Regent Hotels: Back Where It Belongs

The Beijing property is one of seven Regents currently open.

Steven Pan won’t say it directly, but he believes the Regent Hotels & Resorts brand is back where it belongs: Asia. Pan’s Taiwan-based Formosa International Hotels bought the chain from Carlson Hospitality Group earlier this year following an extended selling process that included 20 bidders.

“Regent was born in Asia; it has a tremendous reputation here; and we have the brand’s original DNA,” says Pan, who’s chairman of both Formosa and Regent. Formosa owns and operates the 538-room Grand Formosa Regent Taipei, which Pans says has been the most profitable Regent property in the world for the past 10 years. “Our Taipei hotel is based on the original Regent concept, which along with its success makes us very attractive to owners looking to build or buy Regents.”

Regent and Formosa International Chairman Steven Pan

To seal that DNA into the new ownership, Pan recruited Robert Burns, the founder of Regent, as honorary chairman. Calling him “our guiding light” and the “brand’s best ambassador,” Pan says Burns will help create the vision for an updated Regent brand and forge connections with owners and developers, including some who had Regents in the past.

Regent’s new president, Ralf Ohletz, provides a further link to the chain’s origins. Prior to joining Regent, Ohletz worked for more than 25 years with developer Adrian Zecha, who along with Burns and Georg Raphael founded the Regent brand in the early 1970s and created some of its signature properties, including the iconic Hong Kong Regent. (In the 1990s, Four Seasons bought the chain and later sold it to Carlson.)

“The original Regent concept was based on the idea of 3Bs: bed, bath and breakfast,” says Pan. Of the three, Regent’s bath concept was most innovative. The chain was the first to introduce five-fixture bathrooms as a brand standard. “At the time, it was very trend-setting, but now every luxury chain focuses on the bathroom. In some luxury hotels, the bath area takes up 50 percent of the whole guestroom space.”

The new Regent concept Pan and Burns hope to create adds a fourth B: bespoke. “We’ll create one-of-a-kind hotels that evoke simple elegance,” says Pan in defining the initiative. “The hotels will spark all five senses, and while the interior concepts will be timeless, the overall vision is to produce a strong sense of place for guests.”

Over the years, the brand has dwindled to seven properties, with three each in Europe and Asia and one in Turks & Caicos in the Caribbean. Nine additional properties in all three regions, plus the Middle East, are in the pipeline and should open in the next few years.

“In the next five years, we’d like to have 30 to 40 Regents in many of the major cities and resort areas of the world,” says Pan, noting that growth should come evenly between China, the rest of Asia, the Americas and Europe and the Middle East. Of particular importance is planting the flag in four gateway cities—Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York and London—that previously had Regent hotels. To make it happen, Formosa will deploy its own capital in conjunction with partners.

“We’ll probably only be an equity participant in projects in those four cities,” he says. “We want to focus on management and concepts, but it’s very necessary for Regent to have ownership positions in those cities.”

Pan says new Regents will probably be smaller (around 200 rooms or less) than existing hotels, and most will be part of mixed-use developments that include high-end retail and residential components.

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