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One on One With Swire Hotels' CEO Brian Williams

July 20, 2011 By: Deanna Ting

Williams // (c) 2011 Swire Hotels recently sat down with Brian Williams, the CEO of Hong Kong-based Swire Hotels, to ask him about his company’s plans for expansion and to get the scoop on its unique dedication to exemplary guest service. Swire Hotels owns and operates boutique properties The Opposite House in Beijing and The Upper House in Hong Kong, as well as a two other hotel brands—East in Asia and Chapter Hotels in the U.K.

Q: Can you tell our readers about Swire and its current hotel portfolio?

A: “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 traveler who wants a very personal experience and very big attention to detail.”

Q: What makes Swire different from other hotels in terms of its aesthetics and philosophy?

A: “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.”

The Upper House in Hong Kong // (c) 2011 Swire Hotels

Q: What do you emphasize most in terms of your hotel service standards?

A: “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.

“I’ll give you 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 traveled 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.”

East, Hong Kong // (c) 2011 Swire Hotels

Q: Tell us more about your new business brand, East.

A: “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.”

Q: Do you have plans to expand in new locations?

A: “There are other House hotels in development in Shanghai and Chengdu. We are also planning to debut a second East property in Beijing.

“In December 2010, we launched our U.K. brand, Chapter Hotels. The first property is located in Montpelier, Cheltenham, about two hours from London in a quaint, genteel regency town and we have two more properties planned for Exeter and Bristol. Chapter Hotels are designed to be 60-room boutique properties that are upper mid-price, not necessarily luxury. They are meant to be modern and contemporary and offer boutique elements in period buildings with contemporary extensions. They are more designed for domestic U.K. travelers.

“Right now, we are also looking into the feasibility of developing a mixed-use project in Miami.”

The Chapter Hotel in Montpelier in Cheltenham // (c) 2011 Swire Hotels

Q: What is your definition of a boutique property, and what is your overall take on the boutique hotels trend?

A: “To me, a boutique hotel is small-scale, designer-driven, more individualized, not cookie-cutter and gives guests a true sense of the place where they are staying. In terms of the boutique hotel trend, there was a danger that people were so design-driven that they forgot about housekeeping. At Swire, however, we don’t just focus on design; we also want to put solid five-star hotel management and service culture behind all of that. Those hotels that can deliver both—innovative design and excellent service—will succeed.”

Q: How does Swire work with travel agents?

A: “Travel agents are very important to us in our type of market. We want to convince travel agents that we are the reinvention of the classic five-star hotel. We are the classic five-star hotel of the modern era. We want their clients to feel the life and soul of the city that they are in and we promise to deliver the consistent service and individual experiences that they expect from us.”



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By Deanna Ting | July 20, 2011
Williams talks brand expansion, service standards and more with