Steven Pan, chairman of the Regent Hotels Group and the Silks Hotel Group, is a veteran in the hotel industry, managing the Regent Taipei and other luxury hotels since 1992. Pan also serves on AmCham Taiwan’s board and is focusing his expertise in management and sustainability on leading AmCham’s new ESG Steering Group to help more companies improve their environmental impact.
TOPICS Senior Editor Julia Bergström met with Pan at the Ghost Island Media recording studio in mid-June to discuss his move from Wall Street to hospitality, Pan’s yin-yang approach to management, and the future of tourism in a post-pandemic world. An abridged version of their conversation follows. To listen to the extended podcast version, visit topics.amcham.com.tw/listen.
You started your career on Wall Street before shifting to hospitality. What made you decide to take over the Regent Hotels Group?
Many consider me a “1.5 generation” entrepreneur with a somewhat unconventional journey, not exactly fitting the first or second-generation molds.
The Regent Taipei project, initially started by my father, involved selling a majority of shares to his partner, Mr. Chen of Tuntex. At the time, I worked on Wall Street for a now-merged bank called First Boston. While working on an investment banking assignment, Mr. Chen asked me to join him at the Regent in Taipei in 1991, just a year after the hotel opened.
I had reservations about my lack of knowledge of the hotel industry. Mr. Chen explained that my role would involve expanding the hotel company, developing new hotels, and eventually taking the company public. Overall, it was a tough decision involving a significant salary reduction, but I saw the potential in this opportunity and decided to embrace it.
In 1998, I successfully took the company public, and in 2000, I orchestrated a buy-out of the majority shares from Tuntex. Unfortunately, in 2001, the September 11 attacks occurred, followed by the SARS outbreak in 2003. This led to significant struggles for the hotel industry, with our share price plummeting. Then, as China and Taiwan established closer ties, our share price began to recover, and we managed to weather the storm and achieve a successful recovery.
Later, during the global financial crisis, I saw an opportunity amid the chaos and seized it by acquiring the Regent brand, which propelled our international expansion efforts. In 2018, after eight years, I formed a joint venture with InterContinental Hotel Group to rebrand the original Regent Hong Kong (which was then called InterContinental Hong Kong) back to its former glory. This strategic decision aimed to establish a flagship property and leverage InterContinental’s expertise to expand the Regent brand globally. As a result, we currently have 10 projects worldwide.
What excites you about the hotel industry? What gets you up in the morning?
The hotel industry encompasses various elements that align with my interests. I often describe a hotel as a Rubik’s Cube, a complex puzzle that requires careful consideration and problem-solving.
Regent Taipei, for example, distinguishes itself from other hotels by being a mixed-use hotel project, incorporating a significant shopping component and independent restaurants. During the pandemic, we reimagined the hotel to overcome travel restrictions. Drawing inspiration from our ownership of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, we transformed our hotel into a cruise-like experience – providing entertainment, activities, and learning experiences besides the restaurants and accommodations. During the initial months of the pandemic, we embarked on a three-month co-learning process – this involved training and collaborating with various stakeholders, including entertainers and laid-off tour guides.
The concept of co-learning has become an integral part of our sustainability efforts, alongside co-creation and co-sustaining. It’s about learning from one another, collaborating to create innovative solutions, and thriving as a community.
What’s your pitch to potential new entrants into the industry?
I never had a conventional pitch for individuals interested in joining the hotel business or starting a new hotel. Instead, my advice to them is to think hard about it. The hotel industry is not for everyone – it requires long hours and a genuine passion for the work. However, it offers one of the best first jobs anyone can have.
Working in hotels exposes you to a diverse range of people from different nationalities and walks of life and sets individuals up for success by cultivating strong relationships and empathy. Dealing with challenging and enjoyable situations daily and interacting with all kinds of individuals throughout the day is a unique aspect of working in the hotel industry.
We primarily look for people who genuinely care for others. Empathy is a key quality we value – fortunately, it’s a characteristic found in a significant portion of the Taiwanese population.
What predictions do you have about Taiwan’s tourism sector now that the pandemic is largely behind us? Are you optimistic about the future?
In this first year of reopening, we have experienced significant positive trends in our hotel business, particularly at Regent Taipei. Our business guests have already surpassed pre-pandemic levels by 150%. We have also witnessed a rise in visits from diplomats and political delegations from various assemblies. Taiwan has garnered attention, piquing curiosity and fostering increased business engagements.
Although high-end tourism – particularly from Japan – has not fully returned, we are observing encouraging developments. Our Just Sleep brand hotels in Taipei are performing exceptionally well. Surprisingly, domestic tourism has also seen positive trends. Despite Taiwanese travelers exploring destinations worldwide, our Silks Hotels have maintained their positions as the number one hotel in their respective markets, even during the pandemic. However, middle-tier hotels face challenges and are experiencing a significant downturn. I anticipate major corrections within the domestic travel sector as more Taiwanese go abroad, but I think the international sector will continue to thrive.
How would you describe your approach to management?
The essence of our brand revolves around the concept of yin and yang or the harmony of opposites. This is reflected in our management style, which can be described as “hands-on yet strategic.” We are hands-on in specific areas, such as branding and new projects, while empowering hotel operations. In fact, there are times when I don’t even visit the hotels for weeks or months.
During prosperous times like the current boom (almost 20% ahead of pre-pandemic levels), we adopt a motto of “competitive yet collaborative.” We encourage internal competition within our profit-centered system, where each restaurant operates as a separate business unit. This approach fosters a healthy balance of competitiveness and collaboration.
In terms of our brand essence, we embrace being “global yet local.” For instance, at Regent Taipei, we have introduced a new product that exemplifies this concept – champagne tea. Tea is deeply rooted in Taiwanese tradition and Asian culture, but we have elevated it by brewing it similarly to how champagne is crafted. This innovation is an example of taking something local and making it internationally relevant.
You’re leading AmCham’s new ESG Steering Group. Can you tell us what that is for people who may not be familiar with ESG concepts? What’s your vision for this initiative?
For us, sustainability is not just a project or initiative – it is a way of life. It permeates our corporate culture and guides our actions. We view sustainability as a lifelong learning process, continuously seeking opportunities to improve and cultivate sustainable practices. Even during the pandemic, we implemented measures such as contact tracing for food ingredients and preparation, ensuring transparency and accountability. These efforts are part of our commitment to embedding ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) principles into our daily operations.
Within AmCham, as an NGO our focus on sustainability aligns with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 17, which focuses on partnerships. We believe in fostering public-private partnerships, working closely with our members, government entities, and local communities. Through co-learning, we share best practices, exchange knowledge, and collaborate on projects that benefit Taiwan. We aim to support local entrepreneurs and help them thrive by providing mentorship, expertise, and guidance on scaling their businesses and positively impacting their communities. This approach allows us to give back in a meaningful and sustainable way while also contributing to the overall goals of ESG and sustainability.
Your Just Sleep hotel brand opened its first location abroad – in Osaka – last year. What have you learned about the Japanese market and how it differs from the Taiwan market?
Launching a hotel in Japan involves consensus-building and relationship-building in every aspect of the business. Although the process took longer than in Taiwan, it resulted in a more sustainable foundation for the hotel.
Despite the initial challenges, our hotel in Japan has shown promising signs. It achieved profitability within the first month of operation. Typically, hotels take several years to turn a profit, but the success of our Just Sleep brand has been evident not only in Japan but also in Taiwan. The popularity of Just Sleep among Taiwanese guests has translated into interest from international travelers, particularly from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea.
Initially, our Japanese operations catered to international guests, but we have been steadily establishing our presence in the domestic market. As our systems and partnerships, including online travel agencies, have been set up, we have witnessed an increase in Japanese guests.
What do you do in your spare time to relax and recharge?
I have a wide range of interests and hobbies. Every year, I challenge myself to learn something new. In the past, I have picked up piano and saxophone, tried Muay Thai, and currently, I’ve been enjoying swimming. Last year, I ventured into book publishing, which turned out to be a significant project.
The book focuses on the experiences of Regent Taipei and Silks Hotel Group during the pandemic – sharing our transformation journey and lessons learned, ensuring others wouldn’t have to face the same challenges without guidance in the future. The process ended up spanning multiple years because the pandemic just wouldn’t end, but it’s now been published in Mandarin.