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Warwick expands to paradise

Warwick expands to paradise

With $40m revamp of Bahamas resort, Warwick owner Richard Chiu eyes growth in the region

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 1, 2017
January 1, 2017
Tosheena Robinson-Blair

Luxury hotel developer and owner of the newly opened Warwick Paradise Island Bahamas, Richard Chiu (pictured), knows how to spot an opportunity for growth. “After the financial crisis, prices were realistic. Many hotels were having difficulties and this hotel was in financial distress,” he says of the property formerly known as the Paradise Island Harbour Resort.

As president and founder of Warwick Hotels and Resorts (WHR), Chiu’s empire now consists of 53 hotels with 9,000 rooms, that’s including all owned, managed and affiliate member hotels and resorts on five continents.

In the US, he owns and operates six hotels, stretching from New York to San Francisco to Dallas.

After buying the property in The Bahamas, Chiu and his team continued to operate the hotel under its old branding for around seven months “to understand how the market operates here.” He utilized the time to plan the hotel’s renovation and chart a course for the complete repositioning of the hotel.

There were a few challenges in redeveloping the resort, which took nearly two years. But $40 million later, he property is almost unrecognizable to what it was before. Featuring a 10,000 sq ft harbour terrace alongside a meandering boardwalk, the hotel’s 240 rooms and three suites have been entirely overhauled. A waterside wedding gazebo is under construction and the resort’s private pool and beach boast views overlooking the Nassau Harbour.

New strategy
Warwick’s positioning strategy for the hotel is to set it apart from its three main competitors on Paradise Island. Comfort Suites has carved out its niche catering to a business-oriented clientele, while Atlantis and RIU are family- oriented. All three welcome children.

At Warwick’s Bahamas resort, guests have to be 18-years or older and the age limit increases to 21 during Spring Break. The strategy is to establish a niche in the Paradise Island market for young adults and couples.

“I think we have created something that’s quite unique here,” says Chiu. “The first year we won’t be that ambitious. We are looking at 60 per cent occupancy for 2017, but after that we expect it to go up quite quickly.”

Within the Warwick group, Chiu assumes the role of chief strategist, seeking out alternative markets to its competitors. “My job is to decide a strategy on how, once we acquire hotels, we should reposition them,” says Chiu. “I leave the rest to the experts.”

Among the experts in The Bahamas are two of his children: Warren, a trained architect, who formulated many of the ideas and concepts of The Bahamas hotel; while daughter, Clare, focuses on the hotel’s communication with the public via its website and social media.

Chiu himself has been in the hotel development business for 36 years and puts his success down to keeping focused. “I think the most important thing is to be very clear as to how you want to expand and build your company. Stick to your goals and don’t deviate from your principles. For Warwick, our principal objective is always to acquire hotels in the best possible location and this principle has served us very well.”

The making of a developer
An honours graduate of Pembroke College, University of Cambridge in the UK, Chiu spent six years in the family business in Indonesia after completing a master’s degree in 1974. His father is a developer of amusement parks, commercial real estate and cinemas.

An honours graduate of Pembroke College, University of Cambridge in the UK, Chiu spent six years in the family business in Indonesia after completing a master’s degree in 1974. His father is a developer of amusement parks, commercial real estate and cinemas.

In May 1980, Chiu founded the Warwick Hotels and Resorts Group (WHR) upon the purchase of the iconic 426-room Warwick New York, a flagship hotel built in1926 by media tycoon William Randolph Hearst. From that development, the company takes its name.

WHR then acquired a hotel under construction in Paris, now known as the Warwick Paris, just off Avenue des Champs-Elysees, shortly followed by a second hotel–the Westminster on Rue de la Paix, between Place Vendôme and Opéra Garnier, one of the oldest Parisian hotels, dating back to the 1830s.

Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, WHR continued to expand its presence in Europe, acquiring another hotel in France, along with ones in Geneva and Brussels.

In the South Pacific, the presence of WHR began with the conversion of the Hyatt Regency Fiji into the Warwick Fiji in the mid-1980s. Over the years, WHR expanded by acquiring more properties in the region.

In the 1990s, Chiu embarked on his second business model when he decided to develop an Affiliate Member Programme designed for independent hotels with similar operating standards and business philosophies as WHR. The 25 Affiliate Member Hotels, many of which are well established, are said to be “perfectly located” in cities around the world such as Athens, Barcelona, Bangkok, Madrid, Nice, and Shanghai.

WHR also has a strong foothold in the Middle East, managing four hotels in Beirut alone, ones in Dubai, Iraq, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as two major resorts in Cuba–the 800-room Warwick Cayo Santa Maria and the 443-room Naviti Varadero.

“We want to build the hotels we own as the cornerstone of the company, so we constantly renovate and modernize,” says Chiu, who was born in Hong Kong in 1950, and grew up in the New Territories.

Although a new entrant in a competitive market in The Bahamas, Chiu sees the potential to realize significant profit. “The large North American market here makes a big difference. In the South Pacific it’s a very long way to go for people to stay there from the US or Canada,” says Chiu. “Here, because you are so close, the market is much bigger.”

Competitive market
The developer is quick to acknowledge that any venture in The Bahamas has to be “very good” to succeed in a crowded marketplace. The hotel aims to distinguish itself from other properties with its food and beverage offerings.

Ultimately, it will have five restaurants: The Verandah serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily; Abbiocco (Italian fine dining); Tings on a Stick serving international cuisine; Edgewater Grill (a steak and seafood restaurant); and Chickcharnies Pizzeria & Grille. The property already has two bars, The Rum Cay Lobby Bar and the poolside Hog Bar.

“We have a very good team on food and beverage,” says Chiu, who occasionally sends the executive chef recipes to test. “I’ve been working a lot with the chef trying to get everything right. Well, let’s just say he does the cooking and I stand around tasting it.”

Although Chiu feels that The Bahamas sells itself in neighbouring markets, he’s looking to leverage the company’s strong European presence to attract visitors from largely untapped markets such as Germany, France and Italy. “We hope to capitalize on our connections,” says Chiu, who in 2012 was awarded the Medal of Tourism by the French government for his outstanding contribution to the sector.

Further down the road, he says, he hopes to bring the Chinese and wider Asian market into The Bahamas. “It’s a long way to come of course. Asian visitors are already here, but in very small numbers. We would like to see that increase.”

Although an easy sell for its traditional markets, “sun, sand and sea” is not a powerful enough lure for the Chinese market, advises Chiu. “It’s not a market that will go and lie on a beach for a holiday. They like shopping, gambling, food and socializing. So they tend to move in groups,” he explains.

Word-of-mouth testimonials and an innovative approach will be the key to making inroads with that particular market, he adds. “It might be an idea to develop not only The Bahamas, but also The Bahamas packaged with Cuba, allowing visitors to experience more than one destination,” suggests Chiu. “You have beautiful islands, people who like tourism and who have been in the tourism business for a long time, so The Bahamas in many ways sells itself.”

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