Exclusive Interview @ ILTM Cannes: Leading Hotels of the World President & CEO Theodore (Ted) Teng

At ILTM 2017 in Cannes, we ran into Ted Teng and asked him the leading question: How the show was going this year…

It’s working very well, because this particular format allows us to showcase the brand of Leading Hotels of the World, and the Hoteliers in particular. Hoteliers can have their own booth, but being part of this, collectively, they help themselves. By being together, they have a much bigger presence than if they were a single hotel.

So it’s the raison d’être of LHW?

It is. It’s our mission to serve these mostly family-owned independent luxury hotels, and it helps the travel advisors and journalists to understand how a group like this works. They are the artworks… the masterpieces… and we’re the museum that provides the access.

What’s the feedback like? What are they saying this year?

2017 has been a very good year results-wise for all of the hotels – far beyond anyone’s expectations. So I would say the common denominator is twofold: customers coming from new places, and customers going to new destinations. It’s about new customers and new destinations.

How is the Chinese clientele developing?

The numbers are impressive. But it’s still mostly in the mass market. For the luxury segment, it’s still reaching them individually through communities, and the intermediaries are not nearly as well organised. There are some, but not the way the mature markets are organised. And we’re trying to reach them. In fact, our annual convention next year will be in Shanghai in mid-November. There is a great deal of interest in understanding that market, and it’s wonderful for us to showcase our presence by bringing two or three hundred hoteliers into that market, and bringing our consumers to interact with them, and get a feel for what it’s like to have all these amazing hotels. This year we had it back to back in Cannes. We organised the annual convention so that right afterwards they could also attend ILTM. That way it gave them a purpose to attend two events; making just one trip. I think it will be the first time we have a major convention in Shanghai and we’re very excited about it.

When you receive Chinese visitors, they’re very different from visitors from other regions. What is being done to cater for this?

There are some basics. The risk of treating any market segment as if they’re homogeneous takes away from our individualised experiences. But we encourage our hotels to understand some of the specific needs of these customers, and their general behaviour. For instance, they like to go shopping, whereas most North Americans general have pretty good access to all they need at home. So understand that shopping is an important part of it. Understand they are still learning about the cuisine and so on and they may not want to eat every meal in terms of local foods, and while you don’t have to make Chinese meals, it’s important to know where to refer them to. We encourage hoteliers to continue to present their product – local and authentic – and don’t generalise about any market segment.

I’ve seen some of the chain brands go out there with a big campaign about how they’re ready for Chinese customers, but you have to be very careful not to generalise.

How many new hotels do you have this year?

I think we added something like 50 or 60 hotels this year, which is very unusual for us. We are probably more like 20 hotels a year. At a show like this I will have half a dozen or a dozen conversations with hotels that want to know about membership. We don’t actively go out and solicit membership. Because we are a membership organisation and due to our ownership structure, we treat it as they come to us, and we even require a sponsorship from an existing member before they can apply. It’s like a club, but it’s not about “Do you belong or not belong?” We really want you to understand what it is like to be in a membership organisation. It’s not just a commercial transaction. It’s about how you contribute, and what you get out of the membership. It’s not just take, take, take; it’s a give and take. That’s what makes it work here. If you’re not willing to contribute to the overall membership, then it doesn’t work.