Chains compete for changing travellers
06/10/2008|2:00:00 PM|Ehotelier
Jun 09, 08´╝ÜChanging customers and new outbound powerhouses are forcing major hotel chains to re-evaluate their brand blueprints, which for travel agents means a slew of new or refreshed hotel brands to master and sell.

The chains have done market research - some more extensive than others - and according to IHG´s CEO for Asia-Pacific, Mr Peter Gowers, "there is a bigger structural shift in the market than you realise" and "it will shape what gets build".

Speaking during a panel session  at a hotel conference organised/hosted by Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels in Singapore last week, Mr Gowers said more than 50 per cent of Chinese travellers, for instance, earned less than US$800, which meant "forget luxury (hotels)". More than 50 per cent of Chinese business travellers were aged below 40 years; 25 per cent of them said they played a video game in the last week, which meant 250 or180 pillowsheet threadcount was now irrelevant.

Mr Gowers said: "Are we being responsive of those changes? That´s what´s challenging us. Have we built flexible enough hotels ? My feeling is there are still unmet needs in Japan and China alone."

In Japan, IHG´s findings "challenged a few longheld beliefs", one of which was the  Japanese were highly risk-averse and shy; he said there was a battle within the customer base between the older conservatives and a younger set who wanted "style" and were dissatisfied with what they got to-date. "So Indigo, Crowne Plaza and (the recently refreshed) Holiday Inn Express will try and meet these needs," he said.

What gets built eventually in the different markets is also being decided by shifts in outbound sources. Millennium &Copthorne CEO, Mr Richard Hartman, said:  "The days of the high-spending US market - no one can rely on that anymore. Years ago when I was at IHG (as head of Asia-Pacific), we were already preparing for the onslaught of the Chinese outbound market by 2015. In 1964, no one thought the Japanese were going to pay high rates, then they became the highest-rated guests and the same thing will happen with the Chinese."

He added: "Asia is also a maturing hotel market and the days of the large, 1,000 rooms, 25 restaurants hotel of the first generation are over. You see the optimum size shrinking, as it has in the US and in Europe."

Speaking to TTG Asia, Mr Gowers said apart from changing travellers, there was also a new generation of hotel owners and hotel staff who held different aspirations. At 38 years a new generation CEO himself, Mr Gowers said agents must play a part in finding out how travellers were changing and feedback this to chains in order for the market to grow effectively.