Hoteliers eye Asia

Hoteliers eye Asia
The interior of a room at Avani Sepang Gold Coast Resort.

Rosewood Hotel Group

If Sonia Cheng has her way, it won't be long before a Rosewood Hotel becomes a household name in Asian hospitality just like the Shangri-La or Peninsula.

For sure, she's in a good position to make it happen as the chief executive officer of the Hong Kong-based Rosewood Hotel group, which her family bought and renamed from the Texas-based Rosewood Hotels & Resorts for US$229.5 million (S$297 million).

While already well known in North America and the Middle East, the 33-year old - whose family already controls New World Hospitality - wants the ultra-luxury Rosewood to make inroads in the booming Asian region, starting with Rosewood Beijing.

The 283-room property located opposite the iconic CCTV Tower boasts some of the largest guest rooms in Beijing with lush bedlinens, marble-tiled bathrooms, fine furnishings with subtle colour palettes, and carefully selected art pieces and books on Chinese art, architecture and customs reflecting the location.

Ms Cheng already has the successful Rosewood London under her belt. She was heavily involved in the hotel, which was named Hotel of the Year 2014 at Virtuoso's Best of the Best Awards.

Big expansion plans are afoot for the region. In 2016, Rosewood hotels will open in Phnom Penh and Phuket. The following year, there will be Rosewood hotels in Guangzhou, Sanya, Bangkok and Bali. And in 2018, Jakarta will have a Rosewood hotel.

"I want to raise the hotel industry to the next level with the Rosewood brand," says Ms Cheng, who recalls spending a lot of staycations at her family's hotels even as a child. She has also set her sights on a Rosewood hotel in Singapore. "The country is a strategic market for us, and so it is a top priority for the brand."

Apart from Rosewood, Ms Cheng also handles two other hotel brands - New World and Pentahotels. New World are deluxe properties favoured by business travellers, located located in cities such as Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.

Pentahotels is a design-driven, neighbourhood lifestyle brand providing independent travellers with comfort and style. The hallmark of the hotels is the Pentalounge - a combined lobby, reception, bar and cafe.

Despite Rosewood being Ms Cheng's priority for Singapore, she does not rule out also setting up a Pentahotel here. "Singaporeans would be able to appreciate and resonate with the design-driven hotel," she says.

Before joining the family business six years ago, Ms Cheng worked with a major international investment bank and a global American private equity firm, specialising in real estate investments. While there was no set timeline for her to join the family company, she says, it had always been at the back of her mind to do so.

"I love being in hotels, because it is so dynamic, and there is something new every day. And where else can you work on interior design, finance, branding, and create F&B concepts under one roof? It is very holistic," she says. With no prior education in hospitality, she had to take a three-month crash course on hotel operations.

Her youth, she says, works to her advantage. "I have a team of strong hoteliers who have many years of experience, and I think we make a great team together."

She adds: "I am the type of customer that the group is targeting - which helps with the company's future."

Rosewood Hotel Group manages 49 hotels globally across the three brands, with 28 new hotels announced, and targets 90 hotels in operation or in the pipeline in the next five years. Some of the foreign hospitality markets that she wants to penetrate include Japan, the Maldives, Turkey and Italy. "There are definitely many more locations to be at."

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