WINNIE CHIU, PRESIDENT AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DORSETT HOSPITALITY INTERNATIONAL
Renowned for her dynamism, Winnie Chiu is the woman behind Dorsett Hospitality International. Can Faik sits her down for just long enough to find out her plans for the company’s future…
Winnie Chiu is President and Executive Director of Dorsett Hospitality International. HQ in Hong Kong, Dorsett Hospitality International has three brands under its umbrella the upscale and midscale Dorsett Hotels & Resorts and d.Collection, comprising a range of charismatic boutique hotels; and the value-led Silka Hotels. The group currently owns and manages 33 hotels in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and the United Kingdom; including eight more openings within the next couple of years in Malaysia, Australia and the United Kingdom.
What was your first job in the hotel industry?
My first job in the hotel industry was a summer internship spent at the Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong, which was a two-month Management Trainee programme rotating within different departments, from Front Office to Operations, Sales, Guest Service and Housekeeping. Before embarking on a career in hospitality, however, I worked at Credit Suisse in their Private Wealth Structure Product Division and Malaysia Land Properties Sdn. Bhd as Director. I then joined Far East Consortium International Ltd in 2005 as Director of Project Development, a role I held until 2011 when I became President and Executive Director at Dorsett Hospitality International.
What are the complexities of meeting the demands of shareholders, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?
Our group is an Asian-based company headquartered in Hong Kong. We are an owner, operator and developer whereby we own all the assets in our group, which makes it easier for us to match up to the demands and expectations of our shareholders and stakeholders. We are 110 per cent committed to our business and as a young, growing company; our team members can be assured of career development and growth within the company as well as the assurance of the group’s sustainability in the industry.
In 1998 the first Dorsett Hotel opened with 320 rooms and by 2017 the group expanded to 25 Dorsett Hotels with 7,459 rooms. Overall, Dorsett Hotels International and Far East Consortium (FEC) now have a total of 39 Hotels with 11,037 rooms
What are Dorsett Hospitality International unique selling points?
As a brand, we are able to offer our guests the unique combination of appealing locations and a stylish setting with an affordable price tag, this is a unique selling point in the market and definitely makes us stand out. We pride ourselves on our consistent brand standards and experiences across our collection, yet we also ensure that each hotel has its own distinct and unique offerings that allows for differentiation, depending on the hotel’s destination and local influences.
What is the most important aspect of the Dorsett Hospitality International philosophy you instil in your staff and which your guests can expect to experience at your properties?
Dorsett is all about celebrating the best of Asia; from its service culture to our 4Is core values (4Is stands for Integrity, Inspiration, Innovation and Initiative) and gracious hospitality, to possessing an innate understanding and ability to anticipate what modern-day guests want and need. In such a fast-paced and rapidly changing world, it’s vital that we stay relevant, so it’s our aim that at every Dorsett hotel, guests can expect something extraordinary.
What are the most challenging issues you are facing in your current job?
I believe one of the most challenging issues would be finding the right people. In the hospitality industry, it’s all about people, understanding how they work together as a team and delivering service that matches up to the expectations of our guests. And as with any business, it’s also about business sustainability and without a doubt, the industry is getting more complex and challenging; we need to constantly evolve with industry trends in order to stay relevant.
What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?
We cannot succeed on our own, it’s all about teamwork. When I’m recruiting, I firmly believe that ‘your character is your destiny’ and for me, strength of personality and character is essential. I am ultimately happy when the team around me and my guests are happy. In terms of success, hard work and dedication naturally play a huge part but I couldn’t have achieved what I have without my team. I believe that letting my colleagues make their own decisions is key.
What can we expect from Dorsett Hospitality International in 2017/18?
This summer, we opened our second property in London – Dorsett City in Aldgate, following the success of Dorsett Shepherds Bush, which launched in 2014. Dorsett Shepherds Bush is also undergoing exciting expansion plans with developments underway to introduce a serviced apartment concept and two F&B outlets in the hotel’s neighbouring Palladium. Hotel developments in Asia include Silka Tsuen Wan in Hong Kong which soft opened in January this year. Our Malaysia hotel, Dorsett Hartamas is scheduled to be operational by mid-2018 with another Sri Jati (potentially under the d Collection brand) to open in 2018. Looking ahead, there are also plans to open more properties in the United Kingdom and in Brisbane, Perth, Gold Coast and Melbourne in Australia.
Tell us a little about your hotly anticipated hotel opening in London and what motivated you to choose that particular location?
Dorsett City is a 13-storey building formerly known as The Matrix, located next to Aldgate tube station and the 18th century St Botolph Church. The location is hard to beat from a business perspective; guests will be within walking distance of the city, yet there’s also plenty of leisure attractions in the area from the Tower of London to Spitalfields market and an exciting restaurant and bar scene, which we’ll be adding to with Vingt-Quatre and Shikumen restaurants and a roof-top bar. Launching a hotel in Aldgate offers our guests two very different locations in East and West London.
Dorsett Hospitality International seems to be expanding in Asia. What’s the opportunity there for hospitality?
Our focus is in the four-star category with a focus on guest value and tailor-made service. We are proud of our product that combines affordability with style and substance. There is a high demand for this in Asia where consumer spending is often focused on leisure pursuits such as shopping, rather than the accommodation element, we tap into this fast-growing trend and Chinese wallet.
How is Dorsett Hospitality International positioning itself in the market?
For me, it’s all about delivering style, comfort and affordability through our value-add Asian experiences, it’s the little touches we provide such as Dorsett wine hour whereby hotel guests are invited to enjoy complimentary wines and drinks with the hotel’s team. Another is ‘Dorsett X-plore’ offering, which allows guests to enjoy extra benefits and discounts in shops and restaurants within the hotel’s area.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
Trends come and go but what has remained over time is the personal hotel experience; from the moment a guest walks across the hotel lobby and up to their room, the hotel needs to exude a hospitable feel. At Dorsett, we strive to create moments like this with our design, we use mix-and-match furniture, diverse wall treatments and tiles and bespoke items as well as the property’s historical context to deliver fascinating design results that are warm and inviting..
Two trends we have noticed are ‘co-living’ and ‘cultural heritage’.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
First impressions count and most certainly the look and feel of a hotel is very important to determine whether a guest will stay with you or not; whether the hotel is deserving of a four-star or five-star status. When it comes to the designs of our hotel, I am grateful for my sister Wendy Chiu, who heads our design team as Senior VP of Interior Design.
In your 10 years of experience as a hotelier, you’ve no doubt seen quite a few trends come and go. Are there any which you have been reluctant to embrace in your properties and why?
Yes, we are a very on-trend, innovative, vibrant and dynamic hotel group. However, there are some trends, which have been too loud or quirky, that we have skipped. Design is a very important element to us, but so is functionality, and comfort. If a trend has too many functionalities, for example switches that guests find difficult to use or if a design trend is cold and industrial, we don’t feel that will work for our guests.
Is there a hotel in your collection that is close to your heart and why?
All hotels are close to my heart, they’re like my children and it would be impossible to choose a favourite as I love them all.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I’m a people person so the most enjoyable aspect of my job is definitely the people I have the opportunity to meet, the guest interaction and experiences we are able to provide and the ultimate result of delivering an exceptional service. Receiving customer feedback from satisfied guests and seeing our hotels and colleagues grow is rewarding.
What would be your dream hotel project?
An integrated resort development (with a shopping mall, for instance and a casino) would be very fun and interesting – just like our Australia Project. I prefer to work in small teams where everyone adds significant value and input with a ‘lean in’ approach. Everyone on the team should be key and their voice should be heard.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
Dolder Grand, Switzerland, Rosewood Beijing and Boyer Les Crayers in Reims
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish-list?
Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia for diving and I would also love to see the whale shark migration.
What advice would you offer to those who aspire to become a successful hotelier?
You must listen to others feedback, have willing to commit and passion.
Is Dorsett Hospitality International targeting luxury brands and retailers as tenants in its properties?
Rather than solely focusing on luxury brands and retailers, we are focused on securing partners that are the right fit for the locality and our guest base. For example, at Dorsett Shepherds Bush we offer Shikumen restaurant for Bib-Gourmand awarded Dim Sum, at Dorsett City we will introduce the vibrant Vingt-Quatre concept for playful cocktails and food. It is all about supply and demand and we try to tap into opportunities that allow for new experiences and providing a point of differentiation.
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
I think it’s important to get the balance right and I agree with a study I recently read about sport, sleep and maintaining good relationships with friends, family and colleagues, leading to a happy life and better performance in the workplace. I am also passionate about arts, culture and social responsibilities, these play a huge part in my life, both within work and leisure time. I enjoy yoga, diving and meditation to achieve work life balance.
Look out for SPACE’S review of the new Dorsett City, London in issue 5 2017.