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Renovate to reinvent

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A Patrick Imbardelli

Pan Pacific Hotels Group recently invested SGD 80 million in the transformation of Pan Pacific Singapore. This year has also witnessed the group carry out important renovations projects of many Pan Pacific and PARKROYAL properties across the region. “As an organisation we are fairly unique as we are a branded organisation with two brands, which is PARKROYAL and Pan Pacific. Each of the brand has their own positioning in the market,” says A Patrick Imbardelli, president and chief executive officer, Pan Pacific Hotels Group (PPHG). He adds that while a lot of hotel companies are today in the franchisee model and management model, PPHG still owns and develops many of the hotels. “We have got serviced suites and hotels. We believe that there is a real opportunity in the serviced suite market. They are actually a little different from serviced apartments and provide an envelope of services,” adds Imbardelli.

Pan Pacific Manila just had a major refurbishment, while PARKROYAL in Darling Harbour Sydney is just undergoing renovations. Pan Pacific Orchard in Claymore, Singapore has also gone through refurbishment. There has also been SGD 14 million renovations of Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort. PARKROYAL Yangon, which has witnessed record-high occupancy rates, also completed renovations in 2012. “So while we are doing refurbishment we are also opening new hotels for both brands like opening of the 415-room Pan Pacific Ningbo in Zhejiang, China and the first Pan Pacific serviced suites product in China with Pan Pacific Serviced Suites, Ningbo in December,” states Imbardelli. PARKROYAL Service Suites is opening in Shanghai. Ningbo and Shanghai are service suites that are managed by PPHG for owners.

Sustained growth

“Our focus for growth is that we do not want to open 50 hotels a year, that is not the idea. We’d like to open five or six properties each year so that we have a sustainable growth and the product must exemplify the brand,” mentions Imbardelli. He points out that for a company that has over 10,000 associates in North America, China, Australia and South East Asia, it is not easy to grow too quickly to keep up the pace of growth. “So while we are growing, for every hotel or service suite that we are building, opening/ owning it will probably be one out of three that we are managing for other people. When it comes to specific markets then there are plans for Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia,” informs Imbardelli.

The focus of the group is not about opening a hundred hotels but to go where its customers are going. “In Singapore the company has five/six hotels and service suites, a lot of our customers who come to Singapore also go to, for example Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney. So what we try to do is understand where they are going and put hotels in those places and not just where we want to open these properties. If we put hotels just where we want to then there might not be the customers,” asserts Imbardelli.

He acknowledges that India is an interesting market however PPHG has no plans in the immediate future to open properties in the country. “While we know India as one word, it is actually many states. Then there is Mumbai and Delhi outbound, Mumbai is the cosmopolitan capital where lot of business is done, while Delhi is the government capital. At present while we have a strategy, it does not include India. We believe that to build or manage hotels in India we cannot have one or two properties, you need have it in 10 key cities and then you need to have hotels in destinations like Goa. Whenever we enter the Indian market in the future it will be big time,” he states.

Like any business leader one of the challenges that he has is to prioritise resources, and that does not only mean capital, it also means people. “At the moment from a developer’s perspective our focus is South East Asia and China – these are our key areas,” he explains.

As a source market the outbound leisure segment from India goes to Pan Pacific Singapore, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Penang in particular. “One hotel that draws a lot of traffic from India is the PARKROYAL Kitchener Road that is right at the edge of Little India. As a source market India is gaining in importance but not in mass market area. We are getting people to know, understand our brands and search our brands out. I do not see 20 per cent increase in customers but I see an ongoing increase,” mentions Imbardelli.

Talking about the most difficult challenges of operating hotels in different countries, he remarks that in developing countries manpower and infrastructure are the two biggest challenges. “There is need for more flights/airports. As far as manpower issues are concerned the focus is on training, developing and then retaining them. We give a lot of training to our people, including language training – eg English, Mandarin,” adds Imbardelli. He believes that there is no government that makes things difficult for a hotelier. “It is just that sometimes they need an understanding – in Thailand it’s about what licenses you get, in Vietnam it’s about understanding the masterplan of each city and working within that. India is very interesting, in the past the country has been characterised by Indian companies in the luxury five-star space – the Taj, Oberoi, ITC. And they tried to create joint ventures. Now international companies are going in and the infrastructure is being refreshed,” he says.

The sales strategy is bottom up and top down. For example, when each hotel makes its plan for 2013 – they see where the customers will come from and whether they are for leisure or business. “Then we see where our growth comes from. For China there is a different strategy, we have a sales office in Shanghai and there will be one soon in Beijing. We will try and capture the traffic in a different way,” he says.

Over the last three years PPHG has been averaging four to five new hotels a year. “I’d like to think that from a sustainable perspective that is type of growth average. We are only as good as growing what happens around us. We do not see ourselves doubling every year,” states Imbardelli.

The company is soon adding to its Singapore portfolio PARKROYAL on Pickering and Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Beach Road, Singapore. These openings will bring the group’s Singapore portfolio to eight hotels and serviced suites with an inventory of over 2,600 rooms.

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