Travel Weekly went one-on-one with Mark Wong, vice president of Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) for the Asia Pacific, to chat about innovation, sustainability and the group’s most recent hotel addition in Bhutan.
TW: Let’s start with some big industry news of late – the recent collapses of Thomas Cook and Cox & Kings in Australia and New Zealand. What’s your take?
MW: I think the landscape has changed quite a bit in the travel sector. These very established companies need to innovate or become phased out. A lot of consolidation is happening, and the big tour operators are running in a very old-style model of structured tours. People have become more educated about their travel, about the environment and the way they want to travel. It’s so easy now to jump on a place and get a local guide to do their tours.
TW: How important are agents to SLH?
MW: We haven’t made a move away from travel agents because 80 per cent of our business is still with them. Travel agents are evolving as well and need to continue to be relevant.
TW: What is SLH doing to innovate?
MW: We are investing right now in our digital platform, so by next February we will relaunch our whole consumer site so that people will be able to book multiple destinations and create itineraries with. We are stretching ourselves into the future.
TW: How does SLH compete with the Marriotts and the Hiltons of the world?
MW: I think it’s about staying very pure to who we are. We started 30 years ago next year, but we are still in the niche of small luxury. We haven’t expanded or diluted the brand into sub-categories. Our customers like our type of products and they come to us because of that. Often, they are local and family-owned, which is a different experience. We want to remain independent. We do, however, have a marketing partnership with the Word of Hyatt to expand our network and reach.
TW: The calls for more action on climate change are growing louder across the globe. Hotels have a big carbon footprint, so what is SLH doing to minimise its own?
MW: What we are starting to do right now is to educate our hotels on what they can do individually to minimise their carbon footprint. For example, One of our groups of SLH hotels, AKARYN Hotel Group in Thailand, is the first group in Thailand to go plastic-free. Our sustainable guidelines include the way hotels approach their food sources too, so engaging the local community and providing farm to table is one example of that.
TW: What are you most proud of right now?
MW: We are first in market in Bhutan, a new destination. Gangtey Lodge offers comfort and luxury in one of the most remote places in the world, and the owners are based out of Melbourne. We are thrilled they have joined our family of hotels.