Starwood Hotels and Resorts is leading the race to cater to affluent travelers in China, with new properties to encourage brand loyalty.
By the end of the year, the company will open four new properties in its luxury segment, as well as 16 more properties within its larger portfolio. Starwood says that they have doubled their “luxury footprint” in six years, with 74 hotels opened around the world in 2013 alone and a current total of 160 properties. According to Paul James, global brand leader of St. Regis, the Luxury Collection, and W Hotels Worldwide, New York, China is the obvious next step in the company’s global expansion.
“China is one of the world’s fastest growing domestic and outbound travel markets and the world’s number one tourism source market in terms of spending,” James told Luxury Daily. “In Q1 2014, domestic travel in China is expected to reach 1.12 billion with total travel up 12 percent from the same time last year. This growth is happening in lock step with the growth of our luxury portfolio.”
That growth has been considerable; Starwood’s luxury presence in the country has doubled in the past three years and is expected to double again by the end of next year.
The pressure to expand comes from a need to generate brand loyalty among luxury travelers, who also tend to be world travelers. The more properties a company owns — and the more global locations in which the brand is present — the less likely it is that customers will turn to other brands for their accommodations.
Starwood’s St. Regis hotel chain currently maintains five properties in China, with eight more to come by 2020. The St. Regis Chengdu is set to open this year, and will include six restaurants, 279 suites and guest rooms, and butler service for all patrons. Another Starwood-owned hotel set to open this year is the Luxury Collection’s Castle Hotel, located in Hangzhou. The property will boast two restaurants, 205 guest rooms, and seven conference rooms.
Starwood is also seeking to increase brand loyalty through extensive digital outreach. The company was the first international hotel group to launch its own WeChat account and also offers live customer service support.
“It has been essential to our business that we engage with Chinese consumers in the digital space, more specifically on their mobile devices, and we have prioritized being first to market for that reason,” James said.
image credit: starwood hotels