Women to Watch China 2013

June Seah Helps Chinese Feel More at Home in Hilton Hotels

Chain Slow to Enter China Market Now Expanding Aggressively

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Many of the world's major hotel groups view China as a vast opportunity, both for inbound and outbound travel, but Hilton is perhaps the most aggressive at raising its profile and business in the mainland right now.

June Seah
June Seah

Hilton will have nearly 50 properties in mainland China by the end of this year, up from 36 today, and plans to add more than 150 more with 55,000 rooms in the coming years across the Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Hilton, DoubleTree by Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn brands.

A key person responsible for filling those rooms is June Seah, director-regional marketing, Greater China and Mongolia.

Ms. Seah, a Singaporean who moved to China as head of marketing for the Hilton Sanya Resort & Spa in 2005, has tackled the challenge through advertising, digital and social media as well as localizing Hilton's CRM and loyalty programs.

She is also Hilton's in-house expert for hotels around the world, charged with making Hilton properties more appealing and accessible to Chinese heading overseas, especially those in trendy locations like Europe and Hawaii.

She helped establish the Hilton Huanying program (Huanying means "Welcome") to help Chinese travelers feel at home in foreign countries by offering a set of Chinese specialty amenities and service standards, "such as Mandarin-language channels, bedroom slippers and a kettle with Chinese tea in every room and Chinese foods like noodles, fried rice and soy milk on room-service menus," Ms. Seah said.

Other hotels now offer these amenities, but Ms. Seah said Hilton is the only one to develop a full program under a Chinese name. And those slippers? Some hotels offer special edition versions by Chinese fashion designer Vivienne Tam.

Managing the needs of western, Asian and Chinese travelers within a single property isn't easy, said Greg Paull, head of marketing consultancy R3, but Ms. Seah is "highly passionate about the Hilton Group brands and has a great ability to see the big picture and yet still see every detail."

Rivals would argue that Hilton is a latecomer to China, with just four properties in China only four years ago, but recent efforts are hitting it out of the park. The Waldorf Astoria on Shanghai's historic Bund waterfront opened in April 2011, and is already a landmark for red-carpet events.

Hilton is also focusing on some second- and third-tier cities like Shaoxing and Shijiazhuang that most other western chains have passed over so far.

Next: Catherine Kang