We had the pleasure to do an exclusive interview this month with a visionary known for his trademark innovation and extensive network of contacts in tourism, hospitality, entertainment and business – Gerard J. Inzerillo, CEO Forbes Travel Guide.
Forbes Travel Guide is the only independent, global rating for luxury hotels, restaurants and spas. In February 2018, Forbes Travel Guide celebrated its landmark 60th anniversary and unveiled its 60th list of worldwide Star Rating winners. Some of the hotels that were rated by the Forbes Travel Guide are: Genting Grand at Resorts World Genting, Maxims at Resorts World Genting and the Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur.
Here’s the outcome, we hope you’ll enjoy it.
V.S: Gerard, tourism has evolved radically in the past few years and has changed the face of the hospitality industry forever. With new disruptive and innovative concepts such as Airbnb, Uber and unconventional bookings, how do you see that this global systemic change will impact the future of hospitality industry in the next five to ten years?
G.I. I think what people crave is authenticity and at Forbes Travel Guide we verify the authenticity of a luxury experience. But when it comes to emerging companies such as Airbnb, we expect to see more regulation and affirmation processes on the service aspect—especially for the luxury sector. You see that already emerging with the Airbnb Plus product, and to some degree even Uber has UberX—though that focuses on facility, not service.
But we anticipate that next layer of verification of service process will come into play. The net effect is that it will make luring the sophisticated luxury consumer more competitive.
V.S. We all know that tourism in the Southeast Asia region is one of the fastest growing around the globe. Why do you think this is happening, what is driving this trend and who are the main players in the industry that push forward the concept of Asian Travel, which is becoming almost a fashion?
G.I. The drivers are a combination of an ever-strengthening Chinese economy, the predicted surge in millennial travelers—with an access to a higher proportion of disposable income—demanding more high-quality services and products, and the ever-growing emerging markets in China that are especially attracted to the ultra-luxury brands. One example of such an ultra-luxury brand is the new Morpheus in Macau, where I had the pleasure of attending the opening with the incredibly talented Melco chairman/CEO, Lawrence Ho. I think we can expect to see some of the most amazing projects come out of Southeast Asia in the next few years.
In addition, in the past two decades, infrastructure and inter-Asia foreign investment has fueled an emerging middle class who is open to new exploration and adventure. With the region’s easy and accessible transportation—we are seeing new airports opening one after another in Southeast Asia countries—and overall safe environment, these travelers are seeking experiences outside of the typical hot spot travel destinations, like Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, and exploring destinations rich in culture, history and, of course, food.
V.S. Based on your experience, what do you think are the challenges that countries like Malaysia face when competing with well-established touristic nations such as France, United States or even China?
G.I. Today’s challenges are the typical obstacles that we see in any growing market that’s evolving its luxury travel offerings: transport, safety and ready access to highly skilled labor.
These, over time, are all surmountable challenges—and as the quality of the service grows and becomes validated with a global company such as Forbes Travel Guide, a destination can slowly begin to take its place as a global competitor. Who would have thought just a few years ago Macau would be on our list of the most luxury hotels in the world alongside Paris and London?
V.S. Looking at Malaysia in particular, how do you think it’s hospitality market can overcome and compete on long term with powerful neighbors like Thailand and Singapore, considering that only in the last couple of years the numbers were in Malaysia’s favor, placing the country in top 3 most visited in Asia?
G.I. Kuala Lumpur has already proved it can compete on a global scale, and the country has so many wonderful things to offer the sophisticated traveler. The culture, its growing infrastructure, improved air transport options and, of course, the wonderful, kind people of Malaysia all ensures it has the ability to stay competitive with the likes of Thailand and Singapore.
Over time, Malaysia will further enhance its visitor experience, and we expect to see more quality properties earn more Forbes Travel Guide awards in the near future.
V.S. From the point of view of luxury travel exclusively, which brands stand out in the South-east Asia region as industry leaders and innovation pioneers? Is Malaysia up to date with the high-end tourism industry requirements and can it sustain a healthy luxury hospitality sector with all its peculiar and ever-changing traits?
G.I. We expect the offering to grow and well-respected luxury brands such as Mandarin Oriental and The Ritz-Carlton already have a firm footprint in Kuala Lumpur. They sit alongside some important gaming companies, such as Resorts World Genting—a relatively new company, nine years compared to the 50 years Mandarin Oriental has been around. Its Genting Grand at Resorts World Genting is a growing integrated resort experience and the only Four-Star hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
V.S. Gerard, you are a person with a vast experience and proven expertise in hospitality and tourism. But leaving business aside for a moment, can you tell us about one of your most recent personal travel experiences in Malaysia and how did it make you feel?
G.I. My colleague Yona He Poda, our senior vice president of Partner Services for Asia Pacific, and I were visiting with my longtime friend Dato’ Edward Arthur Holloway, SVP Operations, at Genting Highland. The highlight for me was to walk the “back of the house” to visit with all the passionate staff.
What a marvel it was to visit the vast, impeccable new kitchens and purchasing areas. The resort has more than 10,000 rooms, both for luxury and mass customers. The remote location makes operations complex, and to do it as well as Genting has is quite a feat.
V.S. In the end, I would like to close the interview with this. We are a community of approximately 100,000 members, expats and locals together living in this beautiful country that we call home. Do you have a message that you would like to pass on? It could be a recommendation, a travel story or just a few thoughts about how innovation in tourism can change communities for the better?
G.I. My message to all my wonderful friends and colleagues in the hospitality community of Malaysia is to continue to be proud of your service, as few countries in the world have the reputation for warmth and welcome that Malaysia has.
You’re a stunningly beautiful country with the warmest, most hospitable people, along with a rich culture. Please remain proud as your service is both known and acknowledged all over the world.
Publication: KL Expat Malaysia
Attributed to: Gerard J. Inzerillo, CEO Forbes Travel Guide
Interview by: Vlad Savin