Japan's Largest Hotel Group Opens First Overseas Property in New Jersey

APA Hotels and Resorts, Japan’s largest hotel network, had the pre-opening of its first overseas property on Friday, November 13. Partnering with Friendwell Group, a Taiwanese business that’s New Jersey’s top real estate company, APA runs a hotel in Woodbridge, New Jersey. It’s APA’s first step toward establishing 100 hotels in major U.S. cities within the next five years.

“Recently, we signed a strategic partnership agreement with Friendwell Group to begin our first overseas expansion two years earlier than our original plan,” APA founder and CEO Toshio Motoya said at a press conference in Midtown Manhattan on Thursday, November 12, where the two parties signed their exclusive three-year deal. “As the first of our locations, we have picked a hotel that is only a 20-minute drive from Newark Airport and a 30-minute train ride with only two stops to Manhattan.”

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(L-R) Chris Akoury, COO of APA Hotel Franchise in U.S.; Fumiko Motoya, President of APA; Toshio Motoya, Founder and CEO of APA; Tsun-Jen Cheng, Chairman of Friendwell Group; and Jason Cheng, CEO of Friendwell Group celebrate the signing of their joint-venture contract in Manhattan on November 12.

“This unique partnership between the Friendwell Group and APA Group will help promote business in the United States. It also represents the long-standing and strong economic and political relations between the United States, Japan, and Taiwan,” says Ambassador Paul Wen-Liang Chang, Director General of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO), which represents Taiwan’s interests in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. “As both the Friendwell Group and APA Group have been very successful in business, I am certain that this new partnership will have a bright future.”

Born near former New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui’s hometown in Ishikawa Prefecture, Motoya established APA Group when he was only 27 years old. Including partnerships, APA operates 347 hotels throughout Japan and expects $750 million in revenue in the current fiscal year. Motoya says his company has never operated at a loss in its 44-year history.

Nineteen years ago, Jason Cheng graduated from NYU with no career options. He gave a business plan to his older brother Tsun-Jen, who in turn raised capital from family members in Taiwan. Two years later, in 1996, the younger Cheng established Friendwell Group of Companies, becoming its CEO and naming Tsun-Jen the Chairman.

Today Friendwell Group operates 13 hotels with brands such as Hilton, Holiday Inn, and Sheraton among others with more than 3,300 rooms, the most by a single owner in New Jersey. The company also owns 18 office buildings and shopping centers and is involved in development and capital improvement.

Mutual friends introduced the Motoyas to the Chengs in the spring of 2013.

“It was a miracle that Mr. Motoya and Mrs. Motoya decided that they wanted to fast track their original plan of going overseas from Japan, and the first destination will be New Jersey, USA,” says Jason Cheng. “I’m so honored that they chose us to be their strategic franchise partners.”

Of the partnership, Tsun-Jen Cheng says, “APA Group brings to us a refined and detail-oriented Japanese service culture, and combining that with Friendwell’s U.S.-based, passionate, and courageous culture, in addition to Friendwell’s origination in Taiwan’s hardworking mentality, we hope to create a whole new revolutionizing concept in the U.S.”

Indeed, Motoya’s goal is to “create a revolution in the hotel industry” with his “New Urban Style Hotel,” a concept through which service is elevated and the carbon footprint is reduced by 30%. APA’s guest rooms are equipped with LED lighting, showers and tubs that use less water, and heavy curtains that are better insulating, making the rooms energy and water efficient. As Motoya points out, however, these eco-friendly amenities are in APA’s new constructions, which are mostly concentrated in Tokyo. Since APA Hotel Woodbridge is a transition from an older building, it may not reach the 30% carbon footprint reduction of the newer hotels.

Motoya says New York is suitable for the New Urban Style and hopes to expand to Manhattan eventually, where he says the joint venture will be able to run an inexpensive and profitable hotel. That won’t happen right away, but APA and Friendwell have their sights set on expanding to cities where Japanese airlines fly within the next three to five years.