Interview: Brian Williams, CEO, Swire Hotels22 July 2011
Ultimately, hotels are about the software. If we talk about Swire, we are discussing two primary brands in Asia [House and East] and a third brand in the U.K. [Chapter Hotels]. In Asia, Swire as a group is very old but our hotels are very new. Our parent company has its roots in shipping and also owns Cathay Pacific and Dragonair airlines.
About five years ago, Swire owned hotels that were operated by third-party operators and it was then that we decided to do our own hotel management, beginning with The Opposite House in Beijing (2008), followed by The Upper House in Hong Kong (2009). Both of these properties are small-scale luxury hotels designed for clients who seek individualized luxury. We concluded it was good to concentrate on a small-scale hotel that focuses on the individual traveller who wants a very personal experience and very big attention to detail.
Swire is all about cutting-edge design and delivering wonderful personal service and attention. We treat our own employees very well and, as such, they enjoy working for us. That’s why we’re special.
I don’t want cookie-cutter standards. If you become so prescriptive, you lost something of a spirit. We don’t issue manuals for how a staff member should interact with hotel guests. Our only directive is to make our guests’ stays as enjoyable as you can, to be a true host. Our staff members are part of a ‘Guest Experience’ team.
One example of our exemplary service: One day, during black rain season in Hong Kong, a guest at our Upper House hotel needed to get to a meeting and asked one of our Guest Experience members for MTR directions. While that guest was eating his breakfast at the hotel, our staff member actually travelled the exact journey that the guest would need to take, taking photographs along the way at each moment of the journey. By the time our guest had finished his breakfast, he had an entire set of printed photographs to guide him to his meeting.
Our business hotel brand, East, began with East in Hong Kong. It has 350 rooms and I like to think of it as ‘a business hotel with a life.’ It’s a business hotel with a good attitude and it’s also forward, lively and relaxed. We’re launching a second East property in Beijing in April 2012. The response to East in Hong Kong has been phenomenal. It exceeded all of our expectations enormously. I think it did so well because of its quality, its fun and consistency and its fantastic value for the money. A standard room at East starts at $150 U.S. per night, whereas at our Upper House hotel, the starting room rate is $600 per night.