Perfect 10: Marc Hediger, CEO, Lanson Place

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• Could you tell us about Lanson Place, and your background and role?

"Lanson Place Hospitality Management Limited is the hospitality arm and wholly owned subsidiary of Wing Tai Properties Limited, a publicly listed company in Hong Kong. The Lanson Place brand was established in 1995 and has since grown to own and manage a distinct portfolio of high end serviced residences, serviced suites and a boutique hotel within Asia Pacific."

"With more 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry, as CEO, I am responsible for the overall operations of the group, spearheading the expansion of Lanson Place in Asia Pacific and lead the corporate office in Hong Kong. As a Swiss national, I began my career in hospitality management with Hyatt International in 1981. During my 16-year tenure with Hyatt, I was involved in assignments on several continents. In 1997, I joined HPL Holdings in Singapore as senior vice president and successfully set up Hard Rock Hotels & Resorts International. I then worked for Movenpick Hotels as corporate director of food and beverage thereafter. From 2001 to 2009, I became senior vice president of development with Shangri-La Hotels Worldwide, where we were successful in expanding Shangri-La's global presence from 38 to 65 hotels. Prior to joining Lanson Place in 2011, I was senior vice president of product and development at New World Hospitality. I am delighted to remain in Asia in my current capacity to further enhance the strength of our brand and presence."

• How many properties do you own and operate, and is the company moving towards a more asset-light model, like other hospitality groups?

"Lanson Place currently manages 11 properties in key Asian gateway cities - Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, of which a third of the portfolio are owned by our parent company, either outright or through a form of joint venture structure with other institutional investors or other reputable development partners. Some of the properties in the Lanson Place collection are affiliated to Small Luxury Hotels of the World, some of which are conversions from either residential or commercial assets and some are newly renovated assets. In these cases, Lanson Place has been fortunate enough to leverage the parent company's expertise in property development as an owner and asset manager, to successfully operate lean and profitable hospitality assets. "

"Lanson Place however will continue to focus to expand its portfolio through management contract opportunities only throughout the Asia-Pacific region (with special focus on Japan and Australia) with strategic partnerships for key prime locations, keeping its upcoming portfolio an asset light group."

• What's the pipeline and your approach to growth?

"The majority of pipeline deals for Lanson Place are for the Serviced Suites by Lanson Place brand; a more contemporary and lean serviced apartment model, yet as new properties come on line the group will continue to keep abreast of introducing new technical, design and operational requirements to adapt to both the millennials as well as our loyal existing customer base. This may include a refreshed and contemporary hotel business model that would target specific markets for our partners seeking to address the midscale market."

"Earlier this year, Lanson Place opened a further two properties in Shanghai as well as entered into a management agreement to rebrand and takeover an existing asset in MidLevels, Hong Kong which will operate as a hotel suites model. In the pipeline to open at the end of 2016, Lanson Place Tianfu Square Serviced Residences will be the group's first property in western China. The property offers 162 units of spacious apartments ranging from one-bedroom to penthouse suites, which caters to the diverse and rising business traveller's demand in Chengdu. Our approach to growth will remain to ensure we meet the owner's long term return by ensuring we tailor each project to meet its market demands whilst in keeping of the Lanson Place personalised services that the group is renowned for. Additionally, we shall remain opportunistic to seek further conversion and rebranding projects which will allow the brand not only to gain a further presence in markets that we are sought after but deliver to existing owners an enhanced hospitality asset in perhaps markets where there are oversupply of residential units."

• What is Lanson Place's biggest challenge in Asia?

"The challenges in Asia for Lanson Place are the change from long-term to short-term business, the appetite for owners to flip assets rather than assume a long-term hold on an asset, the lack of global presence (despite strong global tenant profiles and loyalty) and southeast Asian owners seeking investment abroad now (e.g. Japan and Australia) rather than at home."

• Are you looking to expand outside of Asia, and if so where are you looking?

"Lanson Place will continue to grow alongside our parent company's roots, the strength of its operational team in both South East Asia and cluster team in Shanghai as well as of course through the expertise of the International team based at Headquarters in Hong Kong. The group would consider opportunities outside of Asia Pacific should there potentially be an appealing multi-portfolio deal perhaps in London, Europe or the Middle East, allowing for several properties to financially support a new regional operation. In any case, these developments do need to strategically fit into the DNA and culture of the Lanson Place brand."
• How are current trading conditions, and is there any evidence of the short-term rental sector affecting performance?

"We see that current trading conditions are not affecting our performance, but companies now renew on a monthly basis instead of committing to a long term rental, so there are more uncertainties and hence more efforts are needed on a renewal basis. Lanson Place has already addressed the evidence of residents seeking shorter term tenancies by specifically introducing its secondary serviced apartment business model called Lanson Place Serviced Suites which caters to the changing trends and needs of professionals, high net worth individuals, millennials as well as the younger families who are relocating within Asia Pacific."

"This lean, efficient and contemporary serviced apartment style not only provides a higher return in investment for developers but most importantly offers residents a niche flexible lifestyle, no matter the location or purpose of their tenancy. Smaller units are creatively designed with unique combined open living and working spaces, co-sharing public areas are the extension of their homes offering seamless connectivity throughout the entire development, 'grab and go' food and beverage concepts and resident activities will promote well-being but also offer more energising activities. With the new business model, pricing has had to be addressed with being cautious not to compete with hotels or other similar hospitality concepts."

• Taking into account the recent short term rental company purchases/investments by hotel and serviced apartment companies, do you believe short term rental platforms are friends or foes?

"Lanson Place Serviced Apartments is renowned for the personalised guest services and high level standards that you will not typically find across all other hospitality platforms of a larger scale, who simply cannot offer consistent offerings with a vast portfolio of properties with guests booking through different platforms, particularly on a shorter term basis. On the other hand however, if the group ignores that forming specific partnerships or affiliations with short term rental platforms does not target our consumer base, opportunities will be missed out. Having said that, we are also selective in choosing our partners. Therefore, the Lanson Place Bukit Ceylon Serviced Residences in Kuala Lumpur and Lanson Place Hotel in Hong Kong have joined the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, which share the same vision of offering guests genuine and personal services. Through the partnership, it offers us a niche but targeted platform to reach our potential customers through their network and promotion activities."
"Of course, it's all dependent on the consumers requirements as, if travelling on business or with young families, the more leisure based offerings may not be an ideal solution should they require specific supporting customer services or expect more personalised amenities during their stay. Security, accessibility and cleanliness may also be a concern with properties such as AirBnB for example, for residents who are seeking longer term temporary homes, as there is no consistent level offered as with branded serviced residences."

• What could the serviced apartment sector do better?

"The general perception of serviced apartments in the public is that they only serve a specific market (e.g. corporate business travellers). Unlike hotels, their distribution channels are also narrower and usually limited to relocation companies or specialist serviced apartment agents. Therefore, public awareness is much lower compared with hotels. In addition, more people (for leisure purpose) are travelling due to the declining air fares and residents (for business purpose) are now seeking shorter term stays. Lanson Place has addressed this fact through introducing apartment-like hotel rooms with apartment-type facilities and amenities within our boutique hotel, while offering shorter term stay options with relevant facilities and amenities at Lanson Place Serviced Suites."

"We also try to increase the bonding with our guests through regularly organising activities such as cultural tours, which normally hotels might not be able to offer due to the large customer base. Providing more information on the neighbourhood and distinctive local eats and attractions via social media is another area that we could do better in terms of customer experience. As customers tend to stay longer, they very much rely on us in making their life more fruitful both inside and outside of the apartment. The Lanson Place Hong Kong, for example, is offering a WOW walk through which our chief concierge will give our guests a personal tour around the hotel's neighbourhood to explore the best of the city and to unveil hidden gems."

• What do you believe are the challenges the sector faces over the next two to three years?

"In most established markets and now where travellers are dependent on mobile applications when in a foreign environment (whether for booking or during their stay), one of the many challenges that the hospitality sector faces in my opinion is getting that balance right between technology and personalised services. Consumers nowadays no longer look for mere accommodation. The sense of coming home to not only a cozy place, but an attractive place to mingle with tenants and locals or allow for friends to be invited and making the stay more interesting is gaining more importance. I am thinking of more communal areas like Wework and extended living room spaces to the apartments that are social hubs but also hang outs to have fun or play games."

• What other hospitality brands do you admire and why?

"Brands like Swire, Upper House or Adlib Hotel in Bangkok, who not only make the sense of arrival welcoming and interesting, but also tempt you immediately to want to try it out as well as provoke curiosity as to what their rooms or apartments look like, an offer that for sure must be different. The focus must be around an integrated lobby of some kind, it does not have to be busy at all times but must have a buzz that evokes a sense of relaxation and at the same time, provide elements of surprises."


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