Trade Talk: Dean Winter of Swire Hotels

The group’s Managing Director tells us about recent developments at its properties, updates to the guest experience, and an exciting range of on-site creative programs.

Left to right: Dean Winter, Swire Hotels’ MD; a bar booth at Salisterra in The Upper House, Hong Kong. (All photos courtesy of Swire Hotels)

What does Swire Hotels have in the pipeline for 2022? And what are your expectations for the year ahead?

Looking further into the future and building on the success of our existing seven hotels, we are eager to take both the EAST and The House Collective brands to new markets. The pace of expansion will be deliberately measured, much in the way that we have built up Swire Hotels over the last 13 years. At the risk of cliché, our focus will very much be on quality not quantity, on excellence not speed. A singular focus on being in the right locations with the right partners.

I expect our team to continuously focus on operations and branding, ensuring that Swire Hotels continues to act with intuition and spontaneity to create meaningful experiences and connections with our guests.

Inside a refurbished Harbour View suite at EAST Hong Kong.

What do you think it is that sets Swire Hotels apart from other luxury hospitality brands?

At Swire Hotels, we always challenge ourselves to think differently, whether it’s the architecture or interiors of a new hotel, the concept for a new restaurant or bar, or, most importantly, the way in which we take care of our guests, and this is all built upon the youth, energy, and ideas that the majority of our team members bring to their roles every day! They are a cast of millennials who embrace the fact that every day and every guest is different.

Our service philosophy is our key differentiating factor, with people at the core of everything we do — not just in how we treat our guests but also the support we give one another. I believe the success of Swire Hotels is rooted in this period and our investment in time and people. All the little touches create a feeling of considered design that is not only noticed by our guests but makes them feel special, comfortable, and cocooned in understated luxury.

The living room of the Andre Fu Suite at The Upper House in Hong Kong.

This past spring saw the debut of the André Fu Suite and the Salisterra restaurant at The Upper House. Why was it the right time to launch these new spaces?

Continuous creativity and innovation across all areas of the business is key to stay ahead in the ever-competitive hospitality environment. Since the pandemic started, our focus has shifted to stimulating local demand with attractive offerings until international borders reopen. Through the opening of the André Fu Suite and Salisterra, we hope to create unique experiences and bring new innovations for our guests with the privacy and comfort of a contemporary residence.

Guest corridors encircle the high-ceilinged atrium at The Opposite House in Beijing.

EAST Hong Kong recently refurbished all its guest rooms, suites, and dining spaces, while The Opposite House in Beijing has completed a top-to-bottom revamp. Are there similar upgrades planned for any of Swire Hotels’ other locations?

We currently do not have any further plans to refurbish any of the other Houses or East properties, instead we focus on bringing innovative programs and creative activations to our guests. For example, in the past year we launched the second edition of Encounters Across Cultures, The House Collective’s biennial art program, through which we invited artists and creators from different cultural backgrounds to collaborate. This year, the program revolved around dance and architecture where guests were invited to interact with the installations by controlling the time and pace in which the dancers explore different spaces of the Houses, ultimately creating their own journey.

Similarly, our three Chinese cuisine chefs of The House Collective joined forces for the first time to create a special menu inspired by memories of their hometowns, in which the Chefs Story limited-time menu were served at the Chinese dining outlets of the Houses, receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from both guests and media.

EAST Hong Kong’s lobby features a unique Bird’s Nest Staircase.

Swire Hotels prizes individuality in the design of each property. What are the advantages of having a portfolio of completely unique hotels as opposed to one united by a similar aesthetic?

Whilst many hotel groups design hotels and restaurants to have the same look and feel, we want ours to be different as design is an intrinsic element of Swire Hotels and its brands. The four properties within The House Collective each have their own unique personalities, envisaged by a different designer, to reflect the soul of the destinations they are located in.

This allows our guests to truly celebrate the historic architecture of the locale each House is set in and provide them with experiences that are genuinely unique to each property. I personally love that each House is easily identifiable. Guests can be assured of the understated luxury and yet not be bored by copy-and-paste architecture and design.

Contemporary art shown in a restored Qing Dynasty building at The Temple House in Chengdu.

With demand for immersive travel experiences now stronger than ever, how does Swire Hotels connect guests to the surrounding locale in meaningful ways?

Art and culture are at the core of who we are as a brand — we love art as we believe it is the greatest expression of one person’s individuality while celebrating the distinctiveness of each of our properties. Through various art programs and collaborations, we seek to deliver inspiring experiences to guests and better connect them with local cultures.

In addition to Encounters Across Cultures, The House Collective has hosted other unique programs such as The Shop Project at The Middle House, which aims to invite outstanding fashion designers and artists to participate, such as Farfetch, LOEWE, by Fang etc., providing them with opportunities to display products while bringing like-minded people together.

EAST has also partnered up with [media group] The Art Gorgeous to launch “Ideas To Wake Up To,” a networking/coworking event series for creativity and business that will roll out quarterly events in Beijing, Miami, and Hong Kong. We are bringing together speakers from both sides of the creative- business intersection of a series of short, casual talks and informal networking sessions to connect and inspire each other’s communities.

As ever, we will continue to create amazing experiences and stories and I fully expect that this increased creativity will be seen across the board as the pandemic has paved the way for people to leave their comfort zones and try something new.

A couples’ treatment room at Mi Xun Spa in The Middle House, Shanghai.

The past two years or so have also put wellbeing into focus. Can you tell us of any new or upcoming wellness offerings at Swire properties worldwide?

Both of our brands at Swire Hotels — The House Collective and EAST — have always seen the importance of wellness, and therefore have offered different wellness experiences to our guests in the past two years through partnerships with brands such as lululemon, Space, MAIA Active, Nike and Bamford, as well as individual experts.

This year, The Middle House, The Temple House, and The Opposite House collaborated with a lifestyle brand NEIWAI and niche lifestyle collection brand 10/10 HOPE, presenting the tailor-made “Sleep Therapy” suite for staycations.

We are in the process of creating more wellness offerings in all our properties with the goal of offering the right space for guests to focus on their wellbeing in ways they are comfortable with, so they can regain work-life balance and destress completely.

An origami wall by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma adorns the lobby of The Opposite House.

When international visitors return to Hong Kong and Mainland China, will there be significant changes to the guest experience in terms of contactless technology and face-to-face interactions?

We have constantly been looking at how to bring in technology to help enhance the overall guest experience, despite the current pandemic situation. Everything we do is about our guests and our people, which forms the cornerstone of our digital approach. For us, it is all about the appropriate use of technology, not tech for tech’s sake. Our goal is to make life easier and more convenient for guests, liberating them to do more important things. We have recently launched the in-room digital service app StayPlease to allow our guests to customize their hotel journey using digital devices they are familiar with. By scanning a QR code in the room with their own mobile device, an extensive range of services are only a few taps away — from scheduling a time to collect your dirty laundry to selecting how you like your eggs done when ordering your all-day breakfast.

We have also introduced digital menus at FEAST, Domain, and Sugar, creating a contactless and paperless dining experience. In terms of face-to-face interactions, our service philosophy has always been unscripted and spontaneous. The way we interact with our guest has always been extremely personal — we actually refer to our guests as “individualists,” meaning that we respond to each in a personalized, open-minded, and receptive manner, and this will certainly continue to be the case.

Union, a modernist-inspired bar and lounge at The Opposite House.

Can you share any details on expansion plans in the Asia-Pacific region for both The House Collective and EAST?

We do have some evolving plans for a number of deals in the pipeline, both for The House Collective and EAST through management contracts in Asia Pacific. While we are not able to reveal the exact details now, I am confident that they will be great additions to the portfolio, allowing both new and existing guests to enjoy the Swire Hotels experience in some fantastic new destinations.

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