HOTELS Interview: Launching a lifestyle brand with Asian flair

When Kerry Hotel Pudong, Shanghai, opened in February 2011, it marked the debut of a completely new brand for Hong Kong-based Shangri-La International Hotel Management Ltd.

Designed to appeal to travelers who want a relaxed luxury experience without compromising on service or quality, the Kerry brand is looking to be a pioneer in a number of areas. Kerry Hotel Pudong, Shanghai, for example, boasts a three-pronged approach to F&B with The Cook, offering 11 live show kitchens; The Meet, a contemporary steakhouse with its own meat-aging room; and The Brew, which brews six signature beers and a hard cider on-site. The 31-story, 574-key hotel also offers Kerry Sports, a massive recreation destination spanning three floors with a 24-hour gym, basketball court, jogging track and dedicated children’s “Adventure Zone.”

HOTELS visited the property recently and spoke with General Manager Peter Clarke about launching a new brand and some of the keys to making sure it remains on the cutting edge.

HOTELS: What can you tell me about the vision for this hotel when it opened, especially since it was the first to debut within the Kerry brand?

Peter Clarke: The approach is to have a luxury hotel, but with an edge to appeal to everybody. If you look at our property here, we appeal to the businessman, we appeal to the younger generation — we’ve got something for everybody. It’s a lifestyle brand.

We’re the first to do paperless check-in in China, just introduced. We’re the first luxury hotel ever to have a brewery. We’re just finishing our bottling plant; we’re going to put our own bottled beers in [guestroom] minibars for free.

A lot of people talk about trying to do things differently; we’ve done it. In our industry, it’s important to be the first, and we’re definitely the first to come out and do this.

Peter Clarke, general manager of Kerry Hotel Pudong, Shanghai
Peter Clarke, general manager of Kerry Hotel Pudong, Shanghai

HOTELS: What particular elements of this property excite you the most?

Clarke: One thing is the staff. When you walk around the hotel and you look at the people here, they’re young, they’re excited, they’re individuals. It’s the first time I’ve worked in a place where staff can have more than one earring and color their nails and don’t have to have their hair tied back. There’s individuality about everybody, and I think if you allow people to express that individuality — as long as it’s within reason — it actually comes out in how they interact with guests. We’re trying to get away from the cookie-cutter, let their natural instincts dictate how they interact with guests.

You can’t walk into any hotel in this city and have a microbrewery with hand-crafted beers. You can’t walk into any hotel here that has its own meat-aging room. Our steakhouse (The Meet) — the meat in there is just phenomenal. In the U.S., maybe you can go into a good steakhouse and get it, but here, it’s not available. We’ve got a cheese room (as part of The Cook) — nobody has that in this city. Kerry Sports is unseen in China before. They’re amenities that guests of the future are going to expect now that we have them.

HOTELS: How do you believe luxury hotels overall are changing?

Clarke: What’s next is what the consumer wants, and if you look at who’s coming in now, it’s Generation Y. They’re here, and they have spending power. We’re going to do things like ice-skating rinks in the summertime — things that people are not going to expect. In-line skating. We’ve got a brewery — we’re going to do a massive brew-fest event.

At most luxury hotels, you expect a formal lobby lounge and one or two formal dining areas — it’s safe and predictable. You can come here, and we’ll guarantee there are going to be fun events always happening in or around our complex. 

Contemporary steakhouse The Meet ages its own steaks.
Contemporary steakhouse The Meet ages its own steaks.

HOTELS: Who is your typical guest right now?

Clarke: Everybody. We have literally 50% male, 50% female. We have 50% Chinese and 50% Western. We definitely have a younger crowd in our restaurants and bars, but by younger I mean 50 and under. We have a big reach into our community, which is great, and we’re growing the domestic market. We’re one year young, so it’s going to take us a while to really get out there. Our market is everybody we can reach out to.

HOTELS: What can you tell me about the hotel’s performance since it first opened?

Clarke: It’s done extremely well. The first six months is always very slow. This year, we will do in excess of 60% in occupancy, and for a whole first year in operation, that is more than acceptable. Our rate is stronger than anybody in our competitive set. We definitely got off to a very healthy start.

We’ve got room to grow. One of the beauties of the hotel is we have the largest pillar-free ballroom in the city (the 24,000-sq-ft/2,230-sq-m Grand Shanghai Ballroom), and that has definitely been a competitive advantage for us and will continue to be. And our food and beverage wasn’t designed for hotel guests alone to use. The community is coming in to use it, so our food and beverage has had a very strong start, which helps create brand awareness as well. Kerry Sports is also outperforming itself.

Kerry Sports spans more than 64,000 sq ft (6,000 sq m) over three floors.
Kerry Sports spans more than 64,000 sq ft (6,000 sq m) over three floors.

HOTELS: What impression do you hope guests take away from the hotel?

Clarke: We’re looking for “wow.” Everybody’s going to have a different wow moment. Some people will be wowed by the brewery. Some people will be wowed by Kerry Sports. Other people will be wowed by the interaction with the staff. That’s all I’m looking for — I’m looking for everybody to walk away with a wow that they’ll come back for.