Lim Boon Kwee is Chief Operating Officer of Dusit International. The Thailand-based hospitality company has announced hotel projects across 21 countries as it grows from 29 properties in eight countries to 69 properties in more than 20 countries in the next three to four years.
You have only four hotel brands, while competitors such as Marriott has 30. Who is right?
Well we seem to be doing well with just four. Take China. My experience in China is that when developers come to us they have already discounted all the international brands. They don’t want them. Some 60 or 70 percent of our new projects in China are resorts. Now tens of millions of Chinese visit Thailand each year. It is a resort destination with great resort brands. So when the Chinese developers want to develop a resort, they want a Thai brand, a Thai architect and a Thai interior designer. When you look at some of our Chinese resorts you wouldn’t know you were in China, you’d think you were in Thailand.
They have seen a lot, these developers. They are very specific in their needs. They know the market they are targeting. In China, 95 percent of our guests are domestic travellers. They don’t even bother going to the big brands. They know they would be just one of many others. When they come to us they know we are provide a more personalised approach to servicing their product. If they disagree they don’t even come to us.
There are other Thai hotel brands. Why do they choose you?
We are the oldest brand. They are very impressed with the history – our first hotel was in 1949, for instance. And on top of that they like our education business. A lot of our staff are sent to Bangkok to the Dusit Thani College to go through short courses such as a culinary programme for the staff of our Chinese properties. The training means they can go through a nine month programme or a four year programme. They find this is unique and also shows our commitment to training the staff.
Your flagship property, The Dusit Thani in Bangkok, is being redeveloped isn’t it?
Yes. The hotel will operate until next year, and then will close and reopen completely new, but under the name Dusit Thani. It is part of a one billion dollar development with the hotel, residences, office tower and commercial retail. We are excited that this project is taking off.
So you need to find more hotels in Bangkok?
Yes. There are a lot of new hotels, so rates are very competitive. We will look to rebrand another. We are taking out 517 keys when we close the Dusit Thani next year and when it reopens it will be around 300 keys. Bangkok is a city with tremendous new supply – so many luxury brand are opening – I think around 12 five star hotels are opening – is there going to be enough demand? I think so but it will be a good price point for the customer.
You recently ended the relationship in India with the Bird group. What happened?
The very simple answer is that all partners have common objectives and different objectives. Within the Bird Group the different one is that they want to do things on their own. There’s nothing wrong with us. It’s fine if they want to do that. It’s not a very difficult decision. It’s a very domestic market, they think they want to do it on their own.
What we’ve learned is we can go in on our own in India. We will develop our own properties having had that experience for the last seven years. We will choose the right developer that’s willing to maintain the brand integrity of whatever brand it is they choose. India is a very difficult market. To do a managed is very difficult. To do a franchise is much easier. We have developed a franchise model for Asia and we see that as the future. It’s dynamic and could apply to all the brands. If they need help we can manage and hold their hand for pre-opening and opening and then afterwards and then let them do on their own.
The forthcoming dusitD2 Chaengwattana, north of Bangkok near Don Mueang Airport (DMK)