HEIGHTENING COMPETITION

Preferred enters hotel fray in Japan

by Michiru Yoshino

Despite the ongoing hotel war in Tokyo with many international hotels debuting, the chief of the Preferred Hotel Group in Chicago is optimistic about its expansion here.

“Competition is healthy for the industry,” John Ueberroth said in a recent interview in Tokyo with The Japan Times. He was attending the International Hotel Forum July 10-13 to sell his group’s appeal to the Japanese hotel and tourism industries.

Representing over 300 independent luxury hotels and resorts in over 50 countries, Preferred Hotel has a few four-star hotels in Tokyo — including the Royal Park Hotel, Palace Hotel, Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo and Yokohama Royal Park Hotel — under the Summit Hotels & Resorts name, one of the group’s original categories. Ueberroth also foresees a chance of expanding the group’s member hotels in areas other than Tokyo and implementing a network of ryokan inns.

“From Tokyo to Osaka, Kobe and Nagoya, we could perhaps open several resorts in Hokkaido, and also even include several outstanding ryokan out of the 60,000 or so that currently exist,” he noted with cool ambition, while down playing the “2007 issue,” when a number of five-star international luxury hotels are due to open in Tokyo.

“Have one luxury hotel, and that property will sit at the top doing nothing to have its rooms always occupied,” he said. “But with several, there will be healthy competition with all the hotels trying to be better than others by offering improved services.”

Taking up the position of chairman and CEO in March 2004, Ueberroth changed the corporate name from IndeCorp to Preferred Hotel Group in May 2005, “since IndeCorp had no meaning or linkage with what we did, and people wouldn’t remember the name,” he said.

As suggested by the name change, competitive edge has a lot to do with image, which the group cultivates by aptly placing advertisements and directories in all its hotel rooms. “We also introduce our hotels and resorts via our 20 sales offices throughout the world to corporate businesses, group tours, independent travel agents and individuals,” said Ueberroth. “More recently, our sophisticated Web site has come to play an increasingly important and indispensable role.”

The absolute anthem for the group’s hotels is “high quality,” which Ueberroth admits is a hard rule for a company pursuing profits. Preferred Hotel’s frequent benefit packages provide advantages to their clients, including room upgrades, early check-ins and late check-outs.

Other services are sure to follow with Preferred Hotel’s sway to collaborate with other amenities. “We as a group, comprise several hundred hotels, and can use the scale merit to talk to the airlines and credit card companies to integrate their services with ours to make ourselves more attractive,” noted Ueberroth.