Swire Hotels has been created to manage soulful and distinctive hotels that break with convention. RLI speaks with Toby Smith, Managing Director to learn more about the brand that has steadily been growing since its inception in 2008.
Adivision of Swire Properties, Swire Hotels began operations over ten years ago and now operates seven hotels in Asia and the US. The hotels are designed to offer a new experience to its guests in locations that reflect the unique qualities of their surroundings. Swire Hotels promises to take guests on a mood-changing journey full of surprising, memorable and intoxicating experiences that inspire, stimulate and rejuvenate in equal measure.
The company currently operates two brands across its seven-hotel portfolio, the first brand is The House Collective, which encompasses The Opposite House in Beijing, The Upper House in Hong Kong, The Temple House in Chengdu and The Middle House in Shanghai, whilst the second brand is called EAST, which operates hotels in Hong Kong, Beijing and Miami. “2018 was a very good year for us and all the properties showed solid growth, particularly our Chengdu and Miami locations which are two of our less mature properties,” explains Toby Smith, Managing Director of Swire Hotels.
“Last year also saw the opening of our seventh hotel, The Middle House in Shanghai in June which was very exciting and it has been doing very well in the nine months since its launch.” At present the company is focusing on the quality of its locations rather than the quantity, so while expansion is a regular topic of discussion, time will be taken to ensure that the deals signed are the right ones for the brand moving forward, and the focus for the time being will be on locations in the Asia-Pacific region where the brand is strongest. When looking for new sites, many different factors are taken under consideration, such as the overall market, the competitive landscape, Swire’s ability to compete, and then the location itself and target markets are considered.
So how does Swire ensure its current destinations remain attractive and exciting to its guests? “We believe our main attraction is the service that we provide and the people we employ. Getting the right people and continuing to keep them motivated is pivotal as they are the people guests interact with on a daily basis. In terms of the properties, we regularly reassess events that we hold on-site and re-evaluate changes to elements such as our restaurants and bars to keep things fresh,” says Smith.
A recurring idea behind the properties is to make them all feel very individual, and the team wants to make people really feel as though they are part of the city that they are in. This is one of the reasons customers keep coming back, according to Smith. It is these unique designs that set the brand apart, that and its staff. Smith believes the key to their staff is that they don’t have standard operating procedures in their hotels, it is instead deliberately unscripted.
“For example, if a guest would like a taxi and there are none around, any member of staff has the authority to offer the hotel car to the guest without having to clear it with the general manager or do any paperwork,” Smith explains. Swire Hotels has a very active presence on social media, in particular Instagram and Facebook. This is because, due to the architectural nature, format and distinctive look of their properties, the locations lend themselves well to Instagram.
Being based in Asia, WeChat is also a very powerful tool for the group and this remains their main social media platform. They are also looking to strengthen their booking channels, their distribution channels and their online distribution channels further with improved booking engines. With the amount of e-commerce that is conducted on mobile, it has become a key focus for the company. “We are all about creating what we call soulfully individual experiences,” comments Smith. “We believe the experience should be uplifting and we hope the customer has a deep emotional resonance with our brand and we try to create this with an unscripted and authentic service style.”
The group is always open to new ideas, they want to challenge and they want to innovate. They were one of the first hotel groups in the Asia-Pacific region to offer free Wi- Fi, now an industry standard. They were also one of the first to introduce what they call the ‘Maxi Bar’ as opposed to the mini bar, where everything except premium wines is free. So what lies ahead and what does Smith perceive to be the greatest challenge facing Swire Hotels? “The competition never stands still and it remains a constant challenge in terms of guest experience to stay ahead. Looking forward we do want to grow, and the challenge will be to maintain the degree to which we personalise our service and the deep understanding that we have of our guests as we scale up.”