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Hong Kong’s legacy hotel companies are ditching competition for collaboration with one another, as daily arrivals to the city sank to below 100 visitors per day at the start of April.
Wharf Hotels, Hongkong & Shanghai Hotels, Langham Hospitality Group, Rosewood Hotel Group, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts, Harilela Hotels and Swire Hotels have formed an alliance. Cathay Pacific, part of Swire, is also in the group, called Heritage Tourism Brands.
Aside from lineage — their founders are real estate taipans who have invested billions of dollars in Hong Kong over the past century — the companies are all in the luxury hotel space, which usually isn’t prone to rival chumminess. Joining forces is itself an achievement, said Peter Borer, chief operating officer of Hongkong & Shanghai Hotels that owns and operates Peninsula Hotels. Find another city in the world where local luxury brands are aligning in such a way, said Borer, who came up with the idea.
But when political protests meet coronavirus crisis, never-befores can happen. Arrivals to Hong Kong plunged to 300 visitors per day following a ban since March 25 on non-Hong Kong residents from overseas and regions from entering. This sank further to below 100 per day in the beginning of April, according to provisional data from Hong Kong Tourism Board.
Broadly, the alliance wants its voice heard in recovery planning by openly sharing its views and insights with industry bodies such as Hong Kong Tourism Board, Hong Kong Hotel Association and Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners. Collectively, the CEOs of the luxury chains have years of experience and the expertise of global groups.
The tourism board is planning a HK$400 million ($52 million) recovery drive earliest in June if Covid-19 abates.
Although the chains are already members of the Hong Kong Hotel Association and Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, being a smaller group enables it to be nimble in responding to the ever-changing challenges the pandemic brings, said Borer.
A big question however is whether they will pool funds to promote Hong Kong jointly, considering their founders are among the city’s richest people, although these tycoons too have been badly hurt by the crisis. Any joint marketing by eight brands that are inspirational and that continue to shape luxury hospitality in Hong Kong are likely to be influential in drawing back top dollars to the city.
“A pooling of funds will be necessary, although the amount has not been confirmed,” said Borer. “We are speaking to the relevant agencies and hope to receive some assistance.
“At this point in time, we are focusing on protecting jobs and the livelihoods of our staff. Our short to medium-term priority is to focus on tourism at home, launching a campaign to inspire local Hong Kongers to feel proud of their city and to appreciate what makes it unique. We will be creating some inspiring experiences for local residents. This will be a cross-hotel collaboration, hopefully in partnership with other major Hong Kong attractions.”
“We all share a great love for Hong Kong and a desire to do whatever is in our power to revive Hong Kong tourism, at home and overseas at the appropriate time and when people feel safe again,” he added.
The alliance’s marketing sub-group is already brainstorming how to use members’ extensive local, regional and international networks to showcase Hong Kong’s unique culture and hidden gems, according to Jennifer Cronin, president of Wharf Hotels, which operates Marco Polo and Niccolo brands who chairs the alliance.
“In good times, this would be unheard of, but since we share similar guest and client profile attributes, we believe that this initiative will only help reinforce the HKTB’s plans and recovery efforts,” said Cronin. “There are other marketing opportunities on the table but it is still early days to share these.”
“In times of crisis, the private sector should be proactive and not use the time to criticize government efforts,” she added.
Hong Kong’s tourism does face the extra burden of pro-democracy protests even when Covid-19 eases, promising to derail any marketing efforts. But Borer pointed out that “even at the height of the protests, Hong Kong was still a very safe city.”
Cronin agrees, elaborating, “We cannot ignore the fact there may be continuing social unrest, but even during the [protests] of last year, business activity and tourism were still being undertaken in all of our hotels. There are many examples of destinations worldwide that continue to operate through ongoing protests, such as Paris, Barcelona and Istanbul. Therefore, we believe that despite potential unrest activity, Hong Kong is still the business capital of Asia as well as a tourism mecca, and together we will rebuild confidence in Hong Kong.”
The alliance also shares best practices with one another on handling the unique circumstances of Covid-19. As well, it works together as “a force for good in the community. As an example, member hotels collaborate to provide meals to the homeless through a charity called Impact HK, which does not receive any government funding.
“This has much more impact than individual small efforts,” said Borer.