Forbes has described Sonia Cheng as one of Asia’s most powerful businesswomen, we’d venture to suggest that she is in fact one of the world’s most powerful businesswomen. The luxury Rosewood collection includes iconic hotels such as The Carlyle in New York, Hotel de Crillon in Paris, and Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, as well as shining new stars such as the Rosewood Beijing. Since parent brand New World acquired Rosewood Hotel Group, the brand under Cheng has embarked on an ambitious expansion strategy with plans to nearly double its inventory of 54 hotels across 17 countries. There are nearly 40 new hotels currently under development. Sonia Cheng’s empire also includes hotels under the business-oriented New World and the Pentahotels brands.
What is the single most defining thing about Rosewood as a brand?
The Rosewood Hotels & Resorts® guiding concept is A Sense of Place®. That is, our hotels are highly individual in that each reflects the culture, geography and sensibilities of its location, in all aspects from design to dining, spa to service.
You have a large number of new hotels in the pipeline, including an impressive schedule of expansion in Asia. Can you tell us a little about that?
We have 13 new hotels announced to open within the next few years, eight of which are city hotels and resorts in Asia. The Rosewood concept is resonating strongly in Asia - our whole idea of offering 'personal journeys of authentic and exquisite discoveries' taps into the mindset of what the affluent, contemporary traveller is looking for. Of course, with the opening of Rosewood Beijing last year, it provides a 'shop window' for Asians to experience Rosewood first hand. Our goal is to have a total of 50 Rosewood properties in fabulous locations worldwide by 2020.
We understand that you have an eye for both design and detail, what part of the process of creating a new hotel do you enjoy most?
It’s really about the holistic experience of creating a unique property that both captures the Rosewood spirit yet also embraces the destination. Everything must be aligned and reinforcing so that it is seamless. We talk about a hotel as a “living canvas” and try to bring artistry to whatever we do. This is the challenge and this big picture is what is most fascinating about helping to bring a hotel to life.
What is the 'little thing' that all good hotels should pay attention to?
The arrival experience at the hotel - there is only one chance to make a first impression. Whether it is a smile from a doorman, an efficient check-in, a warm and welcoming ambience when you first walk in – it sets the stage for the rest of the stay.
What is the next big luxury travel trend?
The 'next' big trend is already here… Contemporary, sophisticated travellers - we call them 'affluential explorers' - aren’t satisfied with simply luxurious surroundings and great service. Those are a given. They want personal connections, they want to experience the authentic, they want travel that is experiential, not superficial - even if they are in a location for just a few days or just travelling on business.
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a hotel is worthy of the ‘luxury’ tag?
Believe it or not, it’s not about luxurious surroundings or over-the-top amenities or services. It’s about the ability of the staff to be intuitive and anticipate what a guest needs or wants. It doesn’t have to be flashy or intrusive at all. But when I can tell that the associates in a hotel are really thinking about my comfort and taking care of me as a person, not just a transient guest, that’s luxury.
Apart from your own, what are your favourite hotels/resorts? (and why)
I love properties that have character, are intimate and personal, and really reflect the hospitality of the location. I’ve found some outstanding examples in the British and Italian countrysides, and even as far afield as a secluded resort in Cambodia.
What is your favourite city to visit?
Well, I love visiting new cities and experiencing new things! But if I want to go back to a comfort zone, London is probably top of the list. I have a soft spot for Rosewood London and even though it is relatively new, it is like coming home to an old friend. I find London very inspirational - it’s so dynamic and new concepts are always being launched there.
What is your favourite airline for business or first class? Why?
I’m a Hong Konger, so of course Cathay Pacific!
What three things do you never travel without?
Mobile devices so I’m always connected and an iPad loaded with DVDs.
What is the one luxury travel experience you will never forget?
One thing that comes to mind was a little surprise at Rosewood London - the people there heard that I’d fallen in love with 'cronuts' when I was in New York - and there was a plate of them waiting for me in my room when I arrived at Rosewood London! Sometimes it is really the little gestures that actually mean a lot.
What is the most important thing (travelwise) that money CAN buy?
Of course, top-notch service, beautiful surroundings, exquisite dining…
What is the most important thing it can’t?
It can’t buy meaningful experience, it can’t buy connection, it can’t buy the memory of a truly superlative exposure to the destination. That comes from the intention and spirit of the hosts. It is when the hosts are genuine and intuitive and strive to share the heart and soul of their destination with visitors, that’s when the magic happens.