Radisson execs see Chinese inroads with owner Jin Jiang
04/12/2019|12:00:00 AM|HotelNewsNow

Radisson Hotel Group is looking to leverage its new Chinese ownership to establish and grow the footprints of all of its seven brands in China, and draw millions of outbound Chinese tourists to its hotels in the Americas, executives said at the company’s Americas Business Conference.

The hotel company has been owned by two different Chinese firms in about as many years, and yet its executives refuse to “make any assumption that we know what Chinese guests want,” CEO and COO John Kidd said.

Kidd himself has some experience with China, as do many on his team, he noted. He was brought on by Haikou, China-based HNA Group to lead Radisson when HNA Group bought what was then Carlson Hotels in December 2016; and stayed on when the company was bought in November 2018 by current owner Jin Jiang International Holdings. Prior to that, he spent more than 20 years with Hilton, largely in Asia, including China.

But the CEO said he doesn’t consider himself the expert on Chinese hotel guests.

Rather, to bring some of the 140 million and growing outbound Chinese tourists to Radisson hotels in the Americas, Kidd said Radisson will look to its Chinese owner for guidance and insight.

“We’re going straight to the source; we’re going to the Chinese market … really drilling into what Chinese customers want, at the different segment levels; what are they looking for and what are their expectations,” Kidd said. “And in that regard, we have tremendous support and help from our owner, Jin Jiang. They are experts in this field.

Loyalty alliance

Jin Jiang’s loyalty program boasts 150 million members, many of whom are based in China, which Kidd said will aid Radisson’s efforts to attract Chinese travelers.

Radisson is working out a plan to recognize the status of Jin Jiang’s J-Club rewards members at all Radisson properties in a “global loyalty alliance,” which it hopes will be ready by summer 2019, said Eric De Neef, EVP and global chief commercial officer at Radisson.

“One of the biggest objectives is to unlock China for us,” he said. “On the rewards side, we are together building a strategy to create what we call a global loyalty alliance in between Jin Jiang and us, where you have the 150 million members of Jin Jiang plus the 22 million on the RHG side. … You can imagine, from a system compatibility view, this is a huge exercise.”

Efrem Berman, Radisson’s head of global loyalty and engagement, said that “concept of recognition” is what’s important at this stage, noting there are no plans to fully integrate or merge the rewards programs into a new entity.

“The partnership has been wonderful, and we’re working together very closely to expand how we work together,” he said. “We have a huge unlocking of distribution opportunity … and how we bring that to bear for our owners is going to be key.”

The loyalty side is a “huge component … and of fundamental importance to our company,” Kidd said.

“Right now, we’re in the process of discussing very deeply how we can marry the programs together in a very efficient way so that our customers, our members enjoy all the benefits of that alliance and it works for the hotels, for the staff, so that it becomes seamless. That takes time and effort and a lot of thought.”

Berman said the loyalty piece is a “long-term initiative, but it’s moving very much in the right direction.”

In addition to Radisson, Jin Jiang’s hotel brands and assets include its own Jin Jiang brand, J.Hotel and Jin Jin Jiang Inn, as well as Louvre Hotels, Vienna Hotel Group and Plateno Group. With Radisson, its brand landscape grows to include the core Radisson brand, Country Inn & Suites, Radisson Red, Radisson Blu, Park Inn by Radisson, Park Plaza and the boutique soft brand Radisson Collection.

Berman said ultimately the goal will be to have Radisson Rewards members recognized at hotels under Jin Jiang’s other brands, as well.

Brands in China

Also key to tapping into that lucrative Chinese travel market will be creating and growing awareness for Radisson brands in China, which Radisson plans to do by developing each of its seven brands in the country.

Katerina Giannouka, Radisson’s president for the Asia/Pacific region, said the company has been “operating in China for 20 years … and has gotten along pretty well, even without the support of Jin Jiang.”

“The main drive now is to get all of our brands into China,” she said. “There’s about 5.5 billion domestic trips in China each year. People are traveling domestically like crazy, so we need our hotels everywhere to be able to catch our fair share.”

From a global perspective, “the quicker we can put more properties in China, the better off we are, because then there’s more brand familiarity,” said Ken Greene, president of the Americas for Radisson.

“There’s a lot of growth opportunity there. … You’ve got today, 140 million outbound travelers from China,” Greene said. “That number goes to 450 million in the next 10 years, double-digit growth every year. We’ve never seen that type of outbound or inbound travel growth into the Americas like that in the history of this industry.”

Greene said it’s time to increase development of Radisson properties to grow awareness among Chinese travelers who are so familiar with Jin Jiang.

“We’re so well-positioned to capture a point of origin of people, Chinese and Asian travelers, who are predisposed to our brands, and capture them over here,” he said. “And what we need are more hotels, as fast as we possibly can. So those developers and owners who are doing business with us, folks who have been with us a long time and new ones who are being attracted to us, they sort of see that vision, and they say, ‘five years, 10 years from now, we’re going to reap the benefits of this,’ and it’s really quite exciting.”

De Neef said the strategy in China is two-tiered: “Targeting the tier-one and tier-two cities for the upscale and upper-upscale brands … and then working our midscale brands, Country and Park Inn, into what we call tier-three and tier-four markets.”

He noted that “the purity of the brands and the swim lanes being well-defined for brands is something that Jin Jiang wants to implement in China because it is missing in China, being totally over-swamped by Chinese brands.”

Synergistic value

With Jin Jiang, Radisson has an owner “who has deep roots in hospitality … shares our vision for this company and will help us to realize it,” Kidd said.

“Jin Jiang is a tremendous company, very stable, really fascinated by the world of hospitality, fully engaged and entrenched in that business. It’s a business that they really do understand, but at the same time, they are open-minded. They want to learn from us as well. That was one of the attractions of acquiring our company—our knowledge, particularly in the upper- and upper-upscale segments of the market,” he said.

Radisson also has quickly meshed with its sister hotel companies and brands under Jin Jiang, capitalizing on “the synergistic value we are able to extract” from that relationship, Kidd said.

That could include partnering with Jin Jiang’s other non-Radisson brands on a hotel development in a key market, he said.

“We have a tremendous communication line already.… We’ve had very intensive discussions since we got together in November last year, in Shanghai, in Brussels, in Minneapolis; and that’s been fostered very much by Jin Jiang. They’ve been very forward-looking,” Kidd said.

“All of the CEOs and several of our support teams are mingling with each other and picking up a lot of ideas from each other. There have been discussions about hotels that we could work on together in different parts of the world. In Latin America, for example, our sister companies are not there, so we’re working with them on that side of things.”

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