South Korea’s chaebol heiresses crowd hotel business

September 10, 2014

By Park Si-soo

Lee Bu-jin, daughter of Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee, and Hotel Shilla President

Lee Bu-jin, daughter of Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee, and Hotel Shilla President

Daughters of Korea’s major tycoons are engaged in hectic competition in the hotel business as they see huge growth potential in line with the growing tourism industry.

Lee Bu-jin, Hotel Shilla president and daughter of Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee, has proved her capability in running a hotel business.

Since taking office in 2011 as president of the hotel business affiliate of Samsung Group, the 44-year-old has made a big investment to improve the hotel’s amenities and services.

The luxury hotel in Jangchung-dong, central Seoul, underwent a seven-month-long renovation last year, turning the 41-year-old building into a major upscale tourist magnet.

Her endeavor paid off with Chinese President Xi Jinping staying there during his visit to Seoul in July, a high-profile event beefing up Shilla’s brand value.

“Xi’s stay (at Shilla) was great for the hotel’s brand value,” an industry insider said. “It helped increase people’s confidence in the hotel and its services.”

Several Chinese leaders stayed at the hotel, including former Chinese premier Zhu Rongji in 2000, former Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2006 and incumbent Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in 2010.

Lee, who majored in child and family studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, is moving to expand her business into low-priced accommodation services, named Shilla Stay.

The first Shilla Stay opened in Dongtan, a suburb in the shadow of Samsung Electronics’ plant in Suwon, last November. She plans to run 10 Shilla Stays across the country by 2016.

Choi Hyun-ah, daughter of Hanjin Group Chairman Choi Yang-ho and Korean Air Vice President

Cho Hyun-ah, daughter of Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho and Korean Air Vice President

Cho Hyun-ah, Korean Air senior vice president and daughter of Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho, has also aggressively invested to build new hotels at home and abroad.

Last week, her company opened a five-star hotel with 500 luxury rooms on Youngjong Island, only a few kilometers away from Incheon International Airport. The island is expected to have several foreigner-only casinos and other recreational facilities in the years to come.

The construction of another luxury hotel in Los Angeles is underway.

On top of these, the 40-year-old, who studied hotel management at Cornell University in the United States, is pushing forward with a hotel project near Gyeongbok Palace in the heart of Seoul, despite opposition from the government and civic groups.

“I will continue to build new hotels,” Cho told reporters last Wednesday, revealing her positive outlook on the hotel industry.

Among other tycoon’s daughters engaging in the hotel business are Chung Yoon-yi, 46, Haevichi Hotel & Resort managing director and daughter of Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo, and Shin Yoo-mi, 31, senior advisor of Lotte Hotel and daughter of Lotte Group Founder Shin Kyuk-ho.

Chung Yoo-kyung, vice president of Shinsegae Group and the only daughter of the group’s Chairwoman Lee Myung-hee, worked at the firm’s hotel affiliate, Westin Chosun Hotel in Seoul, before being promoted to an executive position in 1996.