The Thai-headquartered Minor Hotels has become a major hospitality player within the Asia Pacific region. More recently, it has expanded into markets further afield including the Middle East, Europe and even South America. Minor currently has around 530 operational properties globally totalling approximately 76,000 keys. There are eight brands that it operates, with Anantara being its flagship offering. “We have an owner’s mindset because that’s how the company started and it’s that owner mindset that makes us different compared to any of the other larger brands,” says Dillip Rajakarier, group CEO of Minor International and CEO of Minor Hotels.
That mindset has also resulted in a series of smart buys such as the 2016 deal to acquire Tivoli Hotels and Resorts to make in-roads into Europe and Latin America; the acquisition of UK-based Corbin and King (recently rebranded as The Wolseley Hospitality Group) to strengthen Minor’s F&B portfolio; and a mega EUR2.3 billion deal for a 94.1 per cent stake in the Madrid-headquartered NH Hotel Group in 2018 which has an established presence within Europe.
While Minor has been previously focused on Asia, Europe is increasingly popping up on its radar mainly across its Anantara and Avani brands. Last year, it announced the Anantara Palazzo Naiadi Rome, and more recently the Anantara Royal Vila Viçosa as its second Anantara in Portugal, as well as an Anantara Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky Amsterdam property in the Netherlands. “This year we will have eight Anantaras in Europe. We already have Anantaras in Portugal and Spain, Rome and Budapest, and we have one in Nice opening this year and another Antara opening in the Amalfi Coast, as well as Dublin. Hopefully, we should be launching about eight Avanis next year in Europe as well. Today, we have one Avani [in Europe],” reveals Rajakarier.
Its expansion plans go the other way too – from the West to the East – as is the case with its NH brands. The NH Collection Chiang Mai Ping River which was announced in March this year will become NH Collection’s debut property in Asia when it opens in Q1 2023. Coming before that will be the 533-key NH Dubai The Palm which is expected to open soon. “NH is very strong in Europe. For us to bring a European brand to the Middle East is great because now, since we acquired NH, we see a lot of our Middle Eastern guests travelling to their hotels in Europe, and we have a lot of Europeans who are connected to that brand and will be travelling to Dubai as well,” notes Rajakarier.
The Middle East is a market that is on the rise for Minor. Within the UAE itself, it has over a dozen properties including the Anantara Downtown Dubai which opened earlier this year – its third Anantara in the emirate – which was formerly the Oberoi Dubai.
Rajakarier confirms that apart from the recent hotel openings in Dubai, Minor will also bring its F&B portfolio from The Wolseley Group, specifically Colbert from Sloane Square in Knightsbridge, to Dubai.
Overall, within the Middle East, Minor has close to 30 hotels. “We’ve signed two hotels in Saudi – one of them is in Diriyah Gate, and the other will be announced soon. Saudi is going to be a key market for us and hopefully we’ll see Wolseley both in Riyadh and Jeddah. [We will also see the openings of] Anantara, Avani and NH in Saudi. As for Qatar, we are already there with Anantara on Banana Island. We have our Tivoli, Oaks and Avani brands in Qatar. We’re launching an NH Collection in Doha. Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi, and Oman are the regions we are targeting. We have some hotels coming up in Bahrain too,” says Rajakarier. The Bahrain properties scheduled to open in 2024 include Avani Bilaj Al Jazayer Bahrain Resort and Tivoli Bilaj Al Jazayer Bahrain Resort which will be part of Bilaj Al Jazayer – a new waterfront mixed-use masterplan owned by Edamah which is the real estate arm of Mumtalakat, Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund.
In as much as the Middle East is being built as a strong destination market, Rajakarier is only all too aware of this market’s strength as a source for Minor’s properties worldwide. He cites the example of Thailand which was traditionally dominated by visits from China, but had to find an alternative source market given the continuing restrictions on travel in China. Those visitors are being offset by a renewed interest in Thailand by Saudi nationals. “Saudis are now coming to Thailand and they stay for long, are high spenders and enjoy the resort in terms of F&B and spa offerings. They’re coming for medical tourism or for hotel breaks with families, and they take some of our residences and villas. Will this demand last? I think it will. And if China opens up next year, we will see another surge of visitors when the Chinese start to travel,” he says.
Rather than being intimidated by what continues to be a difficult situation with regards to both domestic and international tourism in China due to the pandemic, Minor has pushed ahead with deals to solidify its presence in the country. Last year, it signed an MoU with Funyard Hotels and Resorts which is a member of the Country Garden Core Business Alliance to expand in China. “We signed a joint venture with one of the largest developers in China called Country Garden. Funyard Hotel came to us as they want to become a global brand. They wanted some of our brands [too] so we created a joint venture. We’ve already signed about 12 hotels across our NH, Anantara and Avani brands which will launch in China,” observes Rajakarier.
While work on growing its China portfolio is on in earnest, offsetting markets like the Maldives – pre-pandemic, Chinese tourists accounted for around 20 per cent of the total visits at Minor properties in the Maldives – has meant that Minor has focused on attracting visitors from markets such as the US, South America, Russia, and the Middle East to the Maldives. As a result, Maldives had one of its best years on record with over 1.3 million visitors in 2021.
Still, the pandemic has also had a telling effect on the hospitality business and Rajakarier states that one of the most significant dents has been on the industry’s ability to attract human talent, many of whom left over the early months of the pandemic. “Our biggest challenge is the pool of human talent which has significantly reduced. The demand is there and so there is a war on talent. For example, we are unable to keep some of our restaurants in London open seven days a week because we don’t have the human talent and so we open the restaurant five days a week, and with restricted hours,” says Rajakarier.
He maintains that as a company, Minor remains “opportunistic” and open to building its portfolio of brands and signing up new properties. But its expansion will be measured. “We’re not going to flood the market with Anantaras and Avanis. We will only pick and choose the locations and the brands we bring to those locations to make sure that we can actually deliver to our owners. That’s why I always say we have an owner’s mindset when we look at our business. We have a pipeline of around eight hotels within the Middle East, and around 35-40 planned globally over the next three years – and we haven’t counted China in that basket.”