REPORT FROM ASIA—Aspiring to translate their vision of a bespoke, selective and unique hotel concept, hoteliers Adrian Zecha and Hans Jenni established General Hotel Management in 1992. More than 20 years later, the company's commitment to delivering tailor-made luxury hotels, resorts and residences remains intact.
“The underlying philosophy has always been that each GHM development be design driven,” Akira Moreno, VP of development and pre-opening services at GHM, said. “At the same time, we’re looking for equilibrium within their respective locations, be it in the manner in which the architectural style is translated, the materials selected and how the interior spaces are imagined and decorated.”
Hiring the right people
In addition to the hotel’s design, the luxury hotel developer and operator’s hallmark always has been “the delivery of superior service and its uncompromising commitment to maintaining the highest qualitative standards for its products and offerings,” Moreno added. To help adhere to that aim, the company first reaches out to previous designers and architects when beginning a new project.
“They already have a particular understanding of what we like in terms of design, spaces, volume, circulation, etc,” Moreno said. “(But) there’s no firm sort of formula where we say we got to work with someone who has worked with us before. We’re actually quite flexible.”
General Hotel Management
GHM takes a similar approach when choosing a GM for each of their luxury properties.
“I want to pay major attention in developing future GMs from within the company,” GHM’s recently appointed senior VP Hansjörg Meier said in an email. “This may not always be possible, depending on the location of some of our hotels, but the development of our next generation of GMs and executives must be on the top of our agenda.”
Finding the right GM will be one of Meier’s main roles in addition to overseeing all operations and working with current GMs and owners on an array of topics, he said.
A new brand
In March of last year, in a joint venture with The Beijing Tourism Group and Great Ocean Group, GHM launched the Ahn Luh brand, an upscale, resort brand dedicated to the Chinese traveler that aims to personify the essence of Old World Chinese hospitality.
“The Ahn Luh is aimed at taking advantage of the richness of Chinese traditions and culture and to incorporate them directly into our selling proposition, not as an adjunct but rather holistically,” Moreno said. “China is a deep well, and there are so many ways in which we can leverage those depths in The Ahn Luh developments.”
Ahn Luh resorts are being developed in Beijing; Lhasa in Tibet; and Dujiangyan in the Chengdu province of China. Moreno added that the GHM plans to grow the brand in China but will consider other key destinations in the future.
In addition to the Ahn Luh brand, GHM has three luxury branding alternatives: the Chedi and Serai brands as well as an independent collection.
In terms of differentiation among the brands, Moreno said while the company’s properties are all driven by the same “service excellence culture,” their design and amenities are dependent on the location and culture within that location. Some of the offerings that vary depending on the property are the architectural style, food and beverage, spa programs and retail.
The company has seven hotels in operation and eight hotels under development, mainly in Southeast Asia and Western Europe.
Moreno said they are seeing increasing demand from Southeast Asia—China in particular. He added the company is also interested in breaking ground in unchartered territory.
“Just looking into our current pipeline of projects for example, when was the last time a hotel opening was announced for Tamuda Bay (Morocco), Nusa Penida (an island southeast of Bali) or Khorfakkan (in the United Arab Emirates)?” Moreno said. “Many people today have not even heard of these destinations, but rest assured that they will once we open.”
The Chedi brand has two properties coming through the pipeline this year—The Chedi Club Suzhou, China, and the Chedi Andermatt, Switzerland. The independently branded Aayu Mumbai, India, will debut this year as well.
GHM has five additional Chedi-branded hotels coming online through 2015. The group also has its sights set on the United States, where the company is also in talks with numerous investors, Moreno said.
“It’s only a matter of time before something is announced in the Americas,” he said.
Moreno said executives are extremely selective when it comes to choosing development partners, especially given each project’s elongated, 5- to 10-year development cycle. He added, however, that they often don’t have to look far.
“For being a relatively selective (company), we actually find a lot of people approaching us (to partner),” Moreno said. “Out of 100 potential projects, we probably have seriously talked about two to five …
“We have owners that like us very much, and as they acquire additional real estate they’re interested in doing another project,” he added. “Or we actually have individuals that we’ve never done business with before. They could have stayed with us at one of our hotels or they know us from the Amanresorts or GHM portfolio of hotels.”
GHM’s Director, Zecha founded Amanresorts, a luxury resort and hotel brand, in 1988. The company owns and manages 25 small luxury resorts and hotels worldwide.