Carolyn Choo: Leading Asia’s Premier Hotel Empire

In 2002, Carolyn Choo embarked on a journey that would redefine the hospitality industry landscape in Asia-Pacific. Leaving her role as a finance manager at a local bank in Singapore, Carolyn heeded the call of her father, Choo Chong Ngen, the visionary founder of Hotel 81, to join the family business. Little did she know that this decision would propel her into the role of CEO and Managing Director of Worldwide Hotels—a position from which she emerged as one of the region’s most impactful business leaders.

Born into a family steeped in the entrepreneurial spirit, Carolyn was profoundly influenced by her father’s rags-to-riches narrative. Privy to her father’s work details from a young age, discussing expenses and business matters over meals, Carolyn imbibed the values of hard work, humility, and dedication to service—values that would profoundly shape her approach to leadership in the years to come.

Under the stewardship of her father, Choo Chong Ngen, Worldwide Hotels experienced exponential growth, expanding from its humble beginnings to become a dominant force in the hospitality industry. Today, the group boasts 38 budget and mid-tier hotels in Singapore across six brands, totalling 6,500 rooms. Carolyn’s role as CEO and Managing Director involves overseeing this extensive hotel network, ensuring operational excellence, and ensuring guest satisfaction at every juncture.

While Singapore remains the epicentre of Worldwide Hotels’ operations, Carolyn’s vision transcends geographical boundaries. Under her leadership, the group ventured into international markets, owning eight hotels across countries such as Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea. These international properties, while managed by others, significantly bolster the group’s global presence, solidifying its position as a leading player in the Asia-Pacific hospitality landscape.

At the heart of Carolyn’s leadership philosophy lies a steadfast commitment to excellence and integrity. When she joined her family’s business in 2002, talent and professional management were scarce. Juggling multiple roles and navigating intricate business demands while maintaining family dynamics, Carolyn faced intense pressure to prove her capabilities. Upholding the family’s legacy of hard work and humility, she leads by example, inspiring her team to pursue excellence in all endeavours.  

In addition to her business acumen, Carolyn is deeply committed to making a positive impact in the communities she serves. Advocating for education bursaries and community engagement initiatives, she seeks to empower the next generation of leaders and make a meaningful difference in people’s lives beyond the confines of business.  

Managing a large hotel portfolio presents myriad challenges, from market fluctuations to operational complexities. Global expansion necessitated significant financial resources, leading Carolyn to navigate cash-flow challenges, especially during the construction of two major projects. Disruptions in the supply chain further compounded these challenges. Yet, Carolyn’s resilience lies in adaptability, innovation, and ensuring the group’s fortitude in a dynamic industry. Through strategic initiatives and bold decision-making, she transforms obstacles into opportunities for growth and innovation.  

Carolyn, an alumna of Nanyang Business School, assumed the role of CEO and MD in 2017—a strategic move to address talent shortages. As a confidante to her father, she played a pivotal role in steering the business forward. Carolyn’s tenure as CEO showcased her capabilities and determination. In a fiercely competitive industry, she proved her mettle, contributing to overcoming talent gaps within the organisation.  

Known for her unconventional approach, Carolyn ensures that Worldwide Hotels remains affordable despite rising hotel prices in Singapore. Synonymous with quality budget and mid-tier hotels, the group caters to diverse areas in Singapore, from hipster Tiong Bahru to the cultural enclave of Chinatown. Carolyn’s vision extends beyond Singapore, focusing on long-term capital appreciation despite negative operating yields caused by high interest rates. Strategic acquisitions and targeted offerings, such as the recent opening of Hotel Mi Rochor, cater to Gen Z and millennial travellers seeking creative, fun, and lively experiences.  

Expanding WWHG’s portfolio to include 40 local properties and 11 overseas ones in Australia, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand, Carolyn secured the acquisition of Parkroyal on Kitchener Road—the largest single-asset hotel deal in Singapore. Additionally, she expanded the group’s international presence by purchasing two properties in Australia: Novotel Melbourne Central and Ibis Melbourne Central, marking Worldwide Hotels’ 10th and 11th overseas hotels. 

Carolyn’s strategic decisions have solidified Worldwide Hotels as a prominent player in the hospitality industry, both locally and globally, positioning her as one of Asia-Pacific’s best business leaders in 2024.

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