The Luxury Travel Bible - Q&A Ted Teng

Q&A ted tEng
President and CEO, Leading Hotels of the World

Ted Teng has a 30-year track record in the global hospitality industry, working in North America, Hawaii, and Asia Pacific and masterminding the growth of some of the most prominent brands in the world. He was president and COO of Wyndham International and president, Asia-Pacific, for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide to name but two. He says, "I have guided companies through crisis and survived to see better markets. I have achieved many successes as well as learned many difficult lessons through failures." Now, there is a man with a healthy sense of perspective. He became president and chief executive officer of The Leading Hotels of the World in September 2008 and is based in New York. The 80 year old company represents over 450 luxury hotels. Since he has been at the helm Teng's motto has been to "Preserve, Enhance, and Invent," seeking to honour tradition but provide innovation too. We can't argue with that.

You have a long track record in the hotel industry (Wyndham, Starwood etc), what made you get involved in hotel management in the first place?
The truth is I always enjoyed preparing and eating food. I studied hotel management at Cornell University. It's important to understand the business side as well as the people side of the hotel industry. I find many people are good at one and not the other.
What is the single best/defining thing about Leading Hotels of the World?
Our hotels represent all kinds of one-of-a-kind. It's our mission to curate and champion an exclusive collection of independent properties, including grand palaces and intimate city hideaways, luxury tent enclaves and expansive self-contained resorts.
It is not about being the same as, or as good as, our competitors. It is how we are different from our competitors that is relevant to our target customers.
Luxury chain brands are very good at what they do consistently. They devote a great deal of resources to ensure that consistency, which is at once their strength and a weakness.

            Ted TEng      

 In a world of "mass everything", people value being recognized as individuals. At Leading Hotels, we have the remarkable opportunity to differentiate ourselves by offering unique and special facilities and services -- facilities and services that are not exactly the same everywhere, but that are great everywhere. Each Leading Hotel is distinct, all are exceptional.

You reportedly said of LHW, 'our hotels are more famous than we are'. Can you elaborate on what you meant by that?
I like to compare our member hotels to fine works of art. Our member hotels are carefully selected masterpieces - no two are alike - and they are predominantly independently owned and operated, some for more than three generations within the same family. I encourage guests to think of Leading Hotels as a museum and we are your docents who will guide you through this carefully curated collection of iconic hotels.

What is the next big luxury travel trend?
In my opinion, luxury is more enduring than trends. Certain segments of customers are interested in 'hot spots', but I'm most interested in discovering the gems and icons that will live on for generations to come.
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a hotel is worthy of the 'luxury' tag?
The scent of a hotel. I know my answer is rather unusual; it's hard to articulate...but I know it when I smell it. It's in the corridors and the guest rooms. There should be a freshness, a cleanliness. Of course I do not mean I want to smell cleaning's more the absence of unpleasant aromas, but not overpowered by fragrances. The smell of a hotel has the potential to assault my mood.
alvear palace hotel, buenos aires
Alvear Palace Hotel, Buenos Aires
ashford castle, ireland
Ashford Castle, Ireland
Apart from your own, what are your favourite hotels/resorts? (and why)
I just love historic hotels with incredible architecture, grand staircases, and a true sense of arrival. Many of the our Leading Hotels fall into this category, but apart from our own member hotels I would say the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, Texas.
What is your favourite city to visit?
There are so many... Hong Kong, London, Paris, Singapore, Tokyo. I love big cities because they appeal to all six senses.
What is your best overseas restaurant experience?
Sorry to disappoint -- I love food, but I don't have a 'best' overseas restaurant experience...there were lots of great ones. However, after much travelling, when I finally arrive back home to New York, I have a few of my favourite Chinese restaurants: For Peking duck it would have to be Peking Duck House (236 E 53rd St or 28 Mott Street), and best all-around Chinese would have to be Lychee House (141 E. 55th Street).
What is your favourite airline for business or first class? Why?
Singapore Airlines has the absolute best service. There is a genuine and sincere hospitality that in no way feels scripted. The way Singapore Airlines hires and trains its' staff is beyond compare - consistent to the extent that I have never had a bad experience on any of my numerous flights.
reid's palace, portugal
Reid's Palace, Portugal
What three things do you never travel without?
1. iPad  2. Blackberry 3. American Express Black Card.
What is the one luxury travel experience you will never forget?
I was with my wife and we checked into the King George Palace in Athens. I love hotel rooms with a terrace and so when we checked into our room after a long day of travelling I went right to the terrace for some fresh air. We had a view of the Acropolis I will never forget; I could almost reach out and touch it!
What is the most important thing (travel-wise) that money CAN buy?
Expedited immigration services! A fast-track arrivals service exists in many countries. Sometimes it is available for all travellers in first or business class and sometimes it can be a fee-based service. It is worth every penny.
What is the most important thing it can't?
You cannot buy genuine caring and comfort. I stayed at Ritz Paris and when I checked-in and went to my room, there was an 8x10 framed photo of my family. There is nothing like travelling around the world on business, walking into a hotel room and seeing a photo of your family. Money can't buy this kind of thoughtful gesture.


TENG's Choices
Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas
Peking Duck House
Lychee House
Ritz Paris
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Posted 10/2/11

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