Leo Liu Chenjun, president for Greater China at Wyndham Hotel Group, says Wyndham Hotel Group’s strategy is to cater to a broad range of clientele, particularly those in the mid-income bracket, and to cater to their specific needs. (Parker Zheng / china daily)
Wyndham Hotel Group (WHG) is shrugging off the Chinese mainland’s economic blues, and is betting heavily on the country’s hotel business over the next five years, with an eye on mid-range hotel brands, says Leo Liu Chenjun — the group’s president for Greater China.
New Jersey-based WHG — reputed to be the world’s largest and most diverse hotel conglomerate and currently owns 7,800 hotels globally —prides itself on an extensive portfolio that embraces such ubiquitous labels as Wyndham, Ramada, Super 8 and Howard Johnson.
As of October this year, the group had 1,216 hotels on the mainland, and the past few years have testified to its rapid growth there, Liu tells China Daily.
Upon joining WHG in late 2013, Liu recalls, the group had a little over 600 hotels in China, but rapid expansion soon followed. Last year alone saw 244 new WGH hotels throwing open their doors on the mainland.
“At a time when many industry giants are treading a cautious path, Wyndham is aggressively growing its business in China,” he says, adding that despite the mainland economy’s slowed growth, the group will not waver in its advance over the next few years.
WHG is going after more mid-range hotels on the mainland, convinced that the growth in demand will come mainly from this segment.
According to Liu, two hotel categories have seen strong growth in the past three decades.
Firstly, the traditional five-star hotels of multinational groups that have swamped the mainland have set the required standards and have been leading the trend of high-end hotels in the country.
Until some 15 years ago, global upscale hotels had been gaining the upper hand in the mainland’s hotel industry. So, when any local government or landlord wanted to put up a hotel in their city, or in a property project, it would have to be one of a global luxury brand.
Then, it was the domestic budget hotels that ushered in a period of fast development, says Liu, adding that in 2016, the mainland hotel business was basically a two-way affair between high-end and budget hotels.
“For a very long time, people have been tuned to just these two types of hotels. In future, I believe both high-end and budget hotels will continue to develop and will always have their market share, but this will gradually shrink, leaving much room for mid-range hotels to emerge.”
For this reason, WHG is banking on enlarging its mid-range hotel pool in China, Liu says, explaining that they offer very flexible room rates, and the group isn’t afraid of penetrating the third, fourth or even lower-tier cities on the mainland.
Broad range of brands
“We prefer third or fourth-tier cities with large populations. In September this year, we launched a Wyndham in Jingzhou, Hubei province, and in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province. We also opened a Ramada Encore and another Wyndham there as we see there’s demand and we turned out to be the best hotel locally.”
In Liu’s view, as WHG runs a broad range of hotel brands, from the very top to the mass market, regardless of what Chinese consumers want, whether it’s for the family, business travel or vacation, they’ll find what they need under the group’s wings. So, compared to targeting just a specific group of travelers, WHG caters to a vast array of consumers.
He notes that, as competition heats up, new types of accommodation have surfaced, like Airbnb, Tu Jia, Bed and Breakfast. What they’ve brought to the market shows there’s great demand for such accommodation.
What would be the best strategy for any hotel group that wants to make the grade in China in future? They need to be creative, otherwise, they stand to lose out, Liu reckons. For WHG, it’s doing its best to be creative and bring out its own characteristics in the mainland market.
Meeting clients’ demands
“For all the new brands under Wyndham that come to China, we’ll make sure they can meet the demands of Chinese consumers. We can’t just copy what they are in the US and move directly into China.”
But, frankly, there’s no guarantee that a hotel brand that’s highly successful in other countries will also score in China. So, WHG has to localize the hotel to make it adaptive to the local market and meet consumer demand, especially the younger travelers, explains Liu.
He also believes that the appetite of millennials has undergone fundamental change, unlike the diehard travelers who only trust traditional luxury hotel brands. The younger generation now attaches great importance to social events; they want to be able to interact with the hotel, with their hotel rooms or even with other people staying at the hotel.
“We’ll soon launch the Tryp brand by Wyndham in Xi’an. Not only will the design of the rooms be trendy and chic, it’ll create a distinctive social environment so that youngsters can enjoy staying and dining in the hotel.”
Besides luring young travelers, WHG wants to maintain a harmonious relationship with its existing and future landlords on the mainland.
In Liu’s opinion, closer cooperation and partnership between WHG and its landlords is of paramount importance because without the support of landlords, the group would be stalled in its tracks.
WHG would also like to look afar, such as tendering for hotel projects owned by airports.
‘Hospitality is a creative industry that drives people and makes them proud’
Born and raised in Beijing, Wyndham Hotel Group’s Greater China chief Leo Liu Chenjun left for France while he was still in his twenties, and had lived in “the hexagon” for more than a decade.
After completing a marketing course at Ecole de Management de Lyon, France, Liu joined Accor in 1998, but the company later deployed him back in China, where he had worked for Accor for many years in various departments as the group embarked on its business expansion on the Chinese mainland.
In 2008, he was recruited by Costa Crociere — the first cruise company to enter the mainland — offering Liu the experience of helping the company to build up its brand. Since they had to do everything from scratch in China, it was very much like starting a new enterprise.
Five years later, in 2013, it was WHG’s turn to solicit Liu’s talents, offering the young executive the post of president of Greater China.
“To me, Wyndham’s expansion into China is also like starting a new business as we have so many brands that we can bring into the market, it’s very exciting and rewarding,” says Liu.
Challenges presented no obstacles to Liu as he enjoys forming strategies, convincing his bosses and colleagues to take risks along with him, and eventually executing those strategies.
“As a chief executive, my job is to ensure that my colleagues are proud to be a member of the group. They’re aware that we can achieve our goals together and we’ll all witness the company’s growth.”
One of his priorities is to create a comfortable and relaxed environment at the group’s Shanghai head office, and he’ll make sure there’re a lot of open spaces in the office to allow his colleagues to liaise and socialize with each other.
But, he admits that motivating the team is giant task for any team leader. A leader can either be very nice or very tough. That doesn’t matter, but a good leader has to be very clear about his or her direction and goals to help the company attain results.
“Those working for you are not here just because you’re a charming person. They are here because they do agree with you on your goals and initiatives. So, as long as you’re clear about this, your colleagues will follow you and work with you toward the same target.”
A good team leader also has to foster a sort of company culture so that your colleagues will be driven by the goals set. With a great company culture, naturally, the people who work for you will be motivated, he says.
Liu has some words of wisdom for youngsters, saying the hotel industry is a great place for them to be as they can get trained there, learn a lot of things and be able to determine what they really want.
“Hospitality is an industry that makes people happy, and it’s an industry that craves for creativity. So, if you’re a creative person, then you can find new angles and new ways to solve new problems. It will make you happy and it’s very rewarding.”