BANGKOK (eTN) – The opening of Sofitel‘s newest property in Southeast Asia, the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra, provided an opportunity to eTurboNews to chat with T. Markland Blaiklock, Senior Vice President of Sofitel Asia Pacific to look at the brand’s evolution over the next four years. Sofitel – the luxury brand of French Accor Group – is among the few around the world to have significantly shrunk in its recent history. The strategy was deliberate to completely reposition the brand. “We consciously went through a rationalizing process as the Accor Group went through a complete repositioning of all its brands. While Pullman and M-Gallery are today Accor’s premium brand, Sofitel is clearly repositioned as the group’s luxury brand,” indicated Markland Blaiklock.
Sofitel consequently lost some 50 properties in its portfolio. “It did not necessarily mean that these hotels left the Accor Group. But many did not comply with Sofitel’s new standards and have just been rebranded into Pullman or M-Gallery properties,” said Mr Blaiklock. The rebranding exercise provided also a certain degree of autonomy to Sofitel, accentuating further the difference with Accor’s other brands. The top-end brand is now able to compete more efficiently with other names in the luxury segment.
Individuality, excellence in service, and a distinctive atmosphere by using some of the world’s best designers is behind the new Sofitel brand. By the end of 2012, all Sofitel properties will have been renovated to comply with new standards. “We also emphasize more than ever our French identity not only in our restaurants but also by using French designers as much as possible. We are indeed the last global hotel group originated from France, and we have to carry on this French authenticity,” added Mr. Blaiklock.
With Sofitel’s change of image almost completed, the chain is now looking to expand again. “We are now growing again. We currently have a portfolio of 130 properties around the world that we will significantly expand,” explained Mr. Blaiklock. According to the Senior Vice President for Asia Pacific, the region is one of the world’s fastest-growing areas for the luxury chain. “We currently have some 50 properties and should open eight new hotels over the next 12 months,” told Mr. Blaiklock. In December, Sofitel officially came back to Phnom Penh in Cambodia with the opening of a property offering a distinctive colonial-style atmosphere, next to the Mekong River.
China remains, however, Sofitel’s most dynamic market. After opening last August the Sofitel Dongguan Humen Oriental, the company plans to inaugurate during the spring 2011 other properties in Guangzhou and Qingdao near Beijing, as well as in Shanghai by late 2011. The Sofitel Shanghai Jing’an will be branded as the brand’s flagship in China. “With 60 stories, it will be one of the highest in Asia,” added Mr. Blaiklock.
Other flagship properties will open next year in Mumbai (spring 2011) and in Bangkok (fall 2011). “Bangkok will be the first in Southeast Asia to get a Sofitel So, our trendy sub-brand, on Sathorn Road – it is due to open in September. I am also glad that our Sukhumvit project is back on track. It should be inaugurated by October,” told Mr. Blaiklock.
The management of the luxury brand recently created two sub-brands – Sofitel So and Sofitel Legend – to cater to different preferences of clients. “Sofitel Legend mostly emphasizes the historical character of our properties. The sub-brand will only be attributed to a limited number of properties, no more than 20 to my guess. We already have the Grand in Amsterdam, the Santa Clara Carthagena in Colombia, and the Old Cataract in Aswan (Egypt). In Asia, the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi was, of course, the first to get its Legend status. I feel disappointed that we just lost the Sofitel Dalat as we started to work on its upgrade to a Sofitel Legend. But we now look at turning the Sofitel Hua Hin into a Legend property,” explained the Senior Vice President.
Sofitel looks mostly to implement its core brand in major metropolis around the world. “In Asia-Pacific, we definitely look at Delhi, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Osaka, Seoul, Singapore, and Tokyo, while we also think that Auckland and Kuala Lumpur could be part of our Sofitel network at some point in the future. We also believe that cities such as Shanghai, Sydney, or Mumbai could easily support a second property,” concluded Mr. Blaiklock.