W Hotels to speed expansion in mainland China

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 April, 2015, 2:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 April, 2015, 2:00am

W Hotels, a brand of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, will speed its expansion in China in the next five years to capture the country's rising love for fashion and entertainment as well as its surging number of outbound travellers, senior executives said.

The boutique brand just opened a hotel in Beijing's Changan Avenue, overlooking the inner area of the ancient capital. It has 12 more coming up by 2019, adding to its presence in Hong Kong and Guangzhou.

"The Chinese market is of huge importance to the W brand," Sarah Doyle, global branding director of W Hotels Worldwide, told reporters in Beijing.

The mainland exceeded the United States to become the world's largest source of outbound travellers last year, with the number hitting 117 million, and this is expected to grow 17 per cent this year.

China is the second-biggest market for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which also owns other high-end brands such as Sheraton, Westin and St Regis. The group is under pressure to penetrate faster into new and existing markets against rivals including Hilton Worldwide Holdings and Marriott International. Its former chief executive, Frits van Paasschen, resigned abruptly in February amid slow growth.

Arnaud Champenois, senior branding director Asia-Pacific for W Hotels, said the brand would grow particularly fast in Asia and Europe, opening in China's Shanghai and Changsha next year and making its first foray to India. It will also open later this year in Amsterdam.

"The brand is getting a momentum in Asia and we have a lot of Chinese owners who are very interested in buying W brand." It is popular in Seoul, Singapore and Taipei, and will also like to open in Tokyo if the company can find the right partner, location and team, Champenois said.

"We are working on something, but it's not finalised," he added. "The Japanese people and W are a perfect match."

The brand mainly targets entertainment, media and advertising professionals and lovers of fashion, music and design - to differentiate itself from hotels hit heavily by China's anti-graft campaigns.

Despite the economic slowdown in China, W Hotels executives said the brand can prosper even in second-tier cities such as Xiamen, Chengdu, Shenyang and Suzhou. These cities have "people that love fashion, music and design", said Wendy Huang, vice-president of sales and marketing for Greater China at Starwood Hotels and Resorts.