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[Herald Interview] Putting localization at the center of hotel experience

Feb. 18, 2022 - 09:00 By Kim Hae-yeon
Serena Lim, vice president of hotel development for Southeast Asia and Korea at the IHG (Park Hyun-koo/ The Korea Herald)
When planning a new hotel, incorporating the distinctive culture of its location to the guest experience is one of the top priorities for Serena Lim, vice president of hotel development for Southeast Asia and Korea at the IHG Hotels and Resorts.

“Around the world where people can travel, they are travelling,” said Lim about travel in pandemic times during an interview with The Korea Herald on Tuesday at the Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas. Lim, who has been in the hospitality industry for over 20 years, thinks the year 2022 as a chance to leap forward.

“We are on track to grow by a third in South Korea within the next three years, and bring new brands to the market, including voco.”

Launched as IHG’s upscale hotel brand in 2018, voco currently operates in 23 locations worldwide. Derived from the Latin word meaning “to invite,” the brand seeks to represent a thoughtful and playful image that fits the surrounding nature. The voco brand is currently the fastest global expansion at IHG Hotels and Resorts.

The voco Gangnam is slated to open in the second quarter of this year, and voco Pyeongtaek City between 2024 and 2025, according to Lim.

Pyeongtaek is signaling rapid changes due to the relocation of US military units and the expansion of the Samsung Pyeongtaek Campus. Located next to Pyeongtaek Naericheon Park and alongside the International Central Market complex, voco Pyeongtaek City seeks to be part of the city’s change.

“Our philosophy when entering a new location to settle as an urban destination resort, is to have a little something for everyone, whether you are working, living, or traveling in the area,” said Lim. Ice rinks in the winter and summer water activities will be open to local residents and guests visiting the city. Convention facilities and office spaces will also be available to adjacent companies to suit their needs.

Based on Smith Travel Research data, the occupancy rate at IHG chains in Korea nearly doubled from January 2021 at 29 percent to November at 52 percent, which reassured the company’s decision to invest more in the country’s market. The in-market team in Korea has recently doubled in size, according to Lim.

“Even during the pandemic, Korean travelers never stopped researching and doing domestic leisure trips. Leisure and business domestic bookings continue, with domestic leisure remaining the biggest driver of recovery in South Korea.”

With the celebration of 75 years of InterContinental last year, Lim expects IHG to delve deeper into opportunities in the Korean community, keeping in mind Koreans’ rising interests in drive-to destinations and nature getaways in Gangwon Province and Jeju Island as well.