Newsmaker Charting a course for growth By Rachel AJ Lee / Posted on 1 September, 2021 17:36 US-based restaurant and hotel chain Nobu Hospitality will soon be launching its first Nobu-branded restaurant in the Thai capital of Bangkok. Trevor Horwell, CEO, Nobu Hospitality Group, shares more about the company's bid for global expansion Why has Nobu Hospitality chosen Thailand to open a restaurant in, and why in the midst of a pandemic? Location, supply and demand naturally come into play when deciding our first space in Asia. Thailand as a destination has both urban and non-urban locations, which fit very well with our hotel profile and its services. Our partner, Asset World Corporation (AWC), will be adding at least three Nobu properties in Thailand, including one in the capital city, Bangkok. A typical hotel project might take anywhere from two to five years to develop and open, so now is precisely the time to plan for recovery. Tell us more about the properties in Thailand – what can we expect? The first opening will be Bangkok’s first ever Nobu Restaurant, which would help position the city as a world-class food destination. The restaurant will also enhance the existing property, Empire Tower, turning it into a large mixed-use facility and lifestyle destination in the heart of Bangkok’s CBD. We plan to open multiple Nobu hotels and restaurants in Thailand’s most compelling destination, and our growth plan with AWC will extend to multiple hotels across the region. Where else in Asia does Nobu plan to expand its footprint? We want to work with country or regional partners on an exclusive basis. This has been our strategy in North America and Europe, and the same will be applied to our Asia expansion. Locations in Asia that we have our eyes on include Indonesia, China, South Korea, Malaysia and Japan. We currently have a portfolio of over 20 hotels, and the pool is set to grow with more announcements this year. Having started out as an F&B establishment, what was the primary driver behind Nobu’s foray into the hospitality world? After Nobu’s success in the global food scene and the demand for Nobu restaurants increased worldwide, it was only natural for the brand to enter the hotel industry. We were already being approached to open in many locations, including hotels. We asked ourselves, “If we’re going to set up in those locations, why not do it ourselves?” We have something that people want – a credible, renowned restaurant – which helps to elevate (our hotels’) branding and create a unique social experience on property. Also, when we went into the hospitality sector, we didn’t set out to reinvent the hotel experience. Our aim was to bring the brand’s culture and service to the hotel sector and create a 24/7 experience. One of the reasons why we succeeded was because our partners took what we already had in our restaurants, and migrate it into a holistic experience within the hotel. How closely do you think F&B is tied to the hotel or travel experience? Since the beginning, Nobu has been about creating memorable experiences around food, but we can’t depend on hotel guests to fill restaurants. We make sure the hotel restaurant is a destination on its own. We then fill a hotel with guests, and open restaurants with their own pool of customers. Many chains bring in third-party restaurateurs, which creates a little bit of a mismatch, ending up with an operation that is far from seamless. Has the pandemic dampened your hopes and visions for the brand and hotel business? There is no denying the hospitality industry has been hit the hardest over the past 18 months. Thankfully, we do have strong brand loyalty and were encouraged by guest numbers at our hotels during Covid-19. Guests come to us because they trust that we are committed to ensuring their safety during this period, while providing a comfortable stay. We continue to be fully committed to our hotel and restaurant partners. We are confident in the strength of our brand and our business model, and we are pressing on with our growth plans, while employing more team members. Our business model is one built for the long-term, and even though the macro-environment has sustained hits, it hasn’t changed our long-term planning. What else can we expect from Nobu moving forward? We’re working on several new locations in the US with existing and new ownership partners. We’re also seeking to enter new markets in Europe, such as Portugal, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Croatia, Serbia, and Turkey. We will also be expanding our presence in Spain, and we’re working on projects in the Middle East. Over the next 24 months, we expect to open properties in Marrakesh, Atlanta, and Toronto.