Singaporean hotelier shares his travel knowledge

Singaporean hotelier shares his travel knowledge
PHOTO: Edmond Ip

With over four decades of experience in the hospitality industry, Edmond Ip is certainly no stranger to that field. He has held senior positions with Hyatt in Indonesia, Singapore and London; co-founded Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts; and spent 13 years with InterContinental Hotel Group.

More recently, the hotelier joined Artyzen Hospitality Group as its vice chairman. He brought to the company the Zitan high-end concept that he visualised back in 2007.

Prior to joining Artyzen Hospitality Group, the 69-year-old was the chairman of Hilton Worldwide for Greater China. That experience helped Ip see the great potential of the Chinese tourism market in the hospitality industry.

"Chinese travellers are becoming more affluent and sophisticated. There is a growing segment of Chinese FIT (free and independent travellers) today and they are more interested in local experiences and in-depth understanding of a destination," Ip explains.

"To them, travelling is a journey of enrichment. And the hospitality landscape is evolving from a more standard cookie-cutter approach to a more unique tailored lifestyle approach," adds the Singaporean.

With his vast experience in the hospitality industry, Ip has amassed a collection of tales of funny requests from hotel guests. Ip remembers one vividly:

"Many years back, we had a honeymooning couple who asked us to change their bed because theirs was creaking too much. The male guest felt it was affecting his performance!" says Ip.

Star2.com finds out more about Ip's thoughts on tourism and the hospitality industry.

What are some notable changes in the hospitality industry that you have observed in your 40 years in this line?

Innovation in technology is benefitting the hospitality industry in many ways. Social media allows interaction between hotels and consumers and even exchange between one consumer and another. Distribution of rooms has also become more efficient and far-reaching.

Lifestyle-driven hotels are going to be a mainstay in the industry today as hospitality companies develop new brands in their bid to expand and provide new and more culture-oriented experiences for travellers.

On the talent front, hospitality practitioners are developing a more global mindset and becoming better equipped for the roles they play, and so reduce the need for expatriate expertise. The hotel scene in Singapore, Thailand and China are good examples of locals taking up key roles in the industry.

What has been the best compliment you received in your work?

While I have had the fortune to win a number of awards from various industry bodies, my greatest compliment is when owners and peers continue their relationships with me as friends and when ex-employees come back to work for me.

You conceived Zitan, a high-end hotel concept that represents the 'Soul of Refined Chinese Living'. What's the inspiration behind this concept?

In the post-war years, Americans were fuelling a great deal of outbound tourism, and thus hotels were built for them. With the rise of the Chinese and the Asian economy, we are keen to create a hotel concept like Zitan for these more affluent and sophisticated travellers.

Zitan is a contemporary lifestyle brand based on the culture and traditions of refined Chinese living. Drawing upon deep-rooted artistic and cultural references of the locale to inspire its contemporary decor and an unparalleled level of Chinese hospitality, Zitan's philosophy is centred around the overall well-being and wellness of the guest.

In today's market where budget constraints sometimes take dominance, what are the prospects like for a luxurious hotel concept to flourish?

Luxury means different things to different people and it does not always mean expensive. Luxury exists in many forms - art, culture, the art of refined Chinese living as exemplified by Zitan. Luxury concepts are fairly resilient as the target audience tends to be a bit more recession-proof. Also, the world economy is recovering, so we will see more positive times ahead.

How do you envision the hospitality landscape to be in the future?

It will be an era of immense growth as hotel groups create more hotel brands to cater to more clearly defined needs, segments and lifestyle concepts.

The growth of the budget airline has made travel more affordable for everyone so there will be a demand for hotel rooms. Shortage of hospitality labour will also persist. Finally, the potential growth of the Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road could present more inbound and outbound tourism opportunities for the hospitality industry.

Working in the hospitality industry gives you the chance to fulfil the needs of a vast segment of travellers. What about your own travel needs? What do you look for when booking a holiday?

I look for the opportunity to experience art, culture and history on a holiday - a wide angle to get a perspective of the world. It helps enhance knowledge, and knowing history helps one understand the present.

What are some items that you must have with you when on a vacation?

Exercise gear - particularly a good pair of walking shoes.

What's your definition of the perfect accommodation?

Good bedding, good shower, air-conditioning and heating that is easy to calibrate.

What have been your best, and worst, travel experiences?

My worst experience was my trip to Kuwait where the plane's engine fell off and we had to endure a four-hour wait in an airport in India. I didn't have a visa, so I couldn't spend the night in a hotel outside the airport.

That was many years ago, a time when some airports had opening and closing times. No shops were open and there were no services available, too. This was the worst, so any other experience is better.

What are some things that travellers have to take note of, before booking an accommodation?

Do your homework, get word-of-mouth feedback from friends, and always have the hotel's number handy when you are on your way there.

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