Joan Xu was appointed director of marketing at Shanghai Marriott Hotel Hongqiao in February, where she was previously assistant director of marketing. Xu has more than a decade of experience in the hospitality industry, working at leading international hotels in Switzerland, the US and Shanghai, including the Park Hyatt and Marriott. She spoke with China Economic Review about the rapid expansion of the hospitality sector and Marriott’s brand development in China.
Q: You’ve been working at Marriott Hong-qiao since 2002. What changes have you witnessed at the hotel over the years?
A: The Marriott Hongqiao was the first Marriott brand in China, and since then, our company has been expanding very quickly across the country. The brand has become increasingly well-recognized among Chinese consumers, and property developers have shown a strong preference towards our brand. Many staff from state-owned companies and small business owners stay at our hotel. And in Shanghai, the number of Marriott hotels has risen from three properties in 2002 to 19 today. Marriott rooms account for 20-25% of all five-star hotel rooms in Shanghai.
Q: How would you describe the overall development of Shanghai’s hotel industry?
A: I think the most obvious change has been that the five-star hotel industry is recognizing and using local talent more than in the past. Previously, high-end hotels only hired foreign faces for key positions, but now they see that Chinese talent can hold their own. In first-tier cities, hotels’ level of service has not been improving because the industry is expanding too fast; the labor supply has not been able to catch up. But in second-tier cities, service has been improving overall, because workers who transfer from first-tier cities are bringing rich experience. A growing number of landmark hotels are being built in Shanghai, and that helps showcase the city’s unique architecture and meet consumers’ increasing demands for luxury products and services.
Q: How does Marriott Hongqiao plan to compete with the influx of new hotels coming into Shanghai?
A: Marriott Hongqiao opened in 2000. We have strong foundations already that will help us compete. First, the hotel enjoys a unique location – it is the closest five-star hotel to Hongqiao airport. Our services, together with the hotel’s facilities and atmosphere, make guests feel at home. Our goal is to give guests a strong sense of belonging, as opposed to a fancy hotel experience. This has helped boost our revenue per available room significantly. In addition, we are renovating our Grand Ballroom and other facilities to catch up with new competitors in the market.
Q: Do you have any concerns about market saturation?
A: It’s hard to say if it’s saturated or not. Nationwide, hotels aim to grow by an average of 5-12% in terms of room rates during the next year. Marriott is no exception. The hospitality expansion in China is an investment trend and competition is getting fierce in this industry. Foreign investment is increasing in China, and this will bring more multinational companies and business travelers to the country. But the rate of hotel supply expansion may be growing even quicker than foreign investment.
Q: Why do you think females in senior hotel management roles typically work in the marketing department?
A: Many women are born with a sensitive nature and their intuition helps them better understand different customer needs. At the same time, marketing jobs tend to attract female workers, because the positions usually require good multi-tasking abilities and diplomatic skills. They must be flexible and able to handle varying daily challenges. Hospitality marketing also allows a certain sense of freedom, where you can explore different things everyday and meet new people.