Trade Talk: Chan Kong Leong of Shangri-La Group

A Q&A with the company’s Regional CEO for Southeast Asia & Australasia on a significant milestone for the brand, upcoming openings, and more.

All photos courtesy of Shangri-La Group

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is marking its 50th anniversary this year. Aside from launching the refreshed logo, what else is being planned for the rest of 2021?

We are delighted to mark our 50th anniversary this year. Just as through our refreshed logo we recognize that Shangri-La is more than a place, but a feeling and an experience that inspires personal moments of joy, we hope to continue helping our guests realize their own moments of Shangri-La in the years to come.

That said, we are very mindful the world remains in a pandemic and we will commemorate this milestone year appropriately and sensitively. Throughout the upcoming 12 months, various activities will be planned for our guests and employees. In fact, Shangri-La Singapore kickstarted its 50th birthday in April with a series of activities including a lobby display of eight towering chocolate panels illustrating the story of Shangri-La Singapore. The hotel is also home to our very first Shang Palace, which marked its 50th anniversary with a specially curated celebratory menu evoking the grand 1970s, highlighting vanishing heritage recipes, prized ingredients, and virtuoso techniques.

Guests and fans of Shangri-La across the region can look forward to more exciting and memorable activities and initiatives to come.

 

The Chocolate Gallery display in the lobby of Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore’s Tower Wing.

How would you define the spirit and core values of the Shangri-La brand? And what sets it apart from other global hospitality chains?

Since our founding in 1971, Shangri-La has been known for showing hospitality characterized by genuine and heartfelt care to guests and communities alike, hallmarks of our Asian heritage that makes us unique and special to this day.

Our first hotel was established in Singapore and since then, our story has been closely tied to Asia for the past 50 years. We proudly bring our Asian heritage to the world and share its cultural richness in all our properties. And we honor Asia’s traditions through the flavors of its many cuisines served at our restaurants.

Our strengths lie in having both an Asian and cosmopolitan outlook. Our people best exemplify our Asian culture through the authentic ways and thoughtful service we deliver to our guests. It is this care for people that is the bedrock upon which the Shangri-La Group stands, and which distinguishes us as Asia’s leading hospitality company.

 

Shangri-La Singapore lit up its Tower Wing to salute frontline heroes last year.

The past year or so has been incredibly challenging for us all. How has Shangri-La supported its employees and the wider community during this time?

Our focus over this past year has firmly been on ensuring the health and safety of our colleagues and guests. Early on in the pandemic, we reinforced our already stringent safety and hygiene practices with our Shangri-La Cares commitment to our guests and associates. Enhanced training and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) were provided to colleagues so they can carry out their duties safely. We will continue to reassess and evolve our processes and standards in the best interests of our guests and colleagues.

With travel and tourism decimated due to the pandemic and international border closures, we have had to flex our staffing levels at different junctures. But through it all, we tried our best to support those colleagues in need with hygiene care packs, groceries assistance, and wage top-ups for the lower income earners for instance. At the hotel level, we kept up regular engagement and developed a series of mental wellbeing activities to keep our associates’ spirits up. We also made the best of the season by training and upskilling our team members so they can enhance or learn new skills.

At Shangri-La, we believe we have a responsibility to show up for the community and nation when in need. We have a handful of hotels in the region that played small, but critical, parts in the countries’ public health response to Covid-19 by providing highly regulated and safe self-isolation premises for international guests traveling during these trying times.

And as we weather this extraordinarily difficult period, I am proud of the ways we have supported our local communities, united by a common culture of care and the spirit of giving. Our hotels and corporate office colleagues have continuously sought out opportunities to help their local communities — from preparing fresh meals to donating essential items such as groceries and PPE to those in need and courageous frontline heroes. Twenty-one Shangri-La hotels in our region partnered with Diversey to upcycle 12,500 kilograms of hotel linens into reusable face masks for the most vulnerable in their communities, helping to sustain livelihoods for some NGOs while caring for the environment by upcycling.

 

The group has stepped up its health and safety measures through the Shangri-La Cares commitment.

As part of the Shangri-La Cares commitment, the group’s properties in Singapore were the first to roll out complimentary Covid-19 insurance coverage for international guests. What has the response been like so far and what’s next?

We were among the first international hotel chains to go the extra mile by arranging for Covid-19 medical coverage for international guests at no additional charge.

The feedback has been extremely positive from all our stakeholders, who really appreciated this proactive gesture by Shangri-La. Hence, following the successful introduction of COVID-19 medical coverage at our Singapore hotels, we have begun gradually expanding this program to an additional 21 hotels located in Southeast Asia, Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan.

We hope this will further instill travel confidence among the public and again demonstrate our desire and commitment to be there for our guests every step of the way when they are ready to travel again.

 

Shangri-La also operates hotels in Cairns and Sydney. As domestic travel in Australia has picked up again, are there signs of recovery in terms of bookings and occupancy rates?

There is definitely growing confidence and optimism for our Australia hotels. We are seeing significant pent-up domestic travel demand, especially over the school holidays and long weekends. With the country’s international borders still closed, Tourism Australia has been aggressively promoting domestic vacations and coupled with the reduced impact from local lockdowns, this has also helped bolster travel confidence among Australians.

 

Shang Social at Singapore’s Jewel Changi Airport.

The Group recently opened its first standalone restaurants in Singapore and Beijing. Is Shangri-La planning to expand these F&B offerings to more destinations in the near future?

Besides being a global hospitality leader, we own and manage more than 500 F&B outlets in our hotels and resorts worldwide. Some restaurants and bars have also earned Michelin stars and other accolades over the years.

The move to selectively open standalone F&B establishments, such as Shang Social in Jewel Changi Airport and now Shang Brew in Beijing, stem from our desire to bring our collective culinary heritage and credentials to a wider community outside of the hotel setting. For now, we are focusing our efforts on making these outlets as successful as our other F&B outlets around the world.

 

An artist’s impression of Shangri-La Melbourne, now under construction.

What new hotel openings are in the pipeline for Southeast Asia and Australasia over the next few years?

Work is progressing smoothly for our first property in Melbourne, Australia — the 500-room Shangri-La Melbourne. The hotel will be part of one of Melbourne’s most iconic developments, Sapphire By The Gardens. We are excited to introduce our Asian-inspired hospitality to all visitors and guests when the hotel opens in 2023.

Another exciting hotel opening for us in the Southeast Asia and Australasia region would be JEN Thong Lor. The 350-room hotel will be located in Thong Lor, the lifestyle and entertainment epicenter of Bangkok, and will mark the introduction of the JEN brand to this dynamic Southeast Asian market.

Elsewhere in the network, new hotel openings planned for 2021 include Shangri-La Qiantan, Shanghai; Shangri-La Shougang Park, Beijing; Shangri-La Nanning, and Shangri-La Jeddah, Saudi Arabia — our first property in the kingdom.

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