, Best Western opened an office in Beijing earlier this year headed by William Dong, who was promoted to director of operations and development, China.
Its Asian development plans also include new hotels in Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and India.
Hyatt, which currently operates four hotels in mainland China, has seven more under construction or in the planning stages, with another seven under discussion.
Construction has begun on the Beijing Yintai Centre, which will house a 237-room Park Hyatt on the upper floors, which is scheduled to open in late 2006.
The group expects to have five other hotels opened by then, including the 350-room Hyatt Regency Chongqing and the 397-room Hyatt Regency Hangzhou, which are both scheduled to open next year.
In 2005, the 337-room Hyatt Regency Shanghai and the 350-room Hyatt Regency Sanya on Hainan Island [the group's first mainland resort hotel] will be operating.
In the planning stages are a Park Hyatt for Shanghai, a Hyatt Regency in Nanjing and hotels in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Changsha, Chengdu, Xiamen, Shenyang and Beijing.
By 2013, Hyatt is aiming to have 38 hotels in Greater China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
Elsewhere in the region, the 525-room Hyatt Regency Incheon, Seoul, recently opened, while the 259-room Park Hyatt Ho Chi Minh City is scheduled to open in late 2004 and the 185-room Park Hyatt Seoul in early 2005.
Accor is extending its reach throughout the region, and is putting great faith in its Ibis and Formule1 budget brands. In China, it will open another nine hotels by the end of 2004, including five Sofitels and two Novotels.
"The opportunities are immense - provided you have the right products for the right locations," says Accor Asia Pacific chairman David Baffsky.
Marriott, meanwhile recently opened three hotels in Shanghai and plans to open 14 more in Asia next year, including its first resort in China and an expansion of its Courtyard brand in Australia and New Zealand.
According to MD Fuller, the JW Marriott brand will continue to move into secondary cities in the next few years, including Dalian in China and Hyderabad in India, while the Ritz-Carlton brand will seek to expand in gateway cities in Asia.
"Clearly China and India continue to be very strong opportunities for us, but Vietnam and Thailand also offer great opportunities," he says.
The company is focusing on international brand expansion, and Asia is a key to boosting revenues from outside the US. [It's interesting to note that Marriott today operates more than 500 hotels outside the US, compared with just 16 in 1991.]
As the battle for global supremacy is fought out in the Asian theatre, the regional ratio of hotels in the portfolios of the industry giants will grow exponentially.
As China continues to attract European and North American investors like moths to a flame, there is little doubt that many of them will get burned as they rush in to what could well end up as an oversupplied market - at least in the short to medium term.
But China is only one [albeit major] battleground, and any company that aims to be a truly global player needs to look carefully at all the diverse markets in the region - particularly if they aim to gain the loyalty of the burgeoning Chinese outbound market where, to be honest, their future lies.
The winners will be those hotel companies that have the determination to keep in the thick of it - through the good and the bad times - and stay the course. Despite the renewed euphoria surrounding the region, there are as many challenges as opportunities - and it will be interesting to look back, say five years or 10 from now, and
see which hotel giants have left the biggest footprints.
And, to be brutally honest, which ones will be trampled in the rush.
HOTEL Asia Pacific
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