COVID-19 has pushed hoteliers and hospitality companies into uncharted territory. However some brands are staying the course. In an exclusive interview with Travelife Magazine, Oakwood Chief Executive Officer Dean Schreiber confirms that his company is on track for global expansion and he has found some silver lining amidst this pandemic.
The new Oakwood Beluxs brand, for instance, is going full steam ahead into China, plans unchanged.
What is Oakwood Beluxs and who is its target market?
Oakwood Beluxs is created for the confident and stylish traveller looking for modern cultural experiences. With an aggressive plan to open 100 properties by 2030, this co- developed product is exclusive to Mainland China’s top 50 cities with the highest gross domestic product (GDP).
Reflecting the ethos of aspiring entrepreneurs and corporate executives, Oakwood Beluxs will be a residential lifestyle choice that serves the emerging needs of aspirational travellers with a global perspective of life, culture and identity.
This new generation of travellers, with a desire for a sustainable, smart and personalized sanctuary, have exacting standards for lifestyle preferences influenced by their international exposure to social values, culture and personal ambitions.
Without compromising on the quality of residential comfort, Oakwood Beluxs will speak to their sense of style, penchant for aesthetics and environmental consciousness. Strategically located in upscale precincts, Oakwood Beluxs will exude artful sophistication rooted with a sense of culture.
The first Oakwood Beluxs will debut in Southern China. More details will be provided shortly.
Talk of expansion is quite rare amidst the pandemic. What made you decide to push through with your Oakwood Beluxs plans when so many other hospitality chains are revisiting their current strategies?
Oakwood has remained relatively resilient in the midst of the current situation over the last few months, being comparatively less sensitive to transient traveller demand. Our entire portfolio remained open with stable occupancy levels through the pandemic, except in locations where we have been governed by local authorities to close temporarily.
With social distancing being the new standard, and hygiene the new benchmark against which we will all be measured, the serviced apartment model ticks all the boxes.
What we have been experiencing is an increase in demand for serviced apartments as the accommodation of choice. Our room sizes offer the perfect work from home solution, allowing for self-catering when needed, yet with the option to be pampered on call. In fact, we just launched Oakwood Apartments PIK Jakarta on 31 March 2020, which is our third property in the Indonesian capital.
The hospitality model that Oakwood operates is a balance of both short and long stays, putting us in a unique position to appeal to a broader market and achieve more stable occupancy rates in general. The strategic alliance with Country Garden Commercial and Culture Tourism Group, part of a Fortune 500 company, in a critical period such as this bears testament to Oakwood’s business viability.
What is it like to be a hotelier/ hospitality chain CEO at a time like this?
During this period when the tourism industry is faced with an existential threat, there has most certainly been ups and downs that we have all had to deal with. Not only have we had to make some really tough decisions, we have also had to deal with numerous challenges personally. Taking a step back to look at the situation holistically, it is somewhat like a perfect storm.
In times like these, how your team responds to the situation is an endorsement of one’s leadership, and I have been very proud of my team’s commitment and resilience. We often read about the heroes this period, but I really count the hospitality teams globally who show up for work each day to care for our guests – amongst these heroes.
What has been your biggest challenge so far with COVID-19 still hanging in the air?
The critical success factor is to maintain the trust and confidence in Oakwood. This applies to all our associates, guests, business partners and the community. We are relentless in our effort to ensure that all our stakeholders are aware of our initiatives to protect their health and safety, protecting our workforce and community relations without compromising on our guests’ comfort.
One of the most rewarding initiatives was “Give With Oakwood”, which was our first global community outreach. More than 80 Oakwood properties across Asia Pacific, the United States of America and United Kingdom rallied to provide meals for the less privileged.
What is your personal forecast for COVID-19 and the travel industry? How will it change the way we travel and check into hotels?
Until travel restrictions are relaxed, we can expect domestic tourism to lead the way to business recovery. I believe that regional, intra-Asia travel will be our focus before long haul demand resumes. With early signs of international flight routes being reinstated, we are confident that Asia will be the hot spot for recovery with Mainland China leading the trend.
Leisure travel will be layered with new requirements and as an industry, we need to respond to that – as we have done at Oakwood to meet these needs. Moving forward, I believe that more leisure travellers will start selecting fewer destinations for extended stays instead of short stays at multiple destinations.
With our self-contained options at Oakwood which provide travellers with the ability to stay longer in a self-catered space, avoid crowded buffet breakfast venues and reduce multiple staff entry into rooms – the luxury of space will definitely be a key offering.
Assurance of a safe and clean space will increasingly take precedence as part of travel considerations. However, with the launch of our global hygiene programme Oakwood Clean360, guests can be assured of a safe venue to work and live in, as we apply our clean standards not just to our public spaces and guest-facing areas, but also to our back-of-house areas – where we may look after both our guests and associates equally.
What is most important for a hotel brand to be able to survive a time like this?
Every hospitality brand is facing similar challenges. Nobody has the model answer to surviving this crisis but the strongest survivors are those who can adapt and respond to market demands. At Oakwood, we recognise that we must remain steadfast in our commitment to guest preferences. This is our basic reason to offer a residential lifestyle to discerning travellers who are seeking a sanctuary to call home instead of a hotel room.
Going back to basics, hospitality job redesign must take place to provide for new work procedures. For example, stringent hygiene and sanitation procedures, digital transformation of guest services as well as contactless guest experiences without compromising service excellence.
All these are equally important, not mutually exclusive.
Any silver linings at all, regarding this pandemic?
Certainly, there is no time like now to be creative. International travel restrictions have forced us to be innovative in generating incremental revenue streams through service innovations and adapting our operating standards to new expectations.
Has COVID-19 affected your Oakwood Beluxs expansion plans in any way?
No it has not. Our commitment to expansion is a plan for the long term which requires us to direct our efforts beyond COVID-19. We are confident that Oakwood Beluxs will be well-poised to take on the increased demand and economic recovery in China.