What’s Ralf Ohletz’s view on the future of travel?
When Regent emerged 35 or 40 years ago, it became very famous with two hotels: The Regent in Hong Kong [now InterContinental Hong Kong], which opened in 1981, and The Regent Beverly Wilshire [now Beverly Wilshire, Beverly Hills (A Four Seasons Hotel)] in Los Angeles, which was subsequently chosen for the movie Pretty Woman. The whole reference was all about being different — not in a flashy way — but offering very simple comfort food to guests. The food experience was all about the steakhouse, and 30 or 40 years ago, the customers were mainly Americans. That has changed. The customers in the next five to 10 years are going to be largely Asians.
After WWII, when Americans started traveling, all of the hotels were built on this sort of American footprint. I was in management training with Hilton in London, which was sort of the training ground for Hilton International in those days. They were just absolutely brilliant because they were the first company, to my knowledge, that started doing food festivals — bringing chefs from other hotels in different parts of the world, promoting their hotels in a softer way through food. Of course, people liked them because they wanted to have the experience of a Turkish food festival or whatever.
Now we have the Asian traveler — and how will that change our business? It will change our business a great deal. If you take resorts in Asia, for instance — and we just opened two new resorts in Bali and Phuket — we have to all of a sudden not just say, “Well, it’s for the Western guest or the Asian guest.” You have to really take all those aspects into consideration when you develop a hotel. The Europeans go to a beach resort to get away from the bad weather; they’re just happy to have a beach. They plant themselves all day on the beach and in the evening they change and go to dinner. Asians are completely different: They swim in the morning because they want to avoid the sun. They don’t want to be bronze; so therefore, their habits are different. Not only their habits of eating rice for breakfast or what have you, but also their behavior patterns are different, which means you have to develop and conceptualize hotels that fit both.