From renewed spending among Chinese travellers to the evolution of modern families, Choon Wah Wong – co-head of the Middle East, India, Europe and Americas for Shangri-La Group – speaks to Globetrender about the changing face of luxury hospitality.

What makes Shangri-La unique as a luxury hotel brand?

“Our founder Robert Kuok believed Asian hospitality had something different to offer the world of travel. He believed that the Asian approach to hospitality – informal, heartfelt and genuine – was the bedrock of so many Asian cultures. Our service style, ‘hospitality from the heart’, has been the cornerstone of the Shangri-La experience and is now admired the world over.”

What new Shangri-La openings are in the pipeline?

“Today we operate over 100 hotels in over 76 destinations globally. We recently opened Shangri-La Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, marking our entry into the Kingdom and three properties in Mainland China – Shangri-La Nanning, Shangri-La Qiantan in Shanghai and Shangri-La Shougang Park in Beijing. This year Shangri-La Phnom Penh will debut in Cambodia, our first property in the country.

“Also set to open this year is the group’s first standalone lifestyle and entertainment precinct called the Palawan at Sentosa, on Sentosa Island, located off the coast of Singapore. The Palawan will include attractions such as HyperDrive, a gamified electric go-karting track and two beach clubs, with one specifically for families. In 2024, Shangri-La Melbourne will open its doors, marking the Group’s third Shangri-La hotel in the country, alongside Shangri-La Sydney and Shangri-La the Marina, Cairns.”

In what ways is Shangri-La an innovative brand?

“Shangri-La has had a pioneering spirit from the very start. We were the first hotel group to put kettles in every room, and the first to place note pads and pens by the side of every bed. We are in the process of reinventing the guest experience with a new design ethos that elevates timeless aesthetics. The four new hotels that recently opened in Shanghai, Beijing, Nanning and Jeddah are the first to showcase this reimagined vision and guest journey.

“Shangri-La’s new design blueprint is built around three core design strategies which reflect our brand heritage while enhancing the guest experience. Firstly, Asian sensibilities will visually express the brand’s strong cultural heritage and links to the region. Secondly, our hotels will be nature inspired reflecting local, natural environments and, thirdly, our hotels will have a spirit of place showcasing the history of each Shangri-La destination.

“Each element is applied to the new hotels’ design schemes to create compelling visual cues that immerses guests in the Shangri-La brand and the hotels’ location. A great example of this is Shangri-La Shougang Park in Beijing. Built on the original architectural foundation of a power plant, the hotel’s design pairs Shougang’s magnificent industrial and steel heritage with Shangri-La’s aesthetics and sustainability concepts.

“Another example is our recently refurbished Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong by renowned interior designer, Tristan Auer. The hotel’s newly renovated Grand Premier rooms, Horizon Club rooms and Cityview suite blend modern conveniences with Asian aesthetics and elegance, featuring sophisticated in-room technology and amenities. All the spacious rooms and suites open up to sweeping views of the city, the Peak or Victoria Harbour, creating an exceptional accommodation experience with meticulous service for modern travellers and families. We continue to deliver and adapt to changing family structures and travel habits.”

What will the reopening of international travel to and from China mean for Shangri-La?

“There’s no debating China was the world’s largest outbound tourism market before Covid-19. We anticipate the Chinese travel market to bounce back quickly, in a similar fashion to how many other international markets did as they emerged from the pandemic. With over 50% of our portfolio in China and with over 50 years of experience in Asia, we are well prepared to cater to the Chinese traveller.”

How is family travel changing?

“Multi-generational travel, family travel to celebrate an occasion, as well as adventure and active holidays are growing in popularity. The definition of a modern family continues to evolve with single parenting making up 23% of families in the UK, and a growing number of parents now part of the LGBTQ+ community. In addition, many Millennials (Gen Y), have now become parents to Gen Alpha and are travelling the world with their children.

“To meet the needs of such a diverse audience and the desires for celebratory, joyous occasions spent as a family, Shangri-La has launched a family brand called ‘Buds by Shangri-La’. Buds, an immersive and curated play space, allows children to learn through play in a creative, self-directed and experiential environment. This is complemented by themed Family suites and Deluxe Family rooms, which include family concierge services, a tailored kids’ meal programme, and a family pantry equipped with everything needed for a hassle-free stay. The new ‘families only’ beach club soon to open at the Palawan, Sentosa is another example.”

How are Shangri-La hotels adapting to the changing needs and desires of luxury travellers?

“Luxury is deeply personal. It is a moment in time where we truly feel joy. It is different for each of us and we call it ‘Shangri-La’. Whether it’s a personal tour and five-course meal in the ancient ice caves of Whistler in Canada, or a wedding in a grand ballroom at Shangri-La Paris, the private residence of Prince Roland Bonaparte, we act as enablers to bring these personal moments of joy to life for our guests. This commitment of enabling heartfelt moments of joy underpins everything we do – from how we design our environments to how we deliver curated programming that truly feels personal.”

How important is social media to Shangri-La? How are you leveraging these platforms?

“Social media and platforms such as Instagram and We Chat are great visual mediums to showcase our hotels and resorts, particularly to younger travellers. A great example of how we’re leveraging these platforms to showcase authentic content is through our social media champions.

“Many of our hotels have arranged photography, videography and social media training to enable colleagues to capture guests’ moments of joy. Shangri-La Dubai went one step further and created the Middle East’s first ‘Instagrammable room’ in 2022, which features floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto the Burj Khalifa and downtown skyline, as well as a Polaroid camera, photo frames and flower arrangements.”

What do you predict for the future of luxury hospitality in 2023 and beyond?

“The desire to travel consciously will continue. Making an impact while visiting a destination is driving booking decisions, with travellers wanting to travel where they can immerse in the culture, preserve natural environments and support the local economy.

“Across the Middle East, Europe, India, Indian Ocean and the Americas, we have partnered with Make-A-Wish International, a charity that grants wishes to children with critical illnesses. Guests staying in our hotels can book a ‘Make A Wish Come True’ package where proceeds are donated to the charity.

“The celebrations market for hotels such as Shangri-La the Shard, London is one of the largest leisure segments. Our teams are well versed in making a guest’s vision for a special occasion become a reality, whether it be for a family member’s milestone birthday, a wedding or a proposal.”