China's Wanda group sets its sights abroad

Updated: 2014-02-10 14:27

By Liu Weifeng and Hao Nan (China Daily USA)

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The homegrown hotel and entertainment group is poised to make its mark worldwide. Liu Weifeng and Hao Nan report from Beijing and Nanjing.

One of China's leading entertainment conglomerates is preparing to make its name abroad in major cities such as New York, Paris, Moscow and New Delhi with hospitality brands Reign, Vista and Realm ranging from luxury to five star hotels.

"This year we plan to open 18 hotels, and another 25 in 2015, when the total number of Wanda's hotels will be 100. Our aim is to set up 200 hotels by 2020," says Ilja Poepper, vice-president of sales and marketing of Wanda Hotels & Resorts at the group's first brand ceremony and forum.

China's Wanda group sets its sights abroad

Wanda group plans to open 18 hotels this year and another 25 in 2015, when the total number of hotels in the group will hit 100. Photos Provided to China Daily

"We'll be the world's largest luxury hotel owner and operator by 2020. It's a natural process to launch our own hotel brands as the number of our hotels increase. Our global expansion strategy is encouraged by Shao Qiwei, head of the country's tourism authority, who hopes to see more homemade hotel brands on the global stage," adds Liu Xiaofeng, general manager of marketing.

Wanda Realm Beijing was unveiled the same day, after months of re-branding and a takeover from Pullman, a brand under French hotel management company, Accor.

The decision to take back management is an obvious indicator that the Wanda group is ready to launch an offensive to build a commercial and entertainment empire beyond property management.

The real estate company made headlines last year by investing a total of 1 billion pounds ($1.66 billion) in the United Kingdom, with 700 million pounds in a luxury hotel project in London and 320 million pounds for the takeover of UK's largest luxury yacht maker Sunseeker.

In China, the Wanda group inaugurated an $8 billion film and entertainment project in Qingdao, Shandong province in September last year, the largest of its kind in the world.

As of January 2014, Wanda's current assets include 54 hotels in China, 16 of which are self-managed, 38 in partnership with leading global hotel management companies such as Accor, Intercontinental, Hyatt, Hilton and Starwood.

The company has indicated that the future of the foreign partnerships will largely depend on performance and profitability.

To better meet its potential needs, Wanda has initiated a comprehensive talent-training scheme by launching a hotel management school in Langfang, Hebei province. It also participates in management trainee programs with China's top colleges, including Peking and Tsinghua universities.

The group's hospitality arm, Wanda Hotels and Resorts, is relatively young at only about one-and-a-half years old, but it has ambitious plans to become the world's largest owner of five-star luxury hotels.

The Wanda Realm Nanjing is its first volley.

On Dec 21 last year, Wand Realm in Nanjing, capital of East China's Jiangsu province, became the group's 10th property in the mainland.

Strategically located in the city's new business and commercial Jiangning district, the five-star hotel is 20 minutes from Nanjing South Station and 35 minutes from Lukou International Airport.

"Nanjing has many international hotels, but the majority is in the downtown area. We are looking more at guests from the Jiangning development zone where there are many international corporations," says Lutz Mueller, general manager of the hotel.

In addition to fitness facilities such as the gym and heated swimming pool, the hotel takes pride in its spacious meeting and banquet facilities for business guests.

The largest banquet hall covers an area of 1,200 square meters and is equipped with a 94-square-meter LED screen and advanced sound system.

Wanda Realm Nanjing has 302 guestrooms and a 210-square-meter presidential suit. All rooms feature the hotel's signature "Bed of Realm" to offer guests a comfortable night's sleep.

"As a provincial capital, Nanjing is a historical city with beautiful scenery. We believe that with the opening of Wanda Realm Nanjing, the city's travel market will be more attractive," Mueller says.

The general manager also hopes the hotel will become the preferred choice for business and leisure travelers to Nanjing.

Wanda Realm in Beijing, which opened last month, is the first self-managed hotel for Wanda in a first-tier city.

Wanda Realm Beijing is located in Shijingshan district in the city's west, chosen because it has fewer international competitors and is near a scenic mountain park, says Poepper.

It was the venue for the group's first brand ceremony and forum. Poepper says the event attracted many professional Chinese and overseas industry insiders with its two high-end panel discussions focusing on such topics as the current condition of Chinese five-star hotels and the internationalization of Chinese-brand hotels.

In addition to the five-star Wanda Realm, the Wanda hotel management group has another two luxury brands - the five-star plus Wanda Vista and ultra-prestigious Wanda Reign.

"China has a population of nearly 1.4 billion, one of the largest in the world, but the number of international hotels in the country is only 40 to 50 percent of that in the United States", Poepper says.

The Chinese are becoming wealthier, and they will be travelling more often, "and they will stay at our hotels", he says.

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China's Wanda group sets its sights abroad

Wanda Realm is the group's five-star brand, featuring upper-end food and beverage, and accommodation.

(China Daily USA 02/10/2014 page15)