Rosewood Hotels CEO says AI robots could soon help predict what guests want

Sonia Cheng, CEO of Rosewood Hotel Group, said the future of the business will include personalized guest experiences thanks to advances in technology.

(The Washington Post illustration; Rosewood Hotel Group)


Imagine this: You’ve been at work for a few weeks and suddenly you hear a ping. You have received an email informing you that you are late for the holiday and you are presented with a list of resorts in the cities you want to visit.

So you book a trip. When you arrive at your hotel, the staff knows your name. They know you want ocean views and extra towels and you’ll probably need a 9am wake up call. They realize you need a gluten free menu for room service and ask for a meal. delayed payment. And you didn’t have to say anything.

Sonia Cheng, CEO of Rosewood Hotel Group, is the type of personalization she envisions for the future of the hotel industry with the help of data analytics. One of the technology projects he pioneered in the Hong Kong-based private international hotel management chain, which operates more than 45 hotels in 16 countries. London, Paris, Beijing, Abu Dhabi and Shanghai.

But it’s not all on Cheng’s plate. After the pandemic took a serious toll on the hospitality and travel industry, Cheng said his company is working to attract talent during a tough workforce shortage. In addition, Cheng said the pandemic has changed the way people work and travel, which means quickly adapting and changing direction. Advice to leaders? Learn to make quick decisions and work as a team.

Cheng shared his vision for the future of the business and hotel industry. Answers have been edited for clarity.

Q: What is Rosewood’s current employment policy for corporate employees?

A: Our managers manage their teams. There is no set rule for how many days per week people should go to the office. If you really need to work from home, work from home. This is really appreciated by our partners. It’s also something that makes our company attractive to outside talent. We also remain flexible in recruiting and deploying talent worldwide.

Sonia Cheng, CEO of Rosewood Hotel Group, said they have no rules limiting the number of day-to-day business partners they can work from at their luxury hotels. (Video: Washington Post)

Q: What changes can hotel staff expect in a post-pandemic world?

A: We’re looking at how we can eliminate some tedious tasks with robotics or machine learning to make things more flexible. We explore how automation and technology for the back office can simplify processes for our employees. However, we are still a human business in the hospitality industry. So there needs to be a balance between high tech and high touch. All in all, I think guests want to build that relationship with our partners, and it’s something that technology cannot replace.

Q: What learnings will you use from the pandemic in the future?

A: We must remain flexible and agile. The pandemic happened very quickly and we reacted very quickly. Contactless check-in, hybrid meetings and [new processes for] how we work in different geographies and how we understand guests’ needs. For example, in many cities, [people started taking] accommodation. We were the first hotel brand to launch stays in Hong Kong and transform Rosewood Hong Kong into an urban resort.

Q: How have travel trends changed?

A: In business travel, customers are more willing to stay longer because of the pandemic. [one place] so they can connect with their colleagues. And you can work while traveling, thanks to all the technologies developed for online collaboration. Therefore, their vacations also tend to be longer, as they plan business meetings with their vacation time. Guests also travel with larger groups and families.

Sonia Cheng, CEO of Rosewood Hotel Group, said the luxury hotel chain is trying to satisfy specific customers’ requests using online behavior and data sources. (Video: Washington Post)

Q: What new trends have you seen from what guests are asking for?

A: Customers focus more on their well-being. And they focus on how we can ensure exclusivity. Some of these trends will remain after the pandemic. To adapt to Wellness, we launched our new wellness brand Aspire. And we’ve stepped up our plans to offer online wellness classes. At Rosewood Residences (the company’s apartment rental brand), we push individual villas and private accommodations. Everyone’s online behavior has increased during the pandemic. That’s why we’re looking at different e-commerce projects. Rosewood would be more than just a hotel brand. It would be a luxury lifestyle brand where we would offer different curated products.

Q: Has the pandemic changed any expansion plans?

A: The job was quite flexible. We recorded the highest number of transfers we made at Rosewood Hotel Group in 2021. And we recently announced new projects that will join our portfolio, including Raleigh, Miami and Venice. Next year we are on track to open Rosewood Amsterdam, Rosewood Munich, Kona Village in Hawaii and Rosewood Doha. [in Qatar]. So the opening speed was not challenged.

Q: What has changed for guests and what is planned for the future?

A: Post-pandemic, it is very important that we recognize our guests’ names and be able to anticipate their needs. That’s why we’re also setting up a centralized system called Data Lake House, where we can anticipate needs and customize their trips based on guests’ profiles.

Q: What are the biggest technology priorities at Rosewood?

A: Data Lake House is a big project that I think will change the way we develop our guests’ journeys. We can analyze data and travel patterns to predict future Rosewood locations will be suitable for our customers. [It should capture] your preferences during your stay and [identify if] There is a pattern to what type of rooms you like to book.

Q: How did you connect a more distributed workforce?

A: The Insider app connects our partners around the world. We share company news and employees can post photos, things they think are interesting, or stories or articles they think are inspiring so they can build community and gain a sense of culture, especially during the pandemic.

Q: How does Rosewood see emerging technologies like the metaverse?

A: NFTs and the metaverse—every company, including us, is looking into that space. It’s too early to tell. If we’re doing something, it has to be something unique, different and right for the brand. We need time to investigate this.

What you need to know about the future of working within the metastore

Q: What do workers expect from you as an employer?

A: They are quite picky about the companies they choose. It’s important for them to join a company that has a strong commitment to making a positive impact and that truly empowers its people. We are committed to making sure there is strong diversity and that we support different groups. Talent currently truly values ​​organizations with a strong sense of purpose. And they want to join a company that is not only successful but is doing really good things for society.

Sonia Cheng, CEO of Rosewood Hotel Group, said they have no rules limiting the number of day-to-day business partners they can work from at their luxury hotels. (Video: Washington Post)

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Talent shortage is a challenge that everyone faces. It is important for employees to be an attractive and performance-oriented company. That’s why it’s important that we provide technology to make the job easier, as well as provide a strong career path. We founded Rosewood Academy, where we train the best talent and provide courses and programs for them.

Q: What should staff and guests expect from Rosewood in the future?

A: In five years, you will see an organization with a very strong sense of purpose. We need to be able to personalize our guest experiences with technology. We have about 30 hotels in the project, so in five years you will more than double our portfolio.

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