A WINNING STRATEGY

Hospitality doyenne Winnie Chiu shares the vision, commitment and principles behind the expansive success of Dorsett Hospitality International.

Unanimously dubbed as one of the world's leading international financial centres, Hong Kong has long been home to some of the world’s most formidable Asian business dynasties. Among these, Singaporeans are likely to be most well versed with the Chiu family, otherwise known as the gatekeepers to the Far East Consortium. Founded by the late entertainment tycoon Deacon Chiu and succeeded by his son Tan Sri Dato David Chiu, the consortium is a global property, investment and hospitality force to be reckoned with. With a legacy of such proportions as her base for inspiration, it is unsurprising that Tan Sri Dato David Chiu’s eldest offspring, Winnie Chiu, has taken on a leading role in the group’s third-generation brigade.

Helming Far East’s subsidiary Dorsett Hospitality International as its Executive Director, Winnie has overseen its growth from conception to multiple award-winning recognition and domination of Chinese tourist markets. Having inherited her father’s vision for expansion, Winnie’s business prowess has earned her the laurel of one of Asia’s most powerful businesswomen, with a passion for the arts and philanthropy to boot. Boasting a consolidated hospitality stronghold in Asia Pacific’s gateway tourist cities, Winnie is determined to continue leading Dorsett into worldwide ubiquity by capitalizing on the growing number of Asian tourists.

Spotting A Niche

A graduate of Kings College London, Winnie had initially endeavoured to chart her own path away from the family business as an investment banker at Credit Suisse. After gaining significant business acumen in this role, she made her first foray into the family business in 2002 as Director of Far East subsidiary Malaysia Land Properties before taking on the title of President of Dorsett in 2011.

Under Winnie’s leadership, Dorsett Hospitality International and Agora Hospitalities have undergone rapid expansion, evolving into major hotel players that own, manage and develop a total of 52 hotels in Hong Kong, mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, the United Kingdom and Australia, with 11 more in the pipeline.

“We see a gap in the market and an untapped potential when it comes to the 3- to 4-star hotel segment in major Asian cities,” shares Winnie. “Targeting this segment provides us with more flexibility to be fun, creative and innovative in areas such as technology, without the restrictions often imposed by the 5-star category. Our aim is to be known as a fantastic 4-star hotel group delivering nothing short of 5-star service.”

An Asian Understanding

The Dorsett Hospitality International group comprises three distinct brands: Dorsett Hotels & Resorts which encompasses the upscale Dorsett Grand and mid-scale Dorsett Hotels; d.Collection is the group’s range of distinctive boutique hotels while Silka Hotels offers value-for-money accommodation focused on convenience. “Our diverse portfolio of 3- to 4-star hotels allows us to attract consumers from different market segments and different spending power around the globe,” explains Winnie.

Although each hotel has its own unique charm, they collectively adhere to the common brand attributes including locations based on City Convenience, a service culture defined by Vibrant Engagement and an experiential philosophy of Active Wellness.

Much of Dorsett’s success in outflanking rival hoteliers also stems from the group’s ‘Chinese Wallet’ strategy, as Winnie explains, “The Chinese wallet strategy targets Chinese travellers who head overseas. In general terms, over 50% of Chinese tourists choose to stay in 3-4 star hotels when travelling abroad as they prefer to spend on shopping, food and attractions instead.” The strategy also involves building hotels where mainland Chinese tourists are likely to congregate. After all, as Winnie notes, “Being a true Asian-based company, we have a better understanding of the needs of Chinese and Asian travellers.”

Foray Into Japan

In 2012, Dorsett Hospitality International expanded its footprint to Japan when it partnered with Agora Hospitalities. According to Winnie, now the Chairman of Agora, Japan is still a predominantly domestic market with over 70% of guests being local. “Our acquisition is focused on return on investment and acquiring hotels in cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. Dorsett’s alliance with Agora has strengthened its ability to attract customers from Asia and major Western countries, enhancing its brand recognition,” she elaborates.

Looking towards the future, she adds, “With respect to future developments, Agora will endeavour to expand the hotel alliance with more city hotels and traditional Japanese inns, also known as ryokans, in places other than urban areas that embody the beauty of Japan.”

Best known as the gatekeepers to the Far East Consortium, the Chiu family is currently helmed by Winnie's father, Tan Sri Dato David Chiu.

Unforeseen Challenges

After more than a decade in the business, Winnie can concur that life in the hotel industry is certainly no bed of roses. Oftentimes, the challenges that crop up are unpredictable in nature. She describes a particular incident in 2014 when a World War II bomb weighing almost a tonne was discovered at the construction site of the Dorsett property in Wanchai, Hong Kong.

“I went straight to the hotel immediately and with the help of all the general managers and our core team, we managed to get all our guests and other Dorsett colleagues smoothly out of the hotel,” she recounts. “We also managed to relocate the guests to other hotels and ensure that they all had a room to stay. Most importantly, everyone was safe.”

Her tip for overcoming the unexpected curveballs thrown her way? “Commitment and integrity to all guests is the best advice I can give.”

Millennial Demand

Sporadic incidences apart, Winnie is also aware of more consistent challenges ahead, owing to an increasingly complex hospitality industry and new-generation consumer behaviour. “As a smart and intuitive company, we must cater for the emerging millennial demographic who are not only a key guest base but also our future work force,” she acknowledges. “Our human resources team is forming a committee for millennial staff within our company so we are on top of any movements, trends and demands.”

Winnie also emphasizes that finding the right people to represent the Dorsett brand is key to the success of the company. “It is all about people at the end of the day and how they work together as a team is essential. Our people need to deliver a level of service that not only meets but exceeds expectations of our guests,” she asserts.

Women At The Top

Sharing more about the team behind Dorsett, Winnie reveals an interesting fact. At Dorsett Hospitality International, 50% of the senior managerial posts are held by women – a statistic she takes great pride in. “Our collection of affordable yet stylish hotels benefit from having strong female leaders on the team,” she observes.

As a power businesswoman in charge of a renowned hotel chain, Winnie has also adopted her own unique management style. “I see myself as a gardener. I provide my team with ‘fertilizer’ in the form of support for them to grow. I also give them free hand to allow their talents to flourish,” she says. “Above that, I am always willing to listen to my colleagues. Everyone has their own skill set and I am so lucky to have a great team that is willing to learn from each other. Thus, as a company, we can continuously improve together.”

A Heart For Philanthropy

While the group continues to scale greater heights, it remains committed to the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), influenced by Winnie’s own passion for philanthropy. “Close to my heart is education and I firmly support the commitment of each hotel in providing financial aid for students. In the past few years, Dorsett has raised substantial funds, allowing us to award scholarships to 700 students through the hotel’s scholarship programme,” she muses.

Extending her love for philanthropy beyond her role at Dorsett, Winnie also dedicates a large portion of her time to external projects. As a well-known figure amongst Hong Kong’s elite, she is determined to use her affluence and status for the betterment of society through roles such as Chairman of the Hong Kong Art School, Director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and council member of Hong Kong Arts Development Council. With Winnie as Gala Chairperson for the Society of the Academy for Performing Arts (APA) since 2014, the Academy Ball has raised around HK$30 million in the last four years, which has gone towards endowing future artists with sustainable transferable skills.

Summing up her philosophy of giving back, she shares, “I am incredibly passionate about art, music and culture and I believe wealth should be utilized in an influential manner through charitable and philanthropic efforts. I am grateful that I have the privilege of being able to choose which charities to support.”

The Dorsett property in Wanchai, Hong Kong, is known for its elegant décor and unique themed suites.

This article was first printed in MillionaireAsia Issue 47 - Mar 2018


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