The Business Times | APRIL 09, 2013
The luxury hotel chain has plans for 13 new hotels in Asia by 2015
Sofitel Luxury Hotels plans to grow its presence significantly in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific over the next few years.
The group's first hotel here, Sofitel So Singapore, is slated to open in November in Robinson Road, next to Lau Pa Sat Festival Market.
Sofitel's chief executive officer, Robert Gaymer-Jones, said Singapore's hospitality market is very attractive right now.
"It's a very dynamic market - the whole of South-east Asia is dynamic - and it's really growing fast. We feel strongly that the economic environment is strong in this market, and that our brands are particularly relevant to this market," he said.
The volume of international travel in and out of Singapore was also a big draw for Sofitel, he added.
"The Singapore traveller also travels outside of Singapore. The more we get ourselves and our brand recognised in Singapore, the more it helps us have that reputation outside and create that loyalty for Singaporeans when they travel."
Mr Gaymer-Jones, noting that American brands are dominant in the hotel market here, said it was time "a European touch" was added to the scene.
Sofitel So Singapore will be the group's third hotel with the "So" label, following its hotels in Mauritius and Bangkok. Mr Gaymer-Jones said the line, which focuses on designer hotels in contemporary locations, has been successful.
"The slogan for So is 'Intense living', and you couldn't get a better place to have intense living than in Singapore, in the CBD area," he said.
Sofitel will be entering a fairly competitive market here, he said, with new hotel rooms being added, especially with the opening of those in Marina Bay Sands.
"I think competition is a healthy thing to have," he said, adding that Sofitel will differentiate its offerings through design, personalisation and creativity to stand out from the pack.
"We feel there is a need in this market for this kind of hotel. I think the fact that we're the only ones in this area of town - and we're going to be a lifestyle brand - means we're going to be at the forefront of the market in this area."
In the last few years, Sofitel has streamlined its hotel offerings around the world, from 204 in 2006 to 123 today.
Asia figures prominently in its expansion plans. Mr Gaymer-Jones said Sofitel has 13 hotels in the pipeline for Asia, which would contribute to its goal of 150 globally by the end of 2015.
Mr Gaymer-Jones singled out China as a key growth driver, saying Sofitel would have almost 30 hotels there by 2015.
"Oversupply might be more of a problem in China than South-east Asia, but I think it's developing so rapidly that it can accommodate it," he said.
Asked about the possibility of more Sofitel projects in Singapore, he responded: "Absolutely. The wonderful thing about Singapore is that it's got the history to put a Legend in the market."
This was a reference to the "Legend" brand among Sofitel's properties, which are distinguished by their focus on the location's heritage.
Mr Gaymer-Jones, was an upbeat about the prospects in the regional luxury hotel market: "We should be seeing high single-digit growth in RevPAR (revenue per available room) performance in pretty much all the key markets across Asia.
"We feel pretty bullish about this market."
He added that although there has been a slight economic decline globally - in Europe, for example - the luxury hotel market has continued to grow. There has been a squeeze on the mid-range hotels, but Sofitel has recorded "strong growth" in its luxury properties in all markets, "even those suffering a little bit more", he added.
"We're still getting good leads and strong investment to develop hotels, which, to me demonstrates a strong interest in developing the luxury end of this market."
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