Newsmaker: De Souza propels Wyndham’s growth in Asia

FORMER Best Western International (BWI) head honcho in the region, Glenn de Souza, has set up his own hotel management company and wants “the good old GMs” to come back to run the hotels, which will carry a Wyndham Hotel Group (WHG) brand.

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Glenn de Souza, second from left, with several key Kosmopolitan executives

Since setting up the company, Kosmopolitan Hospitality in March, with offices in Bangkok and Singapore, De Souza has already signed up nine hotels: Days Inn Rest Sea Jomtien Beach Pattaya; Days Inn Siam Central Pattaya; Days Inn Pratamnak Hill Pattaya; Ramada Suites Wong Amat Pattaya; Ramada Chaofa Phuket; Days Inn Patong, Phuket; Tryp by Wyndham Yangon Boutique; Wyndham Legend Ha Long; and Ramada Encore Niigata (Japan).

Kosmopolitan is WHG’s preferred development partner in Asia, excluding China, with de Souza concentrating in particular on five of 15 WHG’s brands, Wyndham, Ramada, Days Inn, Howard Johnson and Tryp.

The arrangement is win-win, said De Souza, as WHG is relatively a newcomer to Asia while Kosmopolitan needs established global brands.

Kosmopolitan manages all the hotels while franchising the brands from WHG.

A hallmark of Kosmopolitan-managed hotel will be “bringing back the true, personalised service that is lost today”, said de Souza, who wants to hire retired GMs who may wish to return to the industry.

The fast-growing company needs people. Aside from the nine already signed up, Kosmopolitan has another 27 projects in negotiation, both new-builds and conversions, in Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Japan. De Souza expects to flag another five to six hotels under a WHG brand before the year is out. He intends to take Kosmopolitan to 50 hotels within the next three years.

The former BWI vice president of international operations for Asia & Middle East took BWI from only six hotels to 200 in the region over the 13 years he was with BWI.

Kosmopolitan has 10 staff currently, including a couple from de Souza’s previous team at BWI such as Paul Suvodip, now his regional revenue manager. Other professionals include managing director-development Akarapong Sukjit, regional operations manager Wassana On-Putta, regional director of brand management Dominique de Souza and regional sales manager James Ross. The staff strength is expected to increase to 15 by mid-2016.

De Souza speaks to Raini Hamdi about his new company in this Newsmaker interview:

When did you set up Kosmopolitan and what’s the business model?

We set up in March. We’re pretty much like any other hotel management company, i.e., we offer technical services, sales, marketing, revenue management, finance, human resources, etc, and we have the right contacts with services such as interior design and landscaping.
The difference is the support we give to owners. We are ethical, transparent, honest and we live by our commitment. We manage all their projects and while most hotel management companies rather the owners stay away, we’d rather the owners work with us. At the end of the day, owners always want to know what’s happening with their hotels, otherwise the seeds of distrust are planted.

How did the partnership with WHG come about?

Wyndham is a relatively new company in this part of the world. It lacks the awareness and it wants to piggyback on our expertise and the contacts we’ve developed in our previous life with other brands. It wants to be a lot more aggressive than it was before and sees us as an opportunity to enable them grow very quickly in this part of the world. In the last four months we’ve given them nine hotels and we expect to give them another five to six hotels by the end of this year.

We have established a lot of owner relationships, from Chinese to Thais to Koreans, and they all have different mindsets and needs. We have the local culture knowledge and the infrastructure, which Wyndham does not have, to expand quickly in this region.
Basically, we share our pipeline with Wyndham. We don’t compete with them – if they are looking at a property, they can go ahead with it.

Are you working with partners other than Wyndham?

Realistically, the partnership with Wyndham is more than enough at this stage. We will take this company (Kosmopolitan) to 50 hotels within the next three years. We’re quite comfortable to give them (WHG) 10-15 hotels a year. That’s not to say we are in a hurry to grow. What is important to us is our commitment to owners.

Why do you need WHG?

When you set up a company, you need a brand. People buy a brand because it gives them a sense of security and assured standards. Owners need a brand to facilitate the bank loan and they are buying a platform that’s already been established by a global brand. It takes a lot money to build a new brand and it might not even work, as you have seen with some brands.

Wyndham is the right brand for us in terms of positioning. Upscale and midscale brands are what’s viable for Asia at this time. Construction-wise a three-star hotel costs less than four, and four less than five. But the ROI for three and four-stars is within seven years while luxury is about 10 years. We leave the luxury hotels to the Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carltons. So Wyndham is a good match for us.

So what will define Kosmopolitan’s hotel management style from others?

I think today, we need a different breed of hoteliers in terms of commitment and integrity – I believe we need to go back to the basics of operating hotels.

Why did the industry lose its basics?

People have been promoted too quickly. Technology also has a lot to play, because of it, people have lost the contact, the personal touch, with customers. You don’t see the GM; they are on Facebook. In the past, you see the GM at breakfast, lunch and dinner, because they want to know who the customers are, they want to interact with them personally, not via social media. Today you don’t see GMs and people keep changing jobs. I go through resumes, six months here, three months there.

I want to bring back the 60-year-old GMs or the old timers those who have retired and want to come back. I give them a 200-room hotel and they will know how to operate it, they will know how to handle the owners and they will know how to train the staff. I’ve spoken to quite a few; they are not after the money, they want to do something meaningful. These are the real hoteliers, the real pros.

Do you think younger travellers, or your owners for that matter, want old GMs?

It will be nice for the young travellers to meet real hoteliers for a change. They never experience that kind of service. And it’ll be great for young hoteliers to learn from the professionals and the legends who came from the established hotel schools.

As for my young owners, and I have plenty of them, they do not mind at all. In Asia, many are from the family business and they are used to looking up to the elders.

What about distribution?

Actually, the occupancy a brand can deliver to a property today is diminishing. If you can get five per cent occupancy from a brand, you’re very lucky. At the end of the day, you need to drive sales yourself and I believe in running a high occupancy even if I have to compromise on my average rate, because rooms are perishable and cashflow is important for owners.

I have a sales team that drives the volume. We have the contacts and network with the volume producers and top agents. Let the brand deliver five per cent of the volume and do the marketing. This is why we can open with a 75 per cent occupancy.

Does it feel like starting all over again as when you were with BWI with only six hotels 13 years ago?

Yes, but today it is my company and it is more interesting, more viable and pleasing. I can be as flexible as I like, I can decide who I work with and when, and there are no restrictions on who I can hire.

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