Wanda makes its mark

Updated: 2013-11-02 07:22

By Ma Xue (China Daily)

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It's a young hotelier, barely one-and-a-half years old, but Wanda Hotels & Resorts is catching up fast, pitting its hospitality expertise against large international conglomerates. But, it has a first-bite strategy that it hopes will give it an edge. Ma Xue reports.

Since the company was founded in July 2012, there has been a new Wanda hotel opening up every 10 days or so, bringing the total number to 46. As the new kid on the block, if Wanda Hotels & Resorts wanted the industry's attention, it has certainly captured the eyeballs.

On Sept 14, it opened its 46th hotel in Harbin's Haxi, reinforcing the company strategy of putting its mark on second-, third- and even fourth-tier cities.

Wanda makes its mark

Wanda recently opened its 46th hotel in Harbin, reinforcing the company strategy of putting its mark on second-, third- and even fourth-tier cities. Photos provided to China Daily

Just like the international brands, the Wanda hotel management group has three proprietary luxury brands - the five-star Wanda Realm, the five-star plus Wanda Vista and the ultra-prestigious Wanda Reign.

Almost all the Wanda Realm and Vista hotels have established foothold in the secondary cities.

"This is no coincidence," says Liu Xiaofeng, head of Wanda's marketing department. "Nearly 80 percent of China's population live in these cities, and the country's economic success has boosted domestic as well as international travel.

"That said, the hotel industry in these cities are in the early stages of development and show much better potential, compared to the more saturated hotel markets in first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai."

China is one of the few countries in the world where the domestic market actually competes with, if not rivals international arrivals.

"Make no mistake, if we don't take a bite out of the pie now, someone else will and they'll act fast," Liu says with emphasis.

The general manager of Wanda Realm Harbin, Roger Marcz, is a Swiss hotelier with many years of experience overseas.

Wanda makes its mark

Marcz proudly notes that the majority of staff at the Wanda Realm Harbin is recruited locally, and this has been a great help from the start.

"I only had seven other people with me five month ago, and now we are an organization with more than 350 employees.

"For a city like Harbin, where temperatures reach a low of minus 20 to minus 30 C in winter, it takes a local to know exactly what to offer our guests to warm them up inside and out. This is one of the biggest perks of recruiting locally," Marcz says.

The positive results from the company's market penetration in cities in the early stages of urbanization have given Wanda confidence to expand the business into more crowded markets.

Liu says the company is certainly not just concentrating on 'cities from rural areas' and will adjust its approach when it sees fit.

In order to compete with international hotel brands such as the Starwood group, which also covets the same markets, "cultural embedding is the key".

Liu explains: "Our products reflect our cultural heritage in so many aspects. It distinguishes us and makes us unique."

This regional expertise is reflected, for example, in the floor-length glass installation in the foyer of the Wanda Realm Harbin. The snowflakes in the aesthetics reflect Harbin's reputation as the "Ice City" of China.

"On that note, we also think it's important for our employees to understand our culture, while at the same time respecting other cultures."

Sometimes, the devil may be in the details, and the less observant may not even detect the difference.

"For instance, our concierge may make and hold eye-contact and shake hands when greeting Western guests. They may try less direct eye-contact and bow slightly when greeting Chinese guests."

With another eight hotels to open in the last quarter of 2013, it goes without saying that Wanda is definitely a dark-horse contender to watch closely in the Chinese hotel market.

Contact the writer at maxue@chinadaily.com.cn.

(China Daily 11/02/2013 page13)