GEN Y Luxury

Increasingly, meeting and incentive participants are Gen-Yers, who hotel chains believe require a new kind of accommodation and meeting concept. This accounts for a slew of new ‘lifestyle’ brands that defy the star-rating system, offering ‘smart luxury’ or ‘upscale select service’ to younger jet-setters or Millennial-minded travellers. Raini Hamdi guides you to the new names in the market that are keen to spread their wings, joining earlier entrants such as W, Aloft and Indigo

“Red clearly taps into a niche that has evolved in the last number of years and is making its way into developing markets around the world. It speaks to changing demographics – we know that today the younger generation, which forms almost a third of tomorrow’s travellers, uses hotel facilities differently than may be myself or other generations before me. It is much centred on community. It is an upscale select offering – there are reduced services and facilities but it is upscale from the build-out to the quality.”

Thorsten Kirschke
President Asia-Pacific, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group

“It is widely forecast that Millennials will account for a third of all travel spend in the very (short term) and 75 per cent of travel spend in 10 years’ time. They look for new experiences that are not cookie-cutter, and want hotels to be engaging and empowering. And today’s travellers are looking for different experiences as well. While the economy is recovering in most parts of the world, value is still king – many people are looking for affordability, coupled with stylish design and experience.”

David Kong
President & CEO, Best Western International

“The influence of the Millennials has become too strong to ignore, so in response, the hotel industry has converged upon a few key offerings like free Wi-Fi, social areas, curated local travel guides, etc.  Everyone is going after the same pie but, in general, I think brands are doing a decent job of differentiating themselves.  Some are design-led, others are tech-forward.

Everyone talks about humanising the brand and adding the personal touch – we built Hotel Jen on a virtual persona, probably as human as it gets.”

Howard Ho
Director of development – Hotel Jen

“We definitely want to retain our existing customer base, who have been extremely loyal to us, but we also recognise that their needs have changed. Today’s guests want more flexibility, as busy non-traditional work hours tend to blend the boundaries between business and leisure.”

Lothar Nessmann
Chief operations officer – Hotel Jen

“I am extremely excited that this new brand offers an experience which is light, organic, energetic and a look and feel reflective of the hotel’s individual neighborhood. Our research has shown that for a long while now, the demands of customers continue to evolve – gone are the days of the dark and brooding lifestyle hotel.

So with Canopy, we have taken a fresh approach to the lifestyle space; moving lifestyle out of the dark ages by giving it an upgrade with a differentiated, revitalising edge.”

Martin Rinck
President Asia-Pacific, Hilton Worldwide

“Venu is designed to cater to the growing influence of the Millennial generation which seeks a seamless lifestyle encompassing work, life and leisure. This generation is not only found in the European and Middle Eastern regions, but is strongly growing worldwide.

Not unlike their Western counterparts, Asian travellers, more than ever, have expectations revolving around their own lifestyle
and want their stay to underline their needs – clean, contemporary, cool and effortless. They therefore look for a brand that was designed for a Millennial mindset; a brand that was put together, not necessarily for the age-group or nationality, but the mindset; they are looking for contemporary lifestyle.”

Matt Balcik
Vice president operations, brand development, Venu

Hotel Jen Orchard Gateway deluxe room

Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts debuted Hotel Jen in Singapore last September, the newly-built Hotel Jen Orchardgateway, and by April 1 had rebranded its Traders hotels in Singapore, Hong Kong, Penang, Manila, Brisbane, the Maldives, Shenyang, Beijing and Johor Bahru to Hotel Jen, giving it an ‘instant’ portfolio of 10 Hotel Jen properties.

Director of development – Hotel Jen, Howard Ho, said third-party (Traders) owners had bought into Jen’s story and agreed to convert. That said, of the 10, six are owned by the group.

Jen promises a diverse collection of hotels in the best locations across Asia-Pacific and aims to foster a sense of belonging with the “new jeneration” of travellers through a brand persona, Jen. Guests are friends of Jen and, of course real friends treat you with warmth without being overly-fussy and will let you know where the best places to go are. There’s free Wi-FI everywhere all the time and convenient mobile charging stations, to name a few of the technology features. And no friends would dream of letting you venture out without free coffee/snack-box-to-go after breakfast at a ‘grab-and-go’ kiosk.

Hotel Jen targets travellers who are looking for distinctive experiences of local interest and character, and families and groups who want a more independent, yet friendly and personable stay experience. “We created the over-arching idea of Jen to speak to the Millennial-minded psychographic, rather than to any particular demographic,” Ho said.

A typical Hotel Jen has anywhere between 200-500 rooms, a room size between 25-32m2 (although in places like Japan, it could be 17m2), one all-day dining outlet, one grab-and-go, bar and fitness centre. Other facilities like spa or meeting space are based on market demand.

For example, Hotel Jen Tanglin Singapore, the former Traders, has 10 function and meeting rooms with capacity for 10 pax to 300 pax. It also offers professional event planning support, fast free Wi-Fi ‘everywhere always’, optional LCD projector, business and secretarial services, catering options and electronically-controlled ambience lighting.

Asked why conversions from Traders to Jen worked, considering the two were chalk-and-cheese, Ho explained: “Though we rolled out the brand via hotel conversions, we were not approaching it as ‘how do we improve Traders’? Rather, the central question for us was always ‘How do we create something fresh and super relevant to the young-at-heart, Millennial-minded travellers’?

“The properties that we’ve converted to Jen are highly-varied in terms of room size, design, and facilities. To some, this might seem like a hindrance and a disadvantage. On the contrary, we believe this is to be our advantage.  We are not cookie-cutter.  We offer services and styles that are specific to the location.

“In this initial stage, our focus are on two things:

“First, we are introducing relevant service touch points to the customers in a style that is uncomplicated, efficient and fuss-free. Paid for breakfast but don’t have time to sit down and eat? Grab a take-out box from the buffet, take whatever you want, plus coffee-to-go on the way out.

“Second, we are changing the employee DNA.  For instance, we’ve modified our traditional delegation of authority to allow for much quicker decision-making and a more free management structure.  This has spawned many new ideas from the field and greater staff engagement.

“Clearly, software is the most important element in the creation of Hotel Jen. Having said that, we are looking to enhance and refurbish some of our facilities. For example, our properties in Singapore (Hotel Jen Tanglin) and Shenyang are undergoing renovation.”

One of the key markets for Hotel Jen is China.  Said Ho: “In fact, many of the Millennial traits are driven by Chinese consumers.  Remember that China essentially went straight to mobile, skipping PCs and laptops and going straight to smartphones and tablets.  Mobile is like a native language to them.

“And of course, growing our China presence will help us greatly in capturing outbound Chinese travel.  China outbound has more than doubled in the past five years and exceeded 100 million for the first time in 2014.  Shangri-La, as a whole, has spent the last 40 years operating in China.  We are ready to leverage this brand awareness into global gateways to welcome Chinese travellers.”

The first signing of Radisson Red in the world is in Shenyang. The owner, Madam Lv Li Hua of Shenyang New Times Investment Co Ltd, had earlier picked Radisson Blu for one of the twin hotel development and, according to Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group Asia-Pacific president Thorsten Kirschke, did not need much convincing to see Red, “as as it will help to capture a new market segment – the Millennial-minded travellers who seek a non-traditional lifestyle-elect stay experience” while Blu provides the traditional upper upscale experience.

Radisson Red is centred on a value proposition of Lifestyle Elect. This means that guests elect the type of stay experience that best reflects their lifestyle – how they live, work and play.

“Guests staying at Radisson Red hotels will not be constrained by the traditional delivery of services,” explained Kirsche. “They can choose to work or interact in the open, communal social spaces or studios, grab a sandwich from ReDeli and work in their rooms.”

The design of Radisson Red hotels is based on the non-traditional hotel concept of combining work and play, which is integral to the Millennial-minded traveller. The work desk in the room, for example, is replaced with a multi-functional table. Free Internet is offered to all and guests can check in on their mobiles in the absence of the traditional front desk.  Guests arrive not in a lobby but a Hi All Gallery, where the art further reflects the local artistic flavour of the destination and is displayed in 2D, 3D or an interactive format.

A typical Radisson Red has 150-ish rooms, a studio room size (internal) of about 26m2, a 235m2 bar/deli and meeting space. Meet Event Studios, as the meeting spaces are called, are invented for work and play, combining seriousness with sense of fun to inspire Millennial-minded delegates.

But sizes vary depending on location. When it opens in 2016, the Radisson Red Shenyang will have 300 rooms. The MICE facilities include six multifunctional Meet Event Studios ranging from 50m2 to 180m2, and one 400m2 auditorium.

At press time, the Shenyang property remains the only Radisson Red signed but, according to Kirschke, the chain is in the midst of advanced discussions for Radission Red hotels in markets such as Australia, Indonesia and China.

“We also have strong leads in the US, including one in Minnesota, the hometown of Carlson. There are also opportunities to manage resorts in key destinations under the Radisson Red flag,” he said.

The chain also recently launched the brand in India, targeting both primary and secondary cities such as Ahmedabad, Benguluru, Chennai, the Delhi-NCR, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Pune, Lucknow, Mumbai and Pune, and leisure and religious destinations such as Goa, Jaipur, Katra, Shirdi, Tirupati.

It expects to have 60 Radisson Red hotels globally by 2020.


Venu Bluewaters Island

Venu by Jumeirah Group

Jumeirah Group re-engineered its brand Venu – launched five years ago but put on hold partly due to the world economic uncertainties – and reintroduced it last year as a “contemporary lifestyle hotel brand”.

Like Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts’ Hotel Jen, it has dedicated resources to the brand, appointing Matt Balcik as vice president operations, brand development, to lead the roll-out of Venu internationally.

In its reincarnation, the revised Venu targets travellers with a passion for simplicity, style, efficiency and effortless living and working.

Asked how Venu is different from the other new lifestyle brands, Balcik said: “Venu is infused with the spirit of Dubai – not as an Arabian brand, but as an expression of what has made Dubai the modern and dynamic city it is today: the spirit of a bold, ambitious, cosmopolitan nature.

“We’ve extracted that and made it part of the international proposition, since in a competitive landscape, the new brand has to find (space) somewhere between a W (Starwood’s contemporary brand W Hotels, set to enter Dubai in 2016) and an Aloft (Starwood’s mid-scale brand, under which one property already operates in Abu Dhabi),” he said.

According to Balcik, all Venu properties will feature a minimum of two F&B outlets, an all-day dining and a destination bar. It also strives to offer “a curated guest environment”, establishing the brand as “the one who knows” and the “social capital and social catalyst”.

There won’t be a vast ornamental lobby, rather, boundaries between work and play merge with “eclectic and transformative spaces”. Elevator music is out; in its place will be bespoke music playlists. There won’t be rows of machines at the fitness centre, but functional training zones inspired by nature with exercises relying on free weights and human form.

There will also be spa, retail and pool/beach, all designed and delivered to the “curated” promise.

Venu also wants to reinvent meeting spaces, doing away with traditional boardrooms, complicated technology and dark spaces.

“Meeting rooms are too often empty shells where people sit and disappear. There’ll be no corporate meeting rooms at our hotel. There’ll be places and tools for creative minds to come together. Unique places that can transform to suit work and play. They can provide that little piece of inspiration when it’s needed,” said a Venu specs sheet.

The first Venu, Venu Bluewaters Island located off the coast of Dubai, will feature between 250-300 rooms. It targets a rate of AED1,200 (US$327) to AED1,500.

Asia-Pacific is a big part of Venu’s growth plan. According to Balcik, China and South-east Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, will be the primary locations for the first generation of Venu properties in the region.

Canopy by Hilton (inset), rendering of a
Canopy by Hilton guestroom

Widely perceived by the New Gen as ‘my grandfather’s brand’, Hilton Worldwide sashayed into the lifestyle category in October last year with its launch of Canopy by Hilton.

The four essential elements of the brand are great neighbourhoods, comfort and design, more included value and a “positively yours” service culture, where hotel “enthusiasts” will deliver a one-stop approach to front-of-house service, said Martin Rinck, president Asia-Pacific, Hilton Worldwide.

“Canopy by Hilton is a much more accessible lifestyle brand targeting the upper upscale segment delivering exactly what the travellers desire: an energising, comfortable stay, with more included value – free Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast, locally relevant welcome gifts and food offerings, and eco-friendly filtered water ‘fountains’ where guests can refill their water bottles.

“The brand is in its own new category – ‘accessible lifestyle’ – which means that it will appeal to a broader base of guests at the upper end of the upper upscale segment. Further, the phrase ‘accessible lifestyle’ also refers to a price point of view,” explained Rinck.

A typical Canopy by Hilton hotel will have an average of 200 guestrooms, spanning a minimum 27m2 to 35m2; an open space lobby spanning a minimum 400m2, featuring a reception, a café, a quiet lounge, a transfer refuge and outdoor spaces; and a fitness centre at a minimum of 55m2 in space.

Since no two Canopy hotels are alike, and each hotel is designed based on its neighbourhood and market drivers, each property will be a collaboration between the chain and the hotel owner to explore the hotel’s unique potential for destination dining, pools, rooftop bars and meeting spaces, said Rinck.

According to the chain, Canopy hotels will start opening this year. Twelve letters of intent have been signed, all in the US. So far, no Canopy has been announced for Asia-Pacific.

“We are certainly keen to grow the Canopy by Hilton brand in Asia-Pacific. Our strategy to maintain a robust development pipeline is by introducing the right brands with the right product position in target markets and by allocating resources so we can effectively drive new unit growth in every region of the world,” said Rinck.

From top: London  Bankside guestroom and meeting room, New York Times Square lobby

Artyzen Hospitality Group, a subsidiary of Shun Tak Holdings, has set up a joint venture operating company with citizenM hotels to roll out the brand in Asia.

The brainchild of Rattan Chadha, founder and former CEO of fashion brand Mexx, citizenM created a buzz when it was launched in 2008 in Amsterdam, wowing audiences with its boldness and innovations such as introducing the living room concept to the lobby and having multiple zones to relax, meet and work. Its promise is to offer “the experience of a super-posh hotel, minus a super-posh hotel’s effect on your wallet” to the mobile citizens of the world.

The living rooms are filled with art and designer furniture, while the F&B concept, canteenM, features a full cocktail bar and high-quality food 24/7. Rooms are a combination of modern design, user-friendly technology and functional space.

Currently there are citizenM hotels in Amsterdam, Glasgow, London, New York, Paris and Rotterdam. The first in Asia will open in Taipei in 2017, a 260-room hotel located in the colourful retail and entertainment hub Ximending.

The brand is MICE-friendly, offering the promise of “designer meeting rooms you want to meet in, which are fully equipped with audiovisual equipment, wipe-clean walls for notes, theories, scribbles and drawing pictures of your colleagues on”.

The citizenM Amsterdam hotel for example is within walking distance to the RAI congress centre. The citizenM Glasgow has meeting rooms for one to 20 pax and can handle events of over 30 pax.

“With the success we have had in Europe, it is natural that our next growth phase be in Asia. Choosing the right partner was our main strategic priority and we are ecstatic to be able to partner with Artyzen who are innovators themselves and have the resources to grow citizenM in Asia,” said Chadha.

Edmond Ip, Artyzen Hospitality Group’s vice chairman, said the group is targeting major gateway cities in Asia, as well as secondary cities such as Surabaya, Kota Kinabalu and Chengdu, for the brand.


From top: VIB Best Western concept drawing for building and  lobby areas

Launched in October last year, Best Western International (BWI) introduced its Millennial-driven brand, Vib, to Asia in Bangkok in March.

The Vib concept re-imagines the Best Western hotel experience for today’s traveller who is seeking innovation, technology and style with an authentic, local flavour offered at a great value, said a press statement. To stand out from competitors, David Kong, BWI president & CEO, said the chain did extensive research to come up with a different product, and as a result, Vib hotels will have features such as a big and vibrant lobby, smaller rooms and functional technology.

“We believe that the stylish design of Vib combined with the concepts business model and low cost to build will be very appealing to developers and investors throughout Asia,” said Kong.

The first Vib hotel will debut in Seoul’s Gangnam district in 2017, featuring 150 rooms, a bar, F&B outlets and a swimming pool. “The Vib project we are developing is in the heart of the central business district of Gangnam, Seoul and is expected to break ground in the next six months. We believe the central business district’s high density and energy is the perfect fit for Vib,” said Best Western South Korea president John Choi.

BWI senior vice president, brand management & member services, Ron Pahl, added that Vib is envisioned as an “upper middle (scale) project”, positioned closer to Best Western Plus. “We don’t see a lot of middle to upper-midscale products, not just in Bangkok but also other cities, so we see opportunities, he said.

“We are hoping to sign three Vib projects this year and grow five projects a year. Bangkok is a key focus and we will consider all urban markets with high foot traffic and population,” he added.

Aside from Bangkok, Vib development opportunities are now being considered in Sarawak and Shah Alam, Malaysia, and Ortigas, Philippines.

Meetings and incentives however are not a large part of the Vib proposition, according to a spokesperson, with the main revenues drawn from rooms and F&B.

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