CEO of Centara Hotels and Resorts, Thirayuth Chirathivat, tells Marissa Carruthers how Thailand’s largest homegrown hotel group is staying ahead of the competition
What have been the biggest changes in the hotel business since you started in the industry?
There has been a huge increase in the number of travellers coming to and travelling within South-east Asia. For example, there was virtually no outbound travel from China a few decades ago; now 10 million Chinese a year travel to Thailand. Consumer preferences have also evolved over time. Today’s travel consumers are not simply looking for a hotel room; they are looking for an experience.
What is your overarching vision for Centara?
Centara’s vision is to be the leading global hospitality group of Thai origin. We will accomplish that by providing locally-relevant, Thai-inspired experiences in each of our global destinations, delighting guests through a blend of innovation, authentic family values and the unique passion of Centara’s people, while maintaining a commitment to sustainability. Our imminent entry into new markets and further development in existing markets, including China, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, the Maldives, Qatar, the UAE and, of course, Thailand, are indicative of our commitment and path to realising our vision.
How do you see the business developing into the future?
Centara will continue to expand its international footprint beyond the company’s current portfolio of 68 properties in operation or under development. In addition to adding new properties, the company will identify and pursue new business opportunities outside its historic hotel and resort core. We will also expand into new territories, with the luxury segment being an important focus.
We continue to look for innovative ways to better serve our customers and grow our business. Most recently, the company introduced a travel health and wellness programme, Staying Well, featuring innovative products and services designed to improve exercise, nutrition and sleep experiences for our guests.
Our recently launched New Agenda: Meetings Redesigned programme represents an innovative approach to achieve more effective corporate meetings, conventions and off-site events, while taking full advantage of Centara’s unique destinations, venues and MICE-industry expertise.
How can Centara retain its edge in an increasingly competitive industry?
The challenge for us is to preserve the best aspects of our company culture while ensuring that during our current growth phase, we focus attention on making sure the company invests in our internal infrastructure to ensure it grows along with the top line.
We continue to invest in technology to stay at the forefront of the industry, bringing in new systems for people management, revenue management and central reservations. We are also revamping our online capabilities with brand new websites across desktop and mobile platforms to support our drive toward becoming best-in-class among leading hotel operators.
What trends will drive Asia’s hotel business into 2020?
The growth in Chinese outbound travel, which nearly tripled during the past decade, continues to be a significant driver for Asia’s hotel industry going forward. And one of South-east Asia’s prominent emerging markets, Laos, appears serious about developing its tourism sector, further adding to regional demand.
Meanwhile, personalisation will continue to become more and more important. The younger generation expects a highly personalised experience and offering, so we continue to align our services with our customers’ lifestyles.
What are the major challenges Asia’s hotels face in the modern age?
The industry has always been competitive, but the modern age has accelerated the pace of change, bringing with it new business models such as Airbnb that are disrupting the traditional hotel business. Additionally, hotels will have to make environmental sustainability a priority and push governments to do more. Infrastructure is another area which can have a lasting impact, positive and otherwise, on the hotel business.