Luxury Swiss chain Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts might have just one property in the U.S. — the 661-room Swissôtel Chicago — but it is determined not to be overlooked on the global front by group and business travelers. At a media breakfast held earlier this week in New York City to outline the chain's five-year expansion plan and brand-identity talking points, company executives made it clear that all the stereotypical Swiss motifs of Alpine chalet architecture, cowbells and wheels of cheese would not be found anywhere in its portfolio.
"Half of our DNA is our design concept. Our hotels subtly transform our rich Swiss history into a modern style that emphasizes local, modern art," said Meinhardt Huck, president of the Zurich-based chain. "We infuse that with consistent service to create a strong, loyal following."
Swissôtel, which once managed five properties in the U.S., including the former Drake Hotel in New York City (demolished in 2007 to make way for a high-rise condominium complex), is still looking at potential U.S. gateway cities, but for now its expansion is focused primarily on key urban markets in China, India, the Middle East and Russia. And unlike many chains that are growing their portfolios through conversion, Swissôtel is on schedule to open 13 new-build projects over the next five years.
In 2014, the company will add to its global portfolio of 32 with the addition of two properties in two of China's main industrial centers, Changsha and Chengdu. Those developments will be followed by the opening of the 300-room Swissôtel Grand Mumbai in India and the 280-room Swissôtel Al Jadaf Dubai, both scheduled to open in 2015. In addition, two hotels are under construction in Bodrum, Turkey, and one in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Huck acknowledged that the projected opening dates of some of the projects, particularly those in emerging markets, have been delayed due to local economic and political issues, but said that was par for the course in expansion. "We are gathering momentum as we grow, but we realize bringing a foreign product to other countries means you have to be patient and adapt," he said.
At the Swissôtel Chicago, where groups and meetings account for 65 percent of the hotel's business, a multimillion-dollar renovation wrapped up this past April. Work included the lobby and the hotel's 65,000 square feet of meeting and event space, to bring it in line with the chain's new brand image. The revamped lobby now features individual check-in areas, in lieu of the a traditional long reservations desk. "Our vision was to bring our reception associates out from behind that desk, which essentially formed a barrier, to really greet the guest and personally welcome them to the hotel," said general manager John (Jack) Breisacher. "It has made a huge difference in the entire arrival experience."