An overview of the past year
Our deputy chairman Toby Smith talks about how we as a hospitality group are always looking forward into the future to enhance the guest experience and bring EAST and The House Collective brands to more destinations.
by Toby Smith, Deputy Chairman, Swire Hotels
Emerging from the gloom...
After more than a year of Covid related disruption, during which time the hospitality industry has been buffeted in a manner unprecedented in the past 70 years, and despite the talk of ‘travel bubbles’, it is too early, and indeed foolhardy, to try to predict when business will return to normal, and indeed what that normal will look like.
Much has been written in hospitality websites, about whether guests will return, who those guests will be and what those guests will want from a hotel experience in the post-pandemic world. Will it be driven by leisure traffic, what effect will prolonged working-from-home have on business travel, is the surge in domestic tourism sustainable, when will international travel return?
While we don’t have all the answers, what we can say, based on experience of our hotels in the Chinese Mainland, is that the demand for the hospitality experience offered by EAST and The House Collective is undoubtedly there. High occupancy and busy restaurants and bars suggest that guests will return to pre-pandemic type activities, once they feel it safe to do so, and as long as they have trust in the brand.
The role of technology…
As in most industries, much is also written about how technology will change hospitality, and how the pandemic has accelerated that change. Certainly, the use of contactless payment and digital wallets has seen a dramatic increase in uptake - even in Hong Kong taxis, that last bastion of cash-only transactions!
Swire Hotels has always embraced technology. The Upper House was among the first hotels in Hong Kong to use tablets to check every guest into the hotel either in their room or in the lift on the way up, doing away with paper registration forms.
For us, it is all about the appropriate use of technology, not tech for tech’s sake.
For our team members, this means giving them the tools to help them do their jobs better and faster, leaving them free to concentrate on the guest experience rather than administration and process management.
And for our guests, this means technology that makes their stay smoother, and more convenient, not less. The last thing a guest wants to do when she or he arrives late at night after a long journey is to battle with a new interface or overly complex technology (indeed, sometimes we eschew technology where we think it is not necessary, as in The Middle House, where we introduced Mr Goodnight, an elegant silk pull rope next to the bed that kills all the lights with a gentle pull). So, as we emerge from Covid, our focus will continue to be on giving our guests choice - prefer to choose your meal through an app-based menu? No problem. Want to discuss the daily specials with your waiter? They’ll be on hand.
While you’ve been away…
More locally, while business has been quieter in Hong Kong than we would have liked, we have taken the opportunity to undergo partial renovations to both of our properties in Hong Kong. At EAST Hong Kong, all of the guest rooms have been given a makeover, with new soft furnishings, a more flexible desk and seating arrangement and a brighter more contemporary look complete with Australian artist Rowena Martinich’s artwork titled ‘Incandescence’. New hangers made from recycled paper, LED lighting, recycling bins and the installment of a filtered water tap were also added to make the rooms more environmentally friendly.
The all-day dining concept, FEAST, on the first floor of the hotel has undergone a comprehensive head to toe renovation which includes the addition of our café / co-working concept, Domain, which has been so successful in EAST Beijing and EAST Miami. FEAST has been receiving rave reviews from diners and, as a coffee lover and a frequent (well, pre-Covid…!) visitor to Australia, I can attest to the fact that the flat white at Domain can rival the best that Sydney or Melbourne has to offer.
Meanwhile, over at The Upper House, April saw the opening of our new restaurant, Salisterra on Level 49, in collaboration with UK based chef Jun Tanaka. Classically trained in French cuisine, Jun began his culinary career at 19 working with acclaimed chefs at London’s renowned institutions including the Roux brothers at Le Gavroche, Nico Ladenis at Chez Nico, Phil Howard at The Square and Marco Pierre White.
Designed for sharing, Salisterra’s menu focuses on simple, sophisticated and sustainable creations, highlighting hand-crafted pastas, chargrilled meats and fish, and bold vegetable dishes … not to mention delicious, freshly made pastries.
For the design of Salisterra, we are delighted to have continued our decade long friendship and collaboration with André Fu. Rich colours of terracotta orange, mud burgundy, mineral blue, dusty turquoise and golden caramel create five distinct spaces.
What’s coming next…?
Looking further into the future, and building on the success of our existing seven hotels, we are eager to take both the EAST and The House Collective brands to new markets.
The pace of expansion will be deliberately measured, much in the way that we have built up Swire Hotels over the last 13 years. At the risk of cliché, our focus will very much be on quality not quantity, on excellence not speed. A singular focus on being in the right locations with the right partners.
As of today, we have four new hotels in the pipeline, two under The House Collective brand and two EASTs. While we are not able to reveal the exact details for another few months, I am confident that they will be great additions to the portfolio, allowing both new and existing guests to enjoy the Swire Hotels experience in some fantastic new destinations.
Whatever we do, and wherever we do it, we will remain true to the founding principles as described by Brian Williams in his fascinating look back to the origins of Swire Hotels…. that is to create truly distinctive properties with truly excellent teams. At Swire Hotels, we always challenge ourselves to think differently, whether it be the architecture or interiors of a new hotel, the concept for a new restaurant or bar, or, most importantly, the way in which we take care of our guests.
At Swire Hotels, we always challenge ourselves to think differently, whether it be the architecture or interiors of a new hotel, the concept for a new restaurant or bar, or, most importantly, the way in which we take care of our guests.