BY RODERICK EIME
Marriott International’s President and Managing Director for Asia Pacific, Simon F. Cooper says the global Star rating systems for hotels are “almost defunct”, with websites such as TripAdvisor now becoming the norm.
Cooper, the new President and Managing Director for Asia Pacific for Marriott International and responsible for leading the operating performance and growth of the region which includes more than 130 properties and 70 hotels, spoke to HM about Star ratings and a range of hot topics pertaining to the Australasian markets during a meeting in Sydney earlier this week.
Here are some highlights of the interview, which will appear in the August issue of HM magazine.
HM: Where does Marriott see new business opportunities in the region?
Simon Cooper: Australia is a mature market, not unlike Japan or Korea, and a very loyal market for Rewards members. There are so few new builds taking place, most of our opportunities will be in re-flagging as opposed to new construction. You will also know that our CBD properties are undergoing substantial refurbs and facelifts – AUD$20 million here in Sydney, AUD$11 million in Melbourne, AUD$16 million on the Gold Coast and AUD$3 million in Brisbane. China, in contrast, is where all the new construction is taking place. Our new hotels are in Bali (Indonesia), Phuket and Patong (Thailand) where construction costs are obviously much less.
HM: What do you see as the barriers for new hotel development in Australia?
SC: Australia is a tough market for luxury hotels, especially in the core CBD markets. There just isn’t the rate differentiation between the categories despite a relative shortage of inventory and there are significant barriers to new builds because of high land and construction costs.
HM: Do you find recruitment an issue?
SC: Yes, there is a shortage of labour. The skills are there but not in sufficient numbers and the hospitality sector has to compete with the generous pay offered by the booming mining sector. So one of our goals is to make Marriott an employer of choice and we’re well on the way with employer awards in Kuala Lumpur, Korea and Hong Kong. Hospitality employers will, in my mind, need to model wage increases for 2012.
HM: Marriott made a big announcement last month about free internet for all Marriott Rewards members in Asia Pacific. Tell us more.
SC: According to our customer surveys, free internet is important and before we made the announcement we made sure to up our bandwidth capacity and even now we still want more. As the first major global brand to offer this we need to get this right and we’re going to add even more bandwidth.
HM: What are some of the future trends?
SC: Well, social media is going to be absolutely vital. I rate sites like Trip Advisor over AAA (Star) ratings, which is now almost defunct as far as I’m concerned. We’d also like to keep as much of our online business as possible in the cheapest channel, Marriott.com.