Brands are being launched faster than you can open the door to a hotel room. Here’s a look at 10 new brands in South-east Asia
Since its founding in 1992, Singapore-based GHM Hotels has catered to people who don’t want to be seen – those who value the discreet, private, serene and elegant style of its hotels.
The chain is breaking this mould by going into the mid-tier segment with a new brand, Tin Hotels, which targets people who want to be seen – today’s dominant population comprising the large middle class and millennials who are social-conscious and for whom elegance is whether or not the technology works.
The first hotels are expected to be opened in Dubai and Oman in the next few years, with a target of 35 properties in 2022.
Why the name Tin? Explained Hans R Jenni, co-founder and president of GHM: “We had initially played with the conceptual idea to do a one-off artistic hotel built out of shipping containers or a modular building structure, hence ‘Tin’.
“Starting with this initial idea, we realised there was a real opportunity in the market for a lifestyle hotel positioned in the mid-market segment. As we evolved the concept, we fell in love with the name ‘Tin Hotels’. It is unusual and easy to pronounce in just about every language, whether Chinese, English or German.”
Tin Hotels will be stylish and created as design icons, but not serene, he said. F&B will be an important part of the experience, featuring social spaces with interesting food outlets and a rooftop Tin Bar by the pool with music officiated by a DJ.
The entire ground floor will be a bustling café-centric space offering excellent coffees, cakes and casual food. This sets the scene for a 24/7 venue where one can have a quick meal, a coffee meeting or just be the in-spot for the local community to gather, Jenni said.
Asked if GHM’s upmarket image might be compromised by the move into mid-tier, Jenni said: “On the contrary, we want to import those same attributes – superlative design, exceptional guest experience, etc – that have served us so successfully at the luxury segment these last 25 years and create another Style to Remember (GHM’s tagline) in a new segment.”
“Launching Tin Hotels will not take anything away from GHM Hotels,” he added. “Whether it’s our own core brands Chedi and Chedi Club or Ahn Luh, the same steadfastly-held corporate philosophy continues to ring true.
“Yes, a Tin hotel may have smaller room sizes or have lower price entry points, but each will still wow with its design and lifestyle experiences. Just as we have done with GHM hotels, Tin Hotels will set new benchmarks across this mid-tier segment.” – Raini Hamdi
He made a statement when he opened Potato Head Beach Club, Bali in 2010. That sexy, cutting-edge design beachfront attraction comprising three restaurants, two bars, an infinity pool and a 500m2 lawn draws on average 2,500 people daily.
This year, Ronald Akili, CEO of PTT Family, branched into hotels with the opening of Katamama Bali, which aims to attract travellers who appreciate artisanal design and want to experience understated luxury and Indonesian culture in a contemporary context. Every aspect of the 58-suite hotel is the work of Indonesia’s finest craftsmen, he said.
“We spent a lot of time researching the techniques and the craftsmanship that best represent Indonesia, on everything from traditional architecture to fabrics, amenities to art, and we chose the best practices and partners,” said Akili.
“For example, our more than one million hand-pressed bricks were created using a technique traditionally used in the building of Balinese temples and we worked with our long-time collaborator, Indonesian architect Andra Martin, to create the modern exterior of the hotel.”
Now, Akili is set to spin off Potato Head as a hotel brand with two new projects under construction in Seminyak and Canggu, Bali. The former is in collaboration with world-renowned architecture practice OMA headed by Rem Koolhass, while the latter will be designed by Marcio Kogan of Studio MK27.
Born in Jakarta in 1981, Akili lived in Hawaii from the age of 13 and did a Master’s Degree in Entrepreneurial Studies at the Hawaii Pacific University before returning to Indonesia at the age of 22. His passion is “creating unique hospitality concepts”, nurtured by his parents who own one of Indonesia’s most recognised travel agencies, Smailing Tour.
“Coming from a family who has ties to the travel industry, being a hotelier has long been my childhood dream. Growing up, I frequently traversed the globe and was always interested in seeing how hotels operate,” he said.
Akili plans to expand into global locations, including Tokyo and Australia, with owned and managed hotels that follow the brand’s guideline – “dedication to craftsmanship and creativity, artisanal design, while capturing the warmth and intimacy of a private home”, he said. – Raini Hamdi
Batiqa Hotels was launched in March by Surya Internusa Group, which has decades of experience in hospitality industry investment as owner of Gran Melia Hotel Jakarta, Melia Bali Hotel and Banyan Tree Ungasan Resort, Bali.
The company decided to enter the hotel management business by setting up Batiqa Hotel Manajemen in 2013, specialising in three-star properties.
Matthew Lim, director of operations at Batiqa Hotels, said: “With more than 60 million productive Indonesian citizens in the middle class and 10 million international tourist arrivals per year (2015), three-star properties could capture a wider market in Indonesia.
“Batiqa sees the opportunity to deliver a four-star experience and service at three-star pricing and construction cost.”
The name Batiqa is derived from the famous Indonesian cloth, batik, and Grade A quality, he said. Batik represents Indonesian hospitality, brand and culture, while Grade A quality represents consistent, world-class service.
The first property, Batiqa Hotel & Apartments Karawang, 52km east of Jakarta, opened in 2014. Today Batiqa operates six hotels with more than 700 keys, and has two hotels under construction.
“We plan to have 10 more hotels by the end of 2017 Jakarta and Surabaya will be the part of this expansion plan,” Lim said. – Mimi Hudoyo
Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts’ newest brand Dhawa is aimed at technology and design-savvy millennials, the fourth after its Angsana, Banyan Tree and Cassia (get the alphabetical order?) that cater to different market segments.
Dhawa properties will also be strategically sited in culturally-rich destinations. The first – Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria – for example, will be in Cuba, and is scheduled to open in January 2017.
With a tagline No room for the ordinary, Dhawa’s ambitions extend next to China, the first being in Bo’ao in Hainan province.
The hotel will have 516 keys, five restaurants and four bars, two swimming pools, a spa and fitness centre, kids club and a theatre with daily live entertainment. There is a 500m stretch of white sandy beach and a wide array of water sport activities. – Dannon Har
As a father of two, Singapore-based Japanese Rei Matsuda, CEO of Kokotel (Thailand), often found himself dissatisfied with the accommodation options whenever his family of four travel within South-east Asia. The conventional room layouts designed for two often meant that his children had to stay in separate rooms, which could be a hassle especially when the entire family travelled on a single suitcase.
Envisioning a clean, affordable and child-friendly property that allows more of the family travel budget to be spent on food, souvenirs and experiences instead, the Cornell Hotel School graduate and former management consultant and investor conceived the idea of a “bed and café” hotel concept.
Backed with a 100 million baht (US$2.9 million) investment from Japanese entrepreneur Shuhei Morofuji, CEO of venture-building company REAPRA, Matsuda established Newlegacy Hospitality in May 2015 in Bangkok. In February, the 40-room Kokotel Surawong (right) debuted with guestrooms that can accommodate up to four pax, plus a cosy café and kids’ play area – sans lobby – in the ground-floor public area.
Besides focusing on the niche markets of families and females travellers, the Kokotel brand is conceived to “fill the gap between unhappy owners and unhappy travellers”, Matsuda told TTG Asia. To keep costs down and optimise revenues for small property owners, many of whom lack expertise in running hotels, Kokotel will leverage a “centralised operation concept” with leasing or management contract options.
“We operate many small hotels like one big hotel. Many functions are centralised at the headquarters to allow only a small number of people working at the property level,” he elaborated. “This model allows owners to enjoy higher gross operating profit ratio while Kokotel as an operator will enjoy economy of scale.”
Kokotel is currently actively pursuing both leasing and management contracts in Bangkok and other major Thai cities including Chiang Mai and Krabi. Matsuda aims to expand the management contracts to other parts of South-east Asia and South Asia, with an aim to roll out 1,000 properties by 2026. – Xinyi Liang-Pholsena
137 PILLARS HOTELS & RESORTS
From its first hotel, 137 Pillars House Chiang Mai which opened in December 2011, Thailand’s Wongphanlert family has created a new luxury boutique hotel management company, 137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts.
The group is now building two more hotels, 137 Pillars Suites Bangkok (left), scheduled to open in February 2017 with 34 suites and 179 private residences, and 137 Pillars Estate, scheduled to open in early 2019 on Phuket’s Kata Beach with 62 suites and villas.
Heading the new management company is COO Christopher E Stafford, who has put in place executive team members including five group directors overseeing projects and technical services, sales and marketing, culinary, F&B and finance. Stafford moved into the COO role from working with the family as vice president hotel operations of SilverNeedle Hospitality, which will continue to manage the 137 Pillars House Chiang Mai until this December.
Stafford said there’s a window to create a branded luxury boutique hotel company.
“I’m aiming for 20 hotels in the next five years, their size not more than 60 keys ideally and only all suites or all villas.
“There is going to be demand for this,” Stafford said, explaining that by remaining small, the brand would be able to retain “real hospitality”.
He agreed that competition exists as the number of Asian hotel management companies focusing on luxury boutique keeps growing.
“Our advantage is our owners have land banks. I also believe that to expand, I need to look outside the shell of Thailand. The real opportunity today is in places like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam,” he said.
Aside from the Bangkok and Phuket developments, Stafford revealed “we’ve also acquired land in Phang Nga for development”. It is also eyeing management contracts. – Raini Hamdi
Far East Hospitality (FEH), Singapore’s largest operator of hotels and serviced residences, is looking to expand its Oasia brand across Singapore and Malaysia. The brand debuted in Singapore with the opening of the 428-room Oasia Hotel Novena in 2011.
Arthur Kiong, CEO of FEH, said Oasia “is a departure from the traditional star-rating system, and we believe that the brand’s clear focus on health and well-being will resonate with our business and leisure guests”.
Elaborating on how Oasia hotels focus on wellness, Kiong said: “Be it business or leisure, the Oasia brand is created to provide a restorative respite in the city that inspires and empowers guests to refresh, refuel and recharge.”
For instance, at the new 314-key Oasia Hotel Downtown which opened in April, guests who wait to check in at the reception can get comfy on the armchairs and plush sofas, which help inject a resort vibe into otherwise another typical city hotel, he said.
Kiong said: “Given the changing time zones, travel delays and meetings, business travel often leave travellers with little opportunity for wellness.”
FEH is also set to open the 140-unit serviced residence, Oasia Residence in Singapore, within this year. Across the border, it debuted its first hotel in Malaysia, the 247-room Oasia Suites Kuala Lumpur. With these new properties, the Oasia brand will have injected an additional 700 rooms to FEH’s portfolio this year. – Paige Lee Pei Qi
Inthira Hotels evolved from Inthy Deuansawan’s Lao tourism empire. It started in 1998 at Khop Chai Deu restaurant in Vientiane. Deuansawan talked to tourists and discovered most agents only offered classic tours.
“I like adventure. I wanted to provide something different,” he said, so he founded Green Discovery Laos in 2004 and set up shop around Laos.
He realised his restaurant and tour portfolio was missing hotels. The launch of Inthira Thakaek in 2008 marked the start of the chain. Inthira Van Vieng and Inthira Champasak followed soon after.
“Inthira targets guests who expect a stylish and comfortable room with a view. Hotels are centrally located in a historical setting, and Inthira looks to refurbish historic buildings,” he said.
Inthira plans to open two more properties in 2018: a centrally located hotel in Vientiane and a Luang Prabang riverside resort. – Bernie Rosenbloom
Roxy-Pacific Holdings Singapore, which owns the 500-room Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel Singapore, has launched its own upscale boutique brand, Noku Roxy, with one hotel in operation in Kyoto and two others being developed in Phuket and the Maldives.
Noku-Roxy Phuket will have 90 rooms and five villas and will open in 2018. In the Maldives, it is re-working an existing property with 50 villas, 45 minutes away from Male, into another Noku Roxy.
The brand is the brainchild of Roxy-Pacific’s executive director and managing director Chris Teo, whose stints with Amanresorts and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group before helming Roxy-Pacific’s hotel ownership business shape his vision for a brand that offers deep local insights and personalised service at affordable prices.
To do that, Teo keeps Noku Roxy hotels small in room count, sited in strategic locations, featuring artisanal yet modern design and offering personal recommendations on the hidden gems of the place.
The 81-room Noku Kyoto, for example, features handpicked art unique to each room. It is located directly across the Kyoto Imperial Palace and has its own map of the Kyoto city centre that recommends favourite local haunts and restaurants, access into exclusive artisanal houses and the best sightseeing spots, many of which Teo has himself tried and tested. Guests can also reserve personalised walking tours with in-house guides and receive itineraries or day-trip recommendations from Noku Kyoto’s staff.
Rates start from 20,000 yen (US$192).
“I always have in mind the upper-scale four-star boutique hotels as I believe there is still a lot of room in Asia for a product that offers the local character and personalised service, but at non-luxury prices,” said Teo. – Raini Hamdi
Singapore’s most famous hotel investor Kwek Leng Beng had the idea for M Social some six to seven years ago, when millennial-minded hotels weren’t yet the rage.
The first M Social hotel (right), designed by Philippe Stark, opened in Singapore in June. Millennium & Copthorne aims to plant M Social hotels in other cities such as Auckland, Silicon Valley in California and Seoul.
While design is a key element, success also rests on how well the hotels can ‘speak the language’ of this customer set, observed Millennium Hotels & Resorts president-Asia, Cetin Sekercioglu. A lot of time was thus spent getting the right staff and building the M Social culture, he said.
For its mass hiring, for example, M Social Singapore held an ‘open house’ poolside party at one of sister properties in Singapore. An ad in the local papers said it was looking for “superheroes to save the world”, not the usual posts such as captains and waiters. There were colourful floats in the pool and attendees were free to take a dip or help themselves to a BBQ. The more sociable ones with personality and people interaction skills were earmarked for potential hires.
The 293-room hotel has only 100 staff. “The old staff-to-room ratios no longer apply with the changing customer, who wants to enjoy the hotel facilities without going through the usual hassle of having to check in, get their key at the counter, etc (the hotel is the first in Singapore to implement self check-in and check-out kiosks in the lobby),” Sekercioglu pointed out.
“Thus, when we looked at the concept of the guest experience, we had to redesign the SOP to be multi-tasking and come up with new training materials and programmes. We spent a lot of time on creating the tasks and jobs which could be performed by many people rather than by specific people. ”
As the hotel chain is eyeing global expansion for the brand, the first baby is important, he said.
“It is about how do you create the perception of difference, from the customer’s point of view, on both the hardware and software. It’s also about their perception of value – is the value proposition acceptable for the market you’re going after?
“We are confident this brand will be successful in Singapore and, having seen what we offer, more developers will be interested – we are already in talks for a few projects,” said Sekercioglu. – Raini Hamdi
LO & BEHOLD
Having made its name in F&B in Singapore with several cutting-edge concepts, The Lo & Behold Group is foraying into hotels with its first, The Warehouse Hotel, Singapore, a 37-room luxury boutique establishment opening by end-2016 in a, well, warehouse of course, or what locals call ‘godown’. It hopes to fill a niche “somewhere between the big brands and the small boutiques”, said Wee Teng Wen, managing partner at Lo & Behold.
“The market was missing a portal to local culture with depth and soul that would still over-deliver on comfort and the basics,” added Wee, who described hotels as “one long extended meal that runs 24 hours instead of three.”
The Warehouse Hotel aims to deliver an authentic Singaporean experience for guests, from its F&B offerings to architectural tours of the surrounding Robertson Quay area where it is located. It won’t feature the usual amenities like gym or spa, due to space restrictions, but will leverage its F&B acumen to offer a chic lobby bar and a 50-seat restaurant featuring local classics. – Dannon Har