China takes lead in billion-dollar MICE boom
MICE is a lucrative business for top hotels — and increasingly important as China strives to become a leading global MICE destination. It has already earned the country over US$150 billion a year. Shanghai Daily talks to four general managers of leading hotels about the outlook and the challenges.
Q1: How would you assess China’s MICE market? How is your property performing?
Clemens Hoerth: MICE is the most lucrative segment in terms of revenue in the tourism industry for a city or for a hotel. China has seen strong and continuous economic growth and we see increasing internationalization in Shanghai.
Passenger throughput at Pudong and Hongqiao airports totaled 106 million in 2016, ranking Shanghai fourth in the world, according to Airports Council International.
The city’s airline network covers 282 cities globally. Two dozen routes have been newly launched to “Belt and Road” countries. It creates great opportunity for hotels, agencies and other tourism service providers here in Shanghai.
With its city-resort style of setting and environment, Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai is a strong player in the MICE market, featuring 1,928 square meters of state-of-the-art events space with 362 guest rooms and 210 executive apartment units. Our geographical location within Harbour City directly links our MICE guests to 250,000 square meters of riverside space that was formerly an industrial shipyard dating back to 1862 in Shanghai’s maritime heyday. It has now become a gorgeous nest of culture, art, exhibitions, entertainment and leisure.
Winston Chien: More than 1 trillion yuan (US$152 billion) in revenue is generated by China’s MICE market, and the number of MICE suppliers has reached over 100,000. We expect that MICE demand from Chinese enterprises will keep growing. Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel Shanghai has enjoyed the benefits and will continue the same trend next year.
James Xi: The MICE market in China started late. But it has grown quickly in all aspects, including facilities, industry professionals and innovative services. First-tier cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, have become some of the core international MICE destinations, with newly built exhibition centers, convention hotels and transportation systems.
For Kerry Hotel Pudong, Shanghai, the MICE market is one of its most important market segments and it has become increasingly strong in the past few years. MICE business will continue to be the key market segment for Kerry Hotel Pudong in the future, accompanied by further development of the adjacent Shanghai New International Exhibition Center.
Chris Dexter: From a company perception, the outbound market is strong. Chinese consumers visit many countries for vacation and business, and people from those countries then visit China for vacation and business.
Change is always constant. For the Wyndham Grand Plaza Royale Hangzhou, the G20 Summit held last year in Hangzhou has given further exposure to a global audience, the spotlight will be positive for the “little Switzerland” of China. Hangzhou has the potential for further development in the MICE market, and the good news is Hangzhou will host the 14th FINA World Swimming Championships next year and the 2022 Asian Games!
We offer tailor-made products and packages to meet different guest needs. We have hosted the Louis Vuitton opening ceremony and Rolls Royce and Mclaren activities, and we have a very good image and reputation in the market. We see growth in a potential influx of foreign visitors in the years to come and further MICE opportunities.
Q2: More and more hotels are trying to provide exceptional service and create a memorable brand experience to pamper their guests and distinguish themselves from the competition. What’s the strength of your brand? How do you differentiate yourself?
Clemens Hoerth: At Mandarin Oriental we believe that true luxury lies in creating legendary hotels through the perfect combination of tradition, quality and innovation. To this end, we are focused on providing our legendary service in all of our hotels, resorts and residences.
As a Group, we continue to invest in our core brand attributes of creative design, innovative dining and award-winning holistic spa concepts — all of which we believe set us apart from the competition.
We work with leading architects and interior designers to ensure that our collection of unique properties provides a distinctive and comfortable environment that is reflective of each location, and that also appeals to the local community.
We are renowned for excellence and innovation in food and beverage, and are committed to creating the finest restaurants that are enjoyed by both local residents and hotel guests alike.
As a group, we now offer our guests a choice of 12 Michelin-starred restaurants with a total of 18 stars — more than any other hotel group in the world — and we work hard to offer some of the most diverse and dynamic dining in the industry. At Mandarin Oriental Pudong, guests are able to enjoy world-class dining, presented by two of the region’s most exciting chefs — Tony Lu and Richard Ekkebus.
Our focus on holistic spas sets us apart as we deliver a truly holistic wellness experience for our guests. We currently have 13 Forbes five-star spas — again more than any other hotel group in the world. We are extremely proud that our spa here in Shanghai has been rated as such for three consecutive years.
With Mandarin Oriental’s strong and increasing brand recognition, our commitment to excellence and renowned service, coupled with our growing portfolio and an increasing pool of creative talent, we believe that we are well on our way to becoming the best luxury hotel group in the world.
For Mandarin Oriental Pudong specifically, our close proximity to the Huangpu River allows us to create an urban resort atmosphere within a peaceful environment while still being close to all that vibrant Shanghai has to offer.
Winston Chien: Jumeirah Hotels Group operates a world-class portfolio of hotels and resorts including the world-famous flagship hotel Burj Al Arab Jumeirah.
Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel Shanghai is the first hotel of the group in the Asia Pacific region. Just like the group brand promise “Stay different,” which is also a pioneering spirit that makes each Jumeirah hotel like no other, we decided to deliver on this promise by providing imaginative experiences and thoughtful services connected to the cultural heritage of China.
When you step into the main lobby of Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel, you are immediately greeted by a stunning scene, with modern design elements inspired by elegant Chinese wood carvings, paintings, calligraphy, traditional drama and music. We want our guests to feel different and be inspired from the very first minute. Even the architectural design of the hotel is inspired by the Chinese view of the universe — the cylindrical atrium that stretches 14 levels through the center of the Jumeirah Himalayas Hotel Tower represents a passageway connecting heaven and earth.
Apart from the aesthetic design and décor, it is the service that makes the different and luxurious staying experience complete. For example, we feature a variety of unique world-class MICE facilities such as the award-winning Talise Spa and our two-time Michelin-one starred restaurant which offers some of the very best Shanghainese cuisine you can find in town.
James Xi: We have recently developed a new MICE concept, called “Work & Play,” to create a vibrant MICE environment, providing alternative lifestyle venues such as connected shopping venues, energizing events with food and beverage products, and incorporating Kerry Sports into the meeting packages. This environment differentiates us from other brands and help us maintain our leadership position in the MICE market. We believe the new MICE products will bring our potential clients inspiration and creativity.
Chris Dexter: We have over 1,300 hotels on the Chinese mainland based across six brands and an award winning loyalty rewards program ensures clients stay loyal to our brands.
The Wyndham Grand Plaza Royale Hangzhou has a high level of service quality and a professional team. The hotel is ranked No. 1 on TripAdvisor, has a high rating on Ctrip, and we have won many quality awards including TripAdvisor, travel+leisure, CBN and many, many more in recent years.
A great location, friendly service and well-appointed facilities are always our best unique selling points to compete with our competitors. Our renowned Thai restaurant, Sawasdee, is very unique — rated one of the best Thai restaurants in China.
Q3: Someone said the next hospitality revolution is digital. How is the Internet-plus economy changing the hospitality industry? How do you use social media to approach your guests?
Clemens Hoerth: Social media connects us with our guests 24x7. A picture of a particular moment of delight can magically inspire so many people nowadays. By engaging in a timely way, we can take advantage of any possibility to turn a guest into a fan of MO Pudong. Our daily efforts focus on guest engagement, both in the digital world and within the hotel, and contribute to the impact on the choices of travelers and reader around the world.
Winston Chien: The Internet-plus economy is an inevitable trend. All industries are influenced by the digital age. Hospitality is no exception. Frankly speaking, we are not a pioneer in this field. We are already behind the retail industry and need to catch up.
WeChat is the major social media we are using to communicate with our guests, while we also closely monitor feedback on various social media platforms and related discussion forums. We are also exploring ways to further categorize our followers and deliver customized information to different guest groups, so that we can bring more personalized services to different guests and enrich their travel experiences.
James Xi: In this digital age, technology makes connecting easy. Thus, in a way, everyone is getting closer to each other in this world. The use of technology has narrowed the gap between customer needs and the public’s knowledge of a hotel. Guests do not need to wait for physical hotel promotions, such as roadshows, because they can easily obtain information from the hotels’ websites or social media such as WeChat or Weibo in China, to read about the hotel’s unique selling points and available services.
Hotel promotion videos are easily accessible, and customers now can even experience a virtual tour of the hotel any time, anywhere. Internet MICE is emerging with the progression of the Internet-plus economy, and the hospitality industry benefits from this trend by converting the online leads into offline business. We work with Internet MICE agencies, receive feedback for improvement and reply to guests on OTA websites on a daily basis. Through our hotel’s official WeChat account and WeChat shop, we are able to have quicker, more convenient and direct interactions with our guests than ever before.
Chris Dexter: Recognition is at the core of a good hotel experience. It’s as important for us as hoteliers as it is for our guests. If we don’t know our guest we cannot give them the unique service they deserve, and guests will not feel special and seen.
Guests like to be treated as VIPs, no matter if they have face-to-face contact or a digital connection with us. I see a huge potential to do this even better in the future from early dialogue via social media. Social media will play an increasingly central role in the customer service efforts of hospitality brands.
Q4: The general manager provides the strategic direction for the hotel . What do you think is the most important trait or skill? What is the most cheerful or stressful situation you have experienced?
Clemens Hoerth: One expects a general manager is naturally people-oriented, financially savvy, thinks strategically and is passionate about serving guests and colleagues. As leaders in an leading international hotel group, we are trained and experienced to accept the most challenging situations.
Winston Chien: Other than have all-around knowledge and experience of the hotel and travel industry, good people management skill is important reflecting nature of hotel business — a people-oriented business to deal with external guests and a large internal labor force.
It is vital for identifying different talents for different functions of a hotel and putting them together for building an effective workforce. Teamwork is the only way to create a successful hotel. There are many examples in this industry of how the right team can make a successful hotel.
James Xi: A general manager needs the ability to timely sense market changes, wisely position his hotel in the market with the right strategies and product differentiation, and effectively rallying his teams to execute the business plans is the key to sustainable success for any premier luxury hotel in the industry.
An experienced general manager with the above traits usually also demonstrates their passion for and belief in employee engagement and guest loyalty. They understand how vitally important it is to elevate service quality through staff training and development, empowerment and engagement. I have always been delighted when I received long and heart-felt thank-you letters with detailed accounts from customers praising individual staff members, as it motivates me to further focus on service excellence initiatives and staff recognition programs.
Chris Dexter: Whatever you do, learn to listen. And try to work hard. If you want to get ahead, try to show interest in other areas of your work. Or maybe you can do some own time training and learning.
I have been a waiter and also a bellboy. My most interesting and joyful job is as general manager of Wyndham Grand Plaza Royal Hangzhou. I opened this hotel and I keep on trying to find new ways to improve it within my abilities. We’re trying to look for talented people who care and really enjoy the work, and have a good heart to want to do better and please people.