Trade Talk: Choe Peng Sum of Pan Pacific Hotels Group

The CEO of the Singapore-based luxury hospitality firm shares how the company is giving back to local communities and moving full speed ahead with its long-term recovery plan.

All photos courtesy of Pan Pacific Hotels Group

What is the current operational status of Pan Pacific Hotels Group (PPHG) properties around the world?

We have close to 50 properties in 30 locations—both operating and under development—across Asia Pacific, Europe, and North America. The group has remained cash flow positive, and the majority of our revenue comes from our 13 properties in Singapore and Australia. These two countries have supportive, pro-business governments whose reliefs and grants, along with various programs for isolation guests, have helped to support the hospitality business to a large extent. More recently, Australia is recovering with domestic travel coming back gradually, except in Victoria. The Singapore government is also rolling out measures to encourage domestic tourism, as well as green lanes and travel bubbles to bring back essential travel as the situation improves.


Some countries are already recovering from the crisis. What can you tell us about demand for PPHG hotel rooms in China and current occupancy rates?

While China was the first to be hit with the pandemic, the country has bounced back substantially. It has been encouraging to see that our properties in Xiamen, Tianjin, and Ningbo are operating at above 70 percent in occupancy. Although Beijing experienced a second wave in July, it is gradually recovering with over 40 percent of rooms booked. Corporate meetings and social events have picked up too.


Early on in the pandemic, we read that Pan Pacific Perth was sheltering some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. What other ways has PPHG been giving back to the communities of their respective locations?

The safety and wellbeing of our guests and associates are of utmost important to us—caring for them and the environment is a core philosophy that we operate by. The Pan Pacific Cares initiative embraces this with four key pillars: clean stay, community outreach, care for the environment, and associates. What Pan Pacific Perth did was part of this initiative. The hotel collaborated with the Western Australia state government through the “Hotels with Heart” program to house the homeless, a group that is most susceptible to contracting the virus as they are unable to self-isolate. Keeping them in a safe, clean, and warm environment ensures their well-being and gives them dignity in life. They are treated like VIPs in the hotel. That is caring for the community.

And we’ve launched quite a few initiatives in Singapore, our home base, as well. Earlier this year, we gave out more than 3,600 lunch packs to healthcare workers at Alexandra Hospital, Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, and K.K. Women’s and Children’s Hospital, as our appreciation for their dedication and hard work. With the support of parent company UOL Group Limited, we also provided over 20,000 meals as part of the Project Makan initiative for low-income families with children whose access to free or subsidized meals in schools were disrupted during Singapore’s extended circuit breaker.


PPHG’s HERO initiative rewards medical staff in Singapore for their efforts in fighting Covid-19.

Beyond this, we rolled out “HERO”—which stands for Healthcare Employees Recognition and Ovation—in August. The initiative provides 25,000 complimentary room nights to Singapore’s healthcare heroes for their dedication to the nation in combating Covid-19. These are given to employees of three healthcare groups, namely SingHealth, National Healthcare Group, and National University Hospital Systems. We have invited them to take a well-deserved respite and enjoy time with their loved ones at five of our hotels in Singapore from December 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021. It’s our way of saying “You’ve taken care of us, now it’s our turn to take care of you”.

Participating properties include Parkroyal Collection Pickering, Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay, Parkroyal on Beach Road, Pan Pacific Singapore, and Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Beach Road. In addition to these complimentary room nights, the Group has also rolled out exclusive privileges to all healthcare employees in Singapore for stays, dining, and spa treatments at all of its properties in town.


Poolside at the soon-to-open Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay in Singapore.

How has PPHG supported its employees during this challenging time?

Hospitality has always been a manpower-intense industry. At Pan Pacific, we take care of 6,000 associates globally. Firstly, communication is key. We take the time to ensure that there are clear communication channels to provide quick information as the situation progresses, giving associates our assurance and motivation, while also hearing them. Senior management have held personal calls with our GMs and hotel teams throughout this season. The teams are also encouraged to do weekly calls, get together via “virtual lunches” and celebrate one another’s birthdays and other milestones virtually. We also set up a closed Facebook Teams page where global teams can share achievements, stories, and encourage one another.

During this season, we focused on upskilling and retraining our associates too. In Singapore, we leveraged on government grants through SkillsFuture, particularly the Enhanced Training Support Package (ETSP) and the Place-and-Train Program for Hotel Industry (PnT). These are timely as we review our structure to focus on job redesign, delayering, and clustering. Providing our associates with a larger and more relevant skill set motivates them as it shows that the company cares for them and is interested in developing their full potential. In the longer run, this drives a stronger sense of belonging to the company and happier teams!


Inside a Deluxe room at Singapore’s Parkroyal Collection Pickering hotel.

Without a Covid-19 vaccine, health and safety remains a major concern. What sort of enhanced measures can guests expect when it comes to the dining experience at Pan Pacific properties? Are buffets still available?

The safety and well-being of our guests and associates remains our top priority. As mentioned, we rolled out “Pan Pacific Cares” which has clean stays as one of the key pillars. We have partnered with Diversey, a leader in hygiene and infection prevention solutions, to implement elevated hygiene standards and the use of healthcare-grade disinfectants in accordance with WHO guidelines. With this, we also adjusted operations introducing social distancing, contactless check-in/checkout and payments, safe entry, temperature taking, and other measures for MICE and F&B.

Buffets are available now, though we have adjusted our operations to offer them on an à la carte basis. They are available at our restaurants including Edge, Spice Brasserie, Ginger (reopened on October 15 after a thorough renovation), and Lime (which just reopened on November 1). Weekend brunches are also popular at Hai Tien Lo, Keyaki, and Si Chuan Dou Hua—these venues are often fully booked.


An à la carte buffet spread of local specialties at Ginger in Parkroyal on Beach Road.

What marketing strategies has PPHG adopted to draw in more domestic travelers, particularly in destinations like Singapore?

We have rolled out various staycation packages and specific customized experiences from hotels to satisfy the pent-up demand of the domestic market. One example is “Simply Yours: The Exclusive Couples Retreat” at Parkroyal on Beach Road, which offers an exclusive getaway package with an emphasis on exploring the different facets of Singaporean culture and heritage. The hotel is located in the culturally rich precinct of Kampong Glam, directly opposite Arab Street and Haji Lane, which makes us the perfect base from which to explore the area’s quaint alleys and captivating murals.

Instead of limiting our guests to specific activities through a fixed bundled package, we have adopted a mix-and-match concept as we recognize the need of the local audience to customize their own “Singapoliday” experience. We have curated a list of unique programs by partnering with creative local small businesses in the precinct. With that, our guests have the privilege of participating in these activities at a preferential rate, and our associates will facilitate the booking process to ensure a seamless staycation experience.


The facade of Parkroyal on Beach Road, also in Singapore.

What segments of travelers do you think will be crucial in the years ahead?

On one hand, air passenger numbers are not likely to return to pre-pandemic levels till 2024. On the other, we see a lot of pent-up demand for leisure travel especially from regional markets, such as Hong Kong, where Singapore is going to introduce a new “travel bubble,” and in countries with a strong domestic market such as Australia and China.

I believe in that in the near future, there will still be a segment of leisure travelers regionally, mainly consisting of young couples and families. In addition, essential business will resume. The key for us is to ensure that all precautionary measures are in place, as people learn to “live with Covid-19.” And that goes back to our clean stay “Pan Pacific Cares” program, which adheres to WHO guidelines and protocols set out by the respective governments in each location.


The eye-catching exterior of Parkroyal Collection Pickering features terraced gardens in the sky.

Can you tell us a bit about Pan Pacific’s long-term recovery plan?

It has been said that Covid-19 has accelerated the rate of change globally. Some say it is a time to reset, but I prefer to say it’s a time to regenerate. Apart from investing in our associates for the long term, we must also invest in our brands. We are not only in the business of providing beds for heads, but in creating experiences through brands which embrace our core values.

We launched our latest brand, Parkroyal Collection, in January this year. It focuses on three key pillars: iconic design and architecture, eco-friendliness and sustainability, and lifestyle and wellbeing. This brand is led by the renowned Parkroyal Collection Pickering, which was crowned the “World’s Leading Green City Hotel” by the World Travel Awards. In addition, we continue to invest in our luxury brand, Pan Pacific, and upscale brand, Parkroyal, through strong marketing and programs. We are also investing in strong public relations, creative social media and digital marketing, and building a strong network of strategic partners and guest relations management through our loyalty program Pan Pacific Discovery.

Guests will start coming back. And when they do, we want to welcome them back with our best. Besides investing in the “heart ware” through associates’ care and development, we also embark on asset enhancement initiatives to ensure our hardware continues to provide a sense of comfort and place for our well-traveled guests.

With this in mind, we have renovated all our guest rooms at Parkroyal on Beach Road and Parkroyal on Kitchener Road. Aligned with our sustainability core belief, all rooms now feature water filter taps. The lobby and Spice Brasserie restaurant at Parkroyal on Kitchener Road have both been refurbished; Parkroyal on Beach Road has recently reopened Ginger, an all-day dining venue with beautiful botanical-inspired interiors. Soon to come will be the renovated Club 5 and hotel lobby. Pan Pacific Serviced Suites Orchard is also currently undergoing phased renovations to refresh the suites. Beyond this, we have closed Parkroyal Kuala Lumpur for a full refurbishment. It will present a fresh experience with more contemporary facilities and amenities when it reopens in Q3 next year.


The concierge desk at Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay is backed by a 13-meter green wall.

What projects does PPHG have in the pipeline? Are there any new hotels or serviced suites opening in Q4 2020 or early 2021?

Our marquee opening this year will be Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay, which was rebranded from the former Marina Mandarin. The property has been closed since March to undergo a nine-month, S$45 million renovation. When it reopens in December, it will welcome guests with a brand-new look as a “garden in a hotel”. We’re keeping the signature John Portman interiors, but it will be a new destination for those seeking novel experiences, and will feature indoor greenery, including a 13-meter towering green wall as a commanding welcome. The indoor atrium, one of the largest in Southeast Asia, will be transformed into a lush garden with sculptural pavilions shaped like bird cages—they will be illuminated like lanterns in the evening and connected via a bridge forming a tree-top walk.

Beyond our shores, Pan Pacific London will be opening next spring. It will be located in a high-rise at One Bishopgate, right next to Liverpool Street Station in the heart of the CBD. This will be our first Pan Pacific flag in Europe. Integrating contemporary design with sophistication and Asian hospitality, the hotel is being done by the renowned Yabu Pushelberg. It will be the new statement of luxury in London!

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