Mon, Mar 20, 2017 - Page 16 News List

INTERVIEW: Hotelier explains industry troubles and growth

John Chen, vice chairman and CEO of Gloria Hotel Group, took charge of the family’s business in 2008. The math teacher-turned-hotelier welcomes the government’s ‘new southbound policy,’ but believes the most urgent priority is to reverse the persistent decline in business travelers. The 36-year-old shared his views about challenges facing the industry and the group’s development plans in an interview with ‘Taipei Times’ staff reporter Crystal Hsu on Friday last week in Taipei

Gloria Hotel Group vice chairman and CEO John Chen poses for a picture at Gloria Prince Hotel Taipei on Friday.

Photo courtesy of Gloria Hotel Group

Taipei Times: What drove you to quickly expand Gloria Hotel Group (華泰大飯店集團) from one to five hotels, in addition to its banquet and outlet businesses since 2008?

John Chen (陳炯福): Hotels in Taiwan saw explosive growth between 2008 and last year because the former administration actively promoted cross-strait tourism and encouraged the establishment of lodging facilities. The trend also had to do with the boom in real-estate. Some developers wanted to build something that can last and enable them to own their own business and better manage cash flows when the property market declines.

However, the focus on cross-strait tourism is short-sighted and policymakers should never encourage people to put all their eggs in one basket. This spells doom for facilities that are heavily dependent on Chinese tourists. Some are seeking to survive by staging a price war and others will have no choice but to follow. The pressure will intensify after Chinese tourist numbers started to decline in the second half of last year.

TT: Does the oversupply of hotels affect your business? How do you plan to overcome this challenge?

Chen: The trend has had little impact on our group, which owns five hotels: Gloria Prince Hotel Taipei (華泰王子飯店), Gloria Residence (華泰瑞舍), Hotel Quote Taipei (闊旅店), Gloria Manor (華泰瑞苑) and Hotel Proverbs Taipei (賦樂旅居).

Gloria Prince has an average occupancy rate of more than 80 percent, with Japanese travelers composing the largest clientele group. Gloria Residence and Hotel Quote have achieved similar records. Occupancy rates stood at 65 percent for Gloria Manor and 60 percent at Hotel Proverbs, leaving ample room for improvement due to their relatively recent establishment and need for exposure.

The latter two will supply the revenue growth driver this year, as we aim for a 10 percent increase from last year’s NT$5.6 billion [US$182.85 million]. With the opening of the second-phase facility last year, Gloria Outlets (華泰名品城), will also contribute.

Unlike hotels seeking to accommodate tour groups, we find a niche market in “mature and seasoned” travelers, who account for 10 percent of all tourists and are drawn to small, independent boutique hotels. They grow tired of not knowing in which cities they are staying after waking up in international, branded hotels that all look the same.

Seasoned travelers like to explore the cities they visit and gain better knowledge of the people, lifestyle, art, culture and food there.

We aim to keep room rates steady amid growing pressure for adjustments. Talks of rate increases are lies.

TT: What can the tourism industry do to attract more visitors?

Chen: The lack of “identity” is the biggest challenge facing tourist attractions in Taiwan. Identity is the only thing that can be sold to people at the lowest cost and is the only reason people will come back, because they cannot find it elsewhere.

For instance, New Taipei City’s Jiufen (九份) used to have its own identity reminiscent of the early 20th century, but it is increasingly losing its appeal. The night market in Pingtung County’s Kenting (墾丁) is losing visitors, because it fails to offer food or other products special to the area.

It takes local people who understand and appreciate who they are to sell to visitors with confidence. Japan is quite good at building and reserving its identity in communities.

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