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Midori Kataoka, Regional Director, Japan, Preferred Hotels & Resorts
executive impact

Preferred Hotels & Resorts helping guests enjoy new and unique travel experiences

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By Chris Betros

As the travel industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, travelers are looking for unique experiences, high quality accommodation and the finest service.

U.S.-based Preferred Hotels & Resorts is an independent hotel brand, representing more than 600 hotels, resorts and residences in 80 countries. The company partners with a diverse global portfolio of properties that can offer guests independent hotel experiences. Four distinctive collections allow travelers to select and craft their own inspirations as they travel the world in search of memories and new experiences.

To help ensure the highest levels of customer satisfaction, Preferred Hotels & Resorts requires that each of its member hotels follow the Preferred Standards of Excellence, renowned quality standards that are measured by periodic inspections carried out by professional third-party experts.

In Japan, among the 16 hotel partners of Preferred Hotels & Resorts are The Capitol Hotel Tokyu, Hotel New Otani – Executive House Zen and The Main, Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo, The Prince Park Tower Tokyo, Royal Park Hotel, Hotel New Grand (Yokohama) and The Thousand Kyoto.

Heading the Japan office of Preferred Hotels & Resorts is Regional Director Midori Kataoka who is responsible for the overall management of various aspects of development and sales, driving the continued growth and strategic expansion of the group in Japan.

Kataoka, who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Policy Management from Keio University, began her career in the hospitality industry as a sales and marketing assistant at the Pacific Island Club in Saipan (Northern Mariana Islands) and in Guam. Upon returning to Japan in 2005, she joined Grand Hyatt Tokyo as convention services assistant manager and was later promoted to sales manager. In 2012, she joined Preferred Hotels & Resorts Japan as director of global sales, where she worked for three years, focusing on outbound sales. In 2016, she moved to Andaz Tokyo where she was was director of sales and marketing before returning to Preferred Hotels & Resorts last year.

Japan Today hears more about the business from Kataoka.

What exactly does Preferred Hotels & Resorts do?

It is the largest independent hotel brand in the world representing more than 600 distinctive hotels, resorts and unique hotel groups in 80 countries. The company has been owned by the Ueberroth family for over 20 years with Lindsey Ueberroth as the CEO. Through its four global collections — Legend, L.V.X., Lifestyle and Preferred Residences, we connect travelers to a luxury hospitality experience that meets their expectations and lifestyle preferences. All properties within our portfolio maintain high quality standard and unparalleled service levels which is evaluated by our integrated Integrated Quality Assurance (IQA) program. We mandate all our partner hotels to go through this program so all our member hotels maintain a high standard.

How well known is Preferred Hotels & Resorts?

In Japan, all our member hotels are quite well known, although not necessarily that they are under the Preferred Hotels umbrella. One of my roles is to increase awareness of who we are and what we do in the region.

How many hotels are members in Japan?

We have 16 fully-branded member hotels across Japan. Among them, the Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo stands out as our largest property in terms of room count. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we successfully maintained our hotel portfolio intact, with all properties remaining operational — a fortunate outcome for us. Presently, my role entails the retention of existing member hotels while actively seeking new partnerships. Japan represents one of our most promising markets within the Asian region.

How are you looking to do that?

We are exploring partnerships with hotels, luxury ryokans and inns in various areas where we do not yet have a presence. We want to be able to offer diverse destinations to our I Prefer members.

What is the I Prefer Rewards Program?

The I Prefer Rewards Program is a our loyalty program which guests can join for free, earning instant benefits such as points they can use for free nights, and in some hotels, for dining and spas. The program additionally provides exclusive member rates, as well as early check-in and late check-outs. The availability of certain benefits is contingent upon the member tier. We currently have over 4.5 million members and growing.

How is the industry doing post-COVID?

Post-COVID, our member hotels in Japan have been experiencing growth in both reservations and revenue, especially with the return of inbound travel and the reopening of borders. However, all hotels, not just our partner hotels, are facing significant challenges, most notably a severe shortage of staff.

In response, hotels in Japan have been implementing innovative ways to deal with the labor shortage, utilizing the latest technology. Some of our member hotels use AI chatbots on their websites to handle guest inquiries and requests. This eases the workload of staff. Also some hotels use robotics for cleaning in certain areas. We see hotels around the world using technology such as digital self check-in and check-out, mobile key and online booking systems access.

The main point is that hotels know they have to become digital savvy in order to improve the guest experience, and at the same time address labor shortage issues.

What about staff?

Attracting and retaining quality staff is crucial for the luxury hotel sector to maintain its high level of service. So it is important to find the right balance between technology and the human touch. With the growing number of new hotels entering the market, competition for skilled workers is fierce. Therefore, hotels are continuously striving to make themselves more attractive to employers by offering competitive salaries, benefits, and opportunities for career development.

We've heard a lot about overtourism? What's your view on this?

Overtourism is a problem in popular tourist destinations like Kyoto and this influx of visitors is straining local infrastructure, the environment and diminishing the quality of life for local residents. I think there are solutions that can help to mitigate the effects of overtourism. One would be destination diversification by spreading tourism across regions and encouraging tourists to go to lesser known destinations. Local governments can promote off-the beaten path attractions with targeted marketing campaigns and improve transportation infrastructure. The desire to visit new locations is in line with current travel trends which is becoming more experience oriented. Experiential travel is the outlook.

Another idea is to manage visitor flow through crowd control measures. For example, regulation of tourist activities can be done by using a time ticketing system for popular tourist attractions or regulating the capacity for accommodations so we can distribute tourist traffic more evenly throughout the day and across different regions.

To do that, it’s very important that all the stakeholders collaborate, meaning government agencies, local tourism boards, tour operators, hotel companies and travelers. In that way, we can come up with effective solutions that balance the economic benefits from tourism with the preservation of Japan’s natural and cultural heritage. It can only be done by collaboration, so tourism can continue to contribute to Japan’s economy while minimizing its negative impact on the environment and local communities.

What about ryokans?

One issue is that traditional ryokans don’t have enough bilingual staff to cater to international visitors and that is a challenge. While all prefectures desire international visitors, many face challenges in effectively attracting and accommodating them. Preferred Hotels has a consulting entity called PTG Consulting to support these areas. We are exploring partnerships with luxury ryokans and inns.

Sustainability has become important in the hotel industry, hasn't it?

Our parent company has always been conscious of the impact of travel on the local environment. The group launched a sustainable hotel brand called Beyond Green in 2021. This brand provides travelers with a curated collection of luxury hotels and resorts across the world which are leaders in sustainable innovation while offering inspiring luxury guest experiences. These hotels are all leaders of sustainable hotel operation, based on three core sustainability pillars which are nature, culture and community. There are 36 properties globally, four of which are in Asia. Currently, we don’t have any in Japan but it is one of my goals to work with one hotel.

One of the reasons why this brand was launched is to reflect the growing demand for sustainable travel options in the hospitality industry. Since the pandemic, there has been a shift toward more responsible tourism practices.

Beyond Green has stringent criteria and undergoes rigorous third-party inspections for sustainability certification. For instance, one criterion is the elimination of single-use plastic bottles in hotels.

Food waste is another area. Hotels in general are becoming more concerned about food waste. Japan lags a little in this area compared to other countries. Some hotels in other countries choose not to serve buffets but hotels in Japan still provide them.

Power consumption is another factor. Most hotels now set the AC so it doesn't go below or over a certain level.

How often do you visit member hotels?

I try to visit our member hotels as often as possible, especially in Tokyo. However, due to the current staff shortage, I'm mindful of not wanting to bother them. Our furthest member hotel is in Miyakojima in Okinawa Prefecture.

How have you found working for a company like Preferred Hotels after being at hotels like Grand Hyatt and Andaz?

It’s very different. This role covers a much wider aspect of the hospitality industry. While working at one hotel limits you to selling only that property, my current role allows me to oversee the entire hotel business, and gain a more comprehensive understanding of the industry. I’m enjoying that very much and I’m excited about the learning opportunities it presents. Moreover, it’s an inspiring role because it is a growing industry.

Do you visit non-member hotels?

Yes, I like to visit other hotels to stay abreast of industry trends and best practices. The hospitality sector is dynamic, with standards constantly evolving. What's considered standard today may undergo significant changes in the future. I believe it's crucial for hotels to evolve in their offerings and operations.

How do you like to relax when you are not working?

I enjoy watching sumo tournaments. The sumo world is like a miniature of Japanese culture. The way wrestlers wrestle in the ring, the respect for hierarchy and tradition, and the connection to nature and spirituality — all of these elements reflect the Japanese society.

For more information, visit https://preferredhotels.com/

© Japan Today

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