Q&A with Robert Cheng, The Peninsula Hotels

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The Peninsula Hotels
The Peninsula Hong Kong.

With 147 years of history, Peninsula Hotels is not one to rest on its laurels. It’s debuting new hotels in hot destinations like Myanmar and offering innovative ways for its luxury clientele to vacation whether they are in Chicago or Tokyo. Editor-in-chief Paloma Villaverde de Rico spoke with Peninsula’s VP of marketing, Robert Cheng, to learn about the company’s plans for the future and how travel agents play a key role.

Paloma Villaverde de Rico: If you had to describe, in a single phrase, what makes the Peninsula brand unique among its competitors, what would that phrase be?

Rob Cheng: The most unique element of The Peninsula Hotels as a group is that we’re one of the smallest luxury hotel groups in the world and Asia’s first luxury hospitality brand, and are still owned by our founding family, the Kadoories.

PVR: What does the future look like for Peninsula, and how has its past dictated that future?

RC: We have 147 years of history and yet our group’s philosophy is upheld to the highest levels because of the commitment of the Kadoorie family and their interests in the company. Heading the group since the 1920s, they’re still the majority shareholders of the company and that is a commitment and a level of support that no other global hotel company can claim to have. It means assurance for quality, in that our majority shareholders care about upholding this brand on a long-term basis irrespective of fluctuating global markets and crises. This means that everything we do is really for the long term, with a long-term vision. For the staff, it really means that they are part of the family—the security of knowing who we are working for and that this is not going to change.

We are proud of our history, but always looking to the future.  For example, The Peninsula Hong Kong, which is Hong Kong’s oldest hotel, yet is now the newest following the extensive renovation, which has just been completed. We are known for discreet in-room technology, and our most recent innovations include the bespoke state-of-the-art tablets at The Peninsula Hong Kong, which control all in-room functions and can change the entire room to the language of the guest’s choice at the touch of a button (currently 11 languages are available).

One of the most important elements of any fine hotel is its staff members, who have the ability to truly customize the guest experience. So many of our guests travel non-stop, so it’s these tailor-made, bespoke details that foster the level of guest loyalty that The Peninsula is famous for.

We’re also in the business of creating memories that last a lifetime for our guests, and we have introduced a series of enriching and innovative programs at each hotel that provide our guests, and those important to them, with enduring experiences and milestones of life. These include our award-winning Peninsula Academy collection of cultural, culinary and lifestyle learning activities for both adults and children.

PVR: Why is it important for Peninsula to open a property in Myanmar sooner rather than later? Any new developments with that property?

RC: Myanmar is developing fast, and as location is everything, we found the perfect heritage building in the center of town with a long history as the headquarters of the Burma Railway company.

PVR: How do the Peninsula Academy experiences play into travelers seeking experiential vacations? What are a couple of your favorites?

RC: The Peninsula Academy learning and activity program was created to give guests an insider introduction to key aspects of culture, lifestyle, cuisine, arts and history in each of our cities, through individualized classes, tours and activities. Each hotel has meticulously curated their programs by sourcing the very best tour guides and local partners, bringing to life the destination through exclusive activities, all accomplished with the celebrated Peninsula attention to detail. For a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, each property now features a WOW! program, which offers unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime bespoke experiences.

PVR: Who is the target clientele for the Peninsula Hotels?

RC: It varies, and in many cases, we are now serving the third generation of our loyal guests. There is a certain group of people who visit all of our hotels when they travel to various regions. I would describe that person as sophisticated and well-travelled, who appreciates good value and who likes quality without being flashy. This is a person who likes to be treated with respect and lots of attention to detail, but also likes to be left alone to a certain extent. We are also seeing a big increase in family and multi-generational travel.

PVR: What can that target clientele expect of their stay in a Peninsula?

RC: They expect seamless personalized service, memorable experiences and user-friendly facilities when staying with us, together with a fulfilling sense of destination in each location.

PVR: What does it mean for the Peninsula brand to have The Peninsula Hong Kong celebrate 85 years and still be at the top of its game?

RC: The Peninsula is a Hong Kong icon, and with its long heritage, is part of the very fabric of the city. It’s also a wonderful example of how glamour is back.

PVR: How does the Peninsula brand work with travel agents? Are there incentives, programs, etc. for travel agents?

RC: We work very closely with travel professionals to ensure their clients receive the very best of care and service, exceptional hotel products, a unique culture of warmth, and genuine, personalized service, together with an elegance and attention to detail that redefines, and sets new standards, for our industry. Our Global Customer Service Centre is open 24/7 to offer assistance and support to travel professionals. We never want to cut out the travel trade—they are our valued partners and friends, and we work together to make their clients’— our guests—stay as seamless and as memorable as possible.

PVR: What does the Peninsula brand think travel agents bring to the table in this day and age of OTAs, etc.?

RC: Guests have many choices nowadays and depending on the situation, their buying behavior will be different. Sometimes, they would like to shop online, or purchase with travel agents. If the hotel is featured in a multi-destination itinerary, guests are highly likely to want to have a face-to-face conversation with a travel professional. On the other hand, if it is a simply point-to-point travel, they may simply book via OTAs or the hotel’s website.

However, specialist agencies and consultants bring a deep knowledge of both the property and their clients, so they can perfectly match the hotel to meet the clients’ needs and expectations.

PVR: What are some unexpected amenities that the Peninsula properties offer guests?

RC: We know our guests well, and we aim to surprise and delight them whenever possible. To do this, we operate an extensive guest recognition program to ensure that guests’ needs, requests and preferences are taken care of in each of our hotels. In this way, we can ensure that the fullest extent of our quality service will reach our guests.

With family travel increasing, we offer fabulous children amenities. Free WiFi has always been offered in all our properties since the advent of the Internet, while last but not least, The Peninsula Hong Kong and The Peninsula Shanghai offer complimentary VOIP calls, so our in-house guests can call internationally without incurring any charges.

PVR: How does the Peninsula brand go about choosing the destinations for its properties?

RC: One principle of The Peninsula Hotels’ operating policy, which is of paramount importance, is to invest in hotels located in premier gateway business destinations. All of our hotels are in key gateway cities in Asia and the U.S.; with The Peninsula Paris under construction, all of which are positioned in key landmark locations in the very heart of their host city, which is a key factor to make a city hotel successful.

PVR: What percentage of your guests are repeat guests?

RC: It varies from hotel to hotel and guests’ travel patterns, but in general, our hotels have high percentage of repeat guests. The Peninsula Beverly Hills has a 70 percent repeat rate, which is the highest in our group, while The Peninsula Hong Kong has guests coming back for over 50 years.

For more information, visit peninsula.com.