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We believe physical meetings and events are still favourable for business and corporate travel: Dr Jennifer Cronin, President, Wharf Hotels

Tuesday, October 20, 2020, 14:00 Hrs  [IST]

The pandemic has brought about a lot of drastic changes in consumer lifestyle and business landscapes. Wharf Hotels, Hong Kong has faced several challenges due to the ongoing pandemic. While Wharf Hotels continue to provide the highest standard of services for their guests at all times, the health and safety of the guests and associates & colleagues is their highest priority. They had initiated the strictest of protocols including health declaration forms of travel history and family contacts of the guests in January, much before the height of the crisis. Asmita Mukherjee spoke with Dr Jennifer Cronin, President of Wharf Hotels to know how the hotel group is moving ahead amidst the pandemic. 

Hong Kong as a destination has been hit hard on two fronts, by the political protests and with COVID-19, bringing tourism to its knees. How is Wharf Hotels in Hong Kong planning to recalibrate and revive amidst COVID-19?
We anticipate the expectation of maintaining hygiene and sanitisation standards will be at the forefront of guests’ minds for some time to come and until a vaccine is available globally. Hong Kong is one of the world’s success stories on managing the pandemic and the health authorities and the community should be congratulated on these results. 

Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) announced its partnership with the Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency (HKQAA) recently, to introduce an “Anti-Epidemic Hygiene Measures Certification Scheme”. The Scheme will set industry-wide hygiene standards for tourism-related businesses to follow, and accredited businesses will be awarded an “Anti-epidemic Hygiene certificate” for public recognition. Wharf Hotels will join the Scheme to raise awareness of Hong Kong as a “clean” travel destination and enhance visitor confidence in travelling to Hong Kong.

The restaurants and bars segment of our business has seen a significant uplift reinforcing the segment as a core revenue driver for our hotels to excel at and compete within.

In addition, we have collaborated with the Heritage Tourism Brands group to initiate a positive strategy on how to tackle rebuilding the city’s image. The group has had a voice with the HKTB and government sector on mapping out an international engagement strategy, with positive messages to rebuild confidence in Hong Kong from the geographic feeder markets and travel segments from within the HK community as a first phase.  

While we take a reality check, recalibrate and readjust, we must continue to support each other to seek alternative ways, keep ahead of the curve, consider all options and be ready for the new norm.  

How did you operate during the COVID-19 Pandemic? Were the hotels under the group operational?

Sixteen of the group’s Niccolo Hotels and Marco Polo Hotels were operational during the pandemic.  

Prince, Hong Kong, is currently closed for renovation as part of a project programme that had been planned over a 2-year period with a phased approach. Instead, it will now be completed in 12 months with little disruption to guests. The abnormal market outlook has caused management to rethink the benefits of a full closure to enable Phase 2 of its renovation to be accelerated, in order to achieve overall downtime and cost benefits. The hotel is expected to reopen in Q3 2021.

However, Marco Polo Davao announced the indefinite cessation of its hotel operations in June 2020 due to the transport links to the city being suspended.

Due to COVID-19, the MICE segment has been hit badly. What prospects do you foresee in the MICE segment?

There is an eagerness and determination to return to travel safely and conduct business meetings again, we see indications of domestic travel taking the lead with occupancy rates increasing daily for certain mainland China cities, and business enquiries for the coming months from both business and leisure segments. We are cautiously optimistic that travel will regain traction. However, MICE groups are still assessing their feasibility and viability while quarantine restrictions affect travel plans. 
Nevertheless, we believe physical meetings and events are still favourable for business and corporate travel, event organisers and hosts. 
Client expectations are now requiring technology-driven elements to their events and we have enhanced our services for the expected new technology requirements. This includes new ways of remote participation and presentation delivery, leading to a possible increased utilisation of keynote speakers being streamed live from another location in the near future. Enhanced LED screens will provide a better product to address this change and we will see more demand for this technology, resulting in additional investments that may need to be made across the industry. 

What is your opinion about the manner in which Hong Kong’s/South East Asia’s hotel market has handled the COVID-19 crisis so far?
With green shoots now in sight, we see indications of domestic travel and staycations taking the lead with occupancy rates increasing daily. Each market has responded to the pandemic with different strategies. At the forefront of it all, community safety and curbing the spread are of key priority whilst aiming to protect jobs and create a sustainable long term business future. 

Our industry’s focus is on recovery planning and campaign reactivation, and we are collaborating closely with the HKTB to chart the new direction ahead.

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