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The Woman Modernizing the World of Hospitality

By Jennifer Flowers

Nov 1, 2016

From the November/December 2016 issue

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Rosewood London, housed in a 1914 Edwardian building and designed by Tony Chi and Associates, opened in 2013. 

Courtesy of Rosewood London

Rosewood London, housed in a 1914 Edwardian building and designed by Tony Chi and Associates, opened in 2013. 

The young leader of Rosewood Hotels and Resorts is reinterpreting hospitality for the modern traveler.

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She has slept in an ocean-facing villa in Mexico and in a tiny yurt in Inner Mongolia. She fell in love with foie gras in Paris, and also knows where to find the best beef brisket noodles in Hong Kong. With her thirst for the authentic—along with an eye for the finer things—Sonia Cheng, 34, embodies today's discerning international traveler. And that’s the kind of hotel guest she’s attracting as the CEO of Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, a five-star brand that will grow to 40 properties in the next four years.

"Today's ultra-luxury traveler—regardless of age, gender, or background—is less concerned with opulence and pampering, and more concerned with value, authenticity, and truly local experiences," Cheng says. 

Sonia Cheng
As part of her brand revamp, which she calls A Sense of Place, the new Rosewood Beijing’s Red Bowl restaurant serves humble Chinese hot pot fare; in Vancouver, the general manager of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia leads cycling tours; and Pearl, a golden retriever welcomes guests to the Rosewood London. Cheng intends to weave touches such as these into all of Rosewood’s new hotels, no matter how pedigreed (the restored iconic Hôtel de Crillon in Paris debuted in 2017) or remote (a riverside retreat near Luang Prabang, Laos, also opened in 2017).

What you won’t see is formal, white-glove service or stuffy dining rooms. And despite being a member of the digitally savvy millennial generation, Cheng still puts human relationships first. "A personal  touch—whether it be an excellent concierge, a yoga teacher, or a chef—is often the defining detail of a luxury experience," she says, "particularly as the culture of constantly being 'plugged in' becomes more pervasive than ever before."

>>Next: Meet the Man Who Wants to Help Travelers Break Through Barriers

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