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Peninsula Hotels VP Marketing, Robert Cheng: Pairing tradition with tech

Peninsula Hotels Peninsula Hotels

The 150-year-old Peninsula Hotel group prides itself on prestige and tradition. So how does this marry with digital tech? Hot Topics spoke to VP of Marketing, Robert Cheng.

In 2013, the Peninsula Hotel chain bought a building in Belgravia, London, which will be the site of its first hotel in the UK. The £500 million Peninsula London will have 190 rooms, with some overlooking the gardens of Buckingham Palace. The company waited decades for a suitable location to become available, and the hotel will open in 2021.


Clearly, this company does not do things in a hurry.


Indeed, Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels – owner the parent company of the Peninsula Hotels chain – prides itself on its longevity. And its ability to take the long, slow view. It’s why this company, which just celebrated its 150th birthday, has just 10 hotels.


All this tradition is wonderful, of course. The well-heeled guests of the Peninsula obviously value it highly. But in the digital age, it’s not enough to offer heritage alone. Visitors also want convenience and connectivity. So how does Peninsula reconcile these two demands?


Robert Cheng, group VP of marketing at The Peninsula Hotels Group, says it’s a balance.


“I think it’s fair to say hotels have traditionally been slow to embrace new technology. We’re at the very top of the industry in terms of luxury and bespoke, so we try to make it a core part of our experience and not just part of a marketing function.”


In fact, Peninsula’s technology strategy reveals more evidence of its careful approach to forward planning. It launched its own R&D lab as far back as 1985, and says it is still the only hotel company in the world with such a facility.


The lab custom-developed Peninsula’s in-room technology, which comprises three custom tablets that let guests control virtually all of their hotel experience: room service, housekeeping, TV, flight information, lighting, curtains and more. They will even function as VoIP-enabled phones. This state-of-the-art guest experience sits alongside more traditional digital channels. Guests can, for example, send a text message to a special number at any time to make a request or ask for information.


However, the guests’ digital experience actually starts before they arrive at the room. Check-in is traditionally one of the pain points of a hotel stay. At Peninsula, guests are greeted by staff using tablets and are checked in while being shown to the room.


“We’re trying it make check in more seamless,” says Cheng. “The iPads link to the booking systems, so the whole process of arriving and settling in is speeded up.”


Of course, the question of how guests book their stay occupies all hotel groups in the digital era. There are so many routes through which to book, and so many digital channels. So it’s really a question of what not to do. In the case of Peninsula, the intriguing omission is the native app.


In 2015, Peninsula Hotels launched The Peninsula Mobile Experience – a destination through which guests could see images, videos, news and content for each hotel and make room and restaurant bookings in just three clicks. Tellingly, it’s a mobile-optimised website and not a native app.


Cheng says: “We only have ten hotels and we felt that this fact, along with the relative infrequency of visits, meant that a mobile site worked best for us. We know how valuable our customers’ phone real estate is. We don’t believe it’s right to demand more from them.


“And anyway, you can do so much with a properly optimized site – and the portal is genuinely built for mobile, it’s not just an adaptive desktop site.”


So besides offering three click bookings, The Peninsula Mobile Experience also provides access to extras created in collaboration with partners. A good example is PenCities, produced with prestige travel guide publisher LUXE City Guides. PenCities presents curated collections of informed advice for dining, entertainment, shopping, and cultural events happening in the hotel location.


And the site even has handy utilities, not least the Speak Address function. This lets guests plot a voice-activated route back to the hotel when they are exploring the neighborhood. In the current digital climate, such trips will likely include some social media activity. And Peninsula caters for this with the usual range of options.


Cheng believes a social media strategy is essential, though he is realistic about its function. he says: “We see social media as primarily a great brand marketing tool. Instagram has been particularly useful. It’s a great channel for us to share events, and also for customers to share their Peninsula experiences.”