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A guestroom in the Kerry Hotel, Pudong, Shanghai

BEIJING—Business travelers in Asia have more brands than ever competing for their booking as business travel bounces back after a dismal couple of years. Just during the past six months, four major hotel groups have launched new, less expensive, brands in key growth markets of China and India, all aimed at the latest generation of cost-savvy road warriors.

Features like a buzzing bar and 3G connectivity are just as vital as a fully equipped business center. With some experts predicting growth of 35% in business travel in India and China this year, these new brands are hoping to tap into this exploding market.

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts opened Kerry Hotel Pudong, Shanghai, in February, the debut of its new 5-star Kerry Hotel brand, with the next property scheduled to open in Beijing in early 2012. The brand is aimed at offering a balance between business and leisure and includes a large banqueting and sporting facility and its own brewery.

"It's luxury in a less formal setting," George Wee, the hotel's GM, said. The property’s strategic location is key to the brand's concept of offering a balanced lifestyle: the hotel is connected to the Shanghai New International Expo Centre while also directly across from Century Park, the city's largest eco-park and public gardens, he added.

Other development
Also in Shanghai, the Dubai-based luxury hotel group Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts will launch its new VENU brand later in 2011. A contemporary lifestyle 5-star hotel brand, "VENU Hotels will be a collection of global destinations expressing the local soul for those who seek a sophisticated immersion in the destination," the company said.

Similarly, Chinese chain Jin Jiang Hotels launched its Marvel brand, specifically tailored to the needs of aspiring and successful businessmen aged 27-45 years old, to tap into the exploding business traveler market in China's financial center. There will be eight to 12 Marvel properties opening this year, with another 50 to 100 planned for 2012.

In India, luxury hotel group Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces launched Vivanta by Taj in September 2010; 19 hotels are already open and a total of 50 across the region will start operations in the next three years.

Similar to the other new brands, Vivanta by Taj is designed to appeal to a new generation of work-hard, play-hard travelers.

"This consumer group is well-informed, technology-dependent, design-savvy, ambitious, and demanding of themselves and others, and were dissatisfied with the predictable and somewhat staid customer service delivered by traditional Indian luxury hotels,” said Lulu Raghavan, country director (India) at Landor, the strategic brand consulting firm that designed the Vivanta brand for Taj.

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More brands, more business
Analysts said it's a simple equation: more brands equal more business.

"I think management companies create new brands because they believe there is a gap in what the market wants and what they as management companies provide. In order to be more competitive in their development efforts they need a variety of products options to bring to the table," said Jonas Ogren, area director—Asia at STR Global.

Damien Little, director of Horwath HTL, shared a similar sentiment. "Shangri-La are just looking for some brand diversification given they only have Shangri-La and Traders currently."

The Vivanta by Taj brand is part of a larger multi-brand strategy that Taj is pursuing, according to Raghavan. “It has moved from an umbrella brand strategy which had just one brand—Taj—to focused brands for different consumer segments.”

But what's to stop people loyal to the more expensive brands defecting to the less expensive options in these financially straightened times?

Raghavan is not worried about Vivanta by Taj diluting the company’s premium brand.

"The experience of the Taj brand is being simultaneously upped substantially to lift its luxury profile. If you look at the Taj palaces, the Safari lodges, the city hotels, the Exotica properties and the Residences – all of them offer very, very luxurious experiences, significantly different from Vivanta by Taj," she said.

TAGS: Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces,Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts, Jin Jiang Hotels, business hotels