What kinds of people own hotels? The answer is all kinds, although it helps a lot to have deep pockets, to be willing to take risks and, as often as not, to exercise a great deal of patience when returns on investment are slow to transpire. The greatest hoteliers of history stood out for their passion. They lived, breathed and ate the hotels they built. They put their personalities into them. And this is why, whether they were aware of the owner’s hands-on involvement or not, their customers loved their hotels, too. They would happily stay in them over and over again.
Cesar Ritz, the greatest hotelier of them all, was successful because he understood the needs and desires of wealthy customers. This led to him create the foundations of what would come to be known as luxury hospitality. Many of the touches he introduced in his hotels in the 1890s and 1900s remain standard practice in today’s luxury hospitality scene. Conrad Hilton spotted Americans’ desire for travel and business on a global scale and created the first international hotel chain, which was a remarkable achievement indeed. Barry Sternlicht combined a keen eye for a winning property and the ability to conceive a captivating hospitality concept to become “the king of hotels” who created Starwood Hotels and revived the St. Regis brand.
Bill Marriott Jr. has turned the company his father founded into the hospitality giant it is today. His leadership term now spans more than 50 years. He has taken Marriott from a family business to a global lodging company. Known for his work ethic and attention to detail, the title of his book The Spirit To Serve sums up everything he is about.
One of Indonesia’s most successful entrepreneurs, Imelda Sundoro Hosea, is best known for selling cars as the founder and Head Commissioner of Solo-based Sun Motor. But she is also one of the nation’s leading hotel owners. As an executive at the international Accor Hotels group puts it: “Ibu Imelda owns central Java for us. She’s one of our top property owners.”
The Sun Group’s hotel portfolio includes nine Accor-managed properties. The most recent of these, due to open in the first week of this month, are Grand Mercure Yogyakarta, Ibis Yogyakarta and Ibis Styles Cikarang. Imelda began investing in hotel property just over 20 years ago, starting with the 141-room Hotel Novotel in Solo in 1996.
“As Solo and Yogyakarta expanded, so we would close our older car dealerships and open new ones nearer the city centre,” she says. “When I considered what to do with the land where we had had our old dealerships it became clear to me that one of the best ways to achieve a return would be to build hotels.”
In the dark days of 1998, while she and her family were living temporarily in Singapore, she feared that the hotel she had worked so hard to create might be burned down by rioters. “We lost five showrooms during the 1998 riots. Then a shopping mall that had stood in front of the hotel was burned to the ground,” Imelda recalls during an interview at Fairmont Jakarta, an Accor Hotels property. “I was terrified that sooner or later they would attack the hotel as well. We put signs up all around the property saying: ‘This hotel is owned by Indonesians.’”
That move helped do the trick, because the rioters left the hotel unharmed. Imelda pays tribute to the loyalty and guts of the hotel staff and the general manager at the time, Bernd Schneider, now GM of Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach. “They were brave, and they stuck it out and helped save the hotel for me,” she says of her team during those harrowing times.
Imelda expanded Sun Motor’s hotel business in May 2004, when Hotel Mercure Yogyakarta officially opened. This 4-star hotel was renovated from a 19th-century building. Throughout its journey, the hotel has undergone several name changes. It subsequently moved up to 5-star status as Grand Mercure Phoenix Yogyakarta. The hotel is now part of the MGallery Collection brand by Accor, with the name The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta.
The 178-room Hotel Novotel Semarang officially opened in 2005. Hotel Ibis Solo followed in August 2008 and then Hotel Best Western Premier Solo in October 2009. The latter’s batik-themed concept, dreamed up by Imelda, won the hotel a coveted MURI design award. In 2013, Accor took over its management after the hotel had undergone renovation. It’s now part of the MGallery Collections brand as MGallery by Sofitel, along with The Royal Heritage Surakarta Solo.
Imelda spearheaded more expansion of her hotel business in 2011, when Hotel All Seasons Bali Denpasar became Ibis Style Bali Denpasar, in conjunction with Accor rebranding. Two upcoming hotels, Grand Mercure Yogyakarta Adisucipto and Ibis Yogyakarta Adisucipto, will be launched by the end of this year in Yogyakarta. Imelda has appointed Accor to operate five further hotels that will be built in Jakarta, Cikarang, Bintaro, Surabaya and Malang in the next few years. Aside from partnering with Accor Group, Sun Motor also owns a number of hotels that are being managed by Tauzia Hotel Management and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts.
Imelda is in her seventies now, and day-to-day management of Sun Motor’s hotels is the responsibility of her son, Hartono Sundoro Hosea. Her other three children – Lisa Tjandrakusuma, Andrysan Sundoro Hosea and Jeffry Sundoro Hosea – each manage different divisions of the group. But with the energy of a woman half her age, Imelda continues to take a keen interest in the various properties her company owns. She travels all over the world, often using her trips to buy furniture and other pieces for her properties.
Soon after meeting Prestige she was planning to go on a buying trip to Guangzhou, where she would attend the Spring Canton Fair. “I pay great attention to concepts and good design,” says Imelda. “I’m not an architect or an interior designer, but I do have ideas about how my hotels should look and feel, and about colours. I have a lot of input to impart. It’s my passion. I put my soul into a building. This is why my hotels win awards. There are so many choices today, so to be successful in a competitive marketplace, a hotel must have a clear concept.”
Imelda does not come from a privileged background. Her father was in the grocery business. She describes herself as “a second-generation trader
and a self-made entrepreneur”. She and her late husband, Sundoro Hosea, founded Sun Motor in Solo in 1974. Car leasing was the line of business they focused on at the beginning. Over time, the business developed into a large car and motor dealership. Then it branched out into other lines of business.
“We built the company from scratch,” says Imelda. The values that the couple passed on to their children were “always be honest, to never give up and to always focus on the work,” she adds. She was born Imelda Tio in Solo and she studied Economics at the University of Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta. It was a tribute to several decades of effort and hard work when Imelda received the prestigious Special Award for Entrepreneurship Spirit from Ernst & Young in 2008.
The only question Imelda does not welcome during our interview session is about her plans for retirement. She doesn’t have any. “As long as I’m fit and strong and enjoy what I’m doing, which I do, why would I stop working?” she counters. It’s hard to think of any good reason why she should.