Life of Luxury: Hotel marketing maestro Joanne Tang’s Infinite Luxury Group takes high-end travel experiences above and beyond
During her formative years in the Netherlands, Joanne Tang was admittedly shy and retiring, so it was surprising to friends and family when aged 16, she plumped for a course in hotel management that normally attracts bubbly, outgoing souls.
But now, looking back on more than 20 successful years in the luxury hotel industry from her vantage point as CEO of Infinite Luxury Group, the marketing and branding enterprise she founded in 2010, she knows her career choice was spot on.
Her family background did play its part, though. “My family owned restaurants in the Netherlands and Germany, so I grew up with the hospitality industry around me every day,” says Tang, speaking over lunch at the East Hong Kong hotel in Taikoo Shing, where she is staying during a business trip to the city. “Growing up in the Netherlands, I was exposed to both the outgoing, direct Dutch mentality and the humble, hardworking Hong Kong Chinese approach. This dual cultural background has shaped my personality and allowed me to understand and appreciate different cultures.”
Amsterdam is famously cosmopolitan and diverse, a grounding that enabled Tang to be more receptive to differences in business and life in general. She also learnt multiple languages – Chinese, Dutch, English, French and German – another undoubted asset for her globe-trotting future.
At a hotel management school in the Netherlands, she developed her social skills and professional knowledge, igniting a passion to explore the world and pursue an international hotelier career. Graduating in 2000, she moved to Hong Kong and began working for major hotel chains, at first at the front desk, greeting new arrivals and thriving on interaction with guests from all around the globe. She then moved into sales and marketing.
Employed by the Shangri-La, Mandarin Oriental and then The Ritz-Carlton, she developed a deep passion for the luxury sector. “I gained invaluable experience in understanding the unique positioning and messaging of each hotel group and property,” she says reflectively, betraying every inch the persona of a confident, successful businessperson.
One of her biggest challenges was opening a new hotel for The Ritz-Carlton in Krabi, Thailand, during the 2007-2008 economic downturn, a project that spearheaded the group’s Reserve collection of high-end resorts in exotic locations. “We did that all the way during the financial crisis, and at the end the hotel opened very successfully as well,” she notes.
The crisis prompted hotels worldwide to diversify and explore new potential markets like Asia. It was a turning point too, for Tang, as this greater interest in Asian markets was vital for the success of her embryonic company. From the outset, Infinite Luxury Group gained and built upon a good reputation in the industry, and business blossomed by word of mouth. “We were fortunate to work with some amazing luxury hotels from the beginning and then it snowballed,” says Tang. In the 13 years since its inception, she has marketed more than 350 hotels and brands in Asia.
Asked about the values of her company (infiniteluxurygroup.com), Tang responds by evoking a lifestyle choice: “The ethos of Infinite Luxury Group is to introduce luxury hotels and unique travel experiences to the Asian traveller. We believe in a lifestyle without boundaries, where discerning travellers can indulge in luxurious and unforgettable journeys.”
The success of her enterprise and her long list of clients reflect the expertise she offers. “One of the most rewarding experiences is seeing a hotel become successful, gaining recognition, and attracting bookings,” she says.
“Another success story is when a hotel partner decides to handle the marketing themselves for a while, but then realises the value of our expertise and returns to work with us again.”
In-depth knowledge of the Asian market and all its diversity has been integral to her company’s achievements. She believes it is a mistake to assume the same strategies employed elsewhere will automatically work for Asian markets.
“The Asian market is incredibly diverse, and it requires a deep understanding of each sub-market, its cultural nuances and consumer preferences,” she opines. “These considerations are even more important in the China market.”
Experiences of wealth Over the years, Tang has seen noticeable behavioural changes in high-net-worth (HNW) individuals, who are now seeking new and unique experiences having already indulged in what has become a run-of-the-mill luxury. The industry has had to focus on providing personalised experiences. Catering to the evolving needs and desires of the modern, discerning traveller does not necessarily mean greater extravagance, she insists. “It can involve bringing them closer to nature, such as wildlife safaris, remote camping in the desert, or tailored trips that delve into history and culture, like an immersive journey. Providing memorable and personalised experiences is key in meeting the expectations of these clients.”
She says establishing deep and long-lasting relationships with HNW clients can be challenging for luxury brands due to the high level of competition and the dynamic nature of these individuals for whom money is no object. She believes powerful brands are those creating extraordinary experiences by carefully crafting an atmosphere of exclusivity, unmatched service and personalised moments. “And then aiming to captivate the clientele and consistently surpass their expectations,” she adds.
Tang has noticed a definite period of postCovid ‘revenge tourism’, as if luxury travellers are trying to make up for lost time. She herself is not immune from this desire; her enviable jet-setting lifestyle sees her pack in an endless stream of exotic locations. One of her great pleasures is to rise before dawn to take in the beautiful sunrise in some far-flung destination.
The nature-lover also sees a focus on sustainability amongst luxury hotel brands of late, in some cases as a matter of self-interest. “Many hotels understand that if we do not do anything to promote sustainability part, it is not going anywhere positive,” she says.
Tang’s company is now based in Shanghai with several offices around Asia, and she is confident the luxury sector will continue to thrive in the future. It is her strong opinion that luxury travel can act as a bridge between cultures. “Luxury brands often have a global reach, and they can act as ambassadors of cultural exchange and appreciation,” she says. “Furthermore, luxury experiences and travel can expose individuals to different cultures, traditions and perspectives, promoting tolerance and appreciation for diversity.”
Interview by: Neil Dolby Photographer: Jack Law Art Direction: Joseff Musa Fashion Stylist: Jhoshwa Ledesma Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Hair & Make Up: Owen Ko Venue: EAST Hong Kong Brands: LANVIN and Rebecca Vallance, courtesy of Net-A-Porter