Ten years on, Banyan Tree's on a roll.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon - SHY Ventures
Tuesday, 28th September 2004
Deals signed in Dubai, Mexico, Greece, Morocco and Caribbean.

Ten years ago, Banyan Tree Holdings opened its first Banyan Tree in Phuket, and started a trend in pool villas and garden spas. Last weekend, the group had plenty of reason to celebrate its 10th anniversary. In one week, it signed four contracts to plant Banyan Trees in Dubai, Greece, Caribbean and Morocco.

Yeoh Siew Hoon talks to KP Ho, chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings, in Phuket.

Q: So how does it feel to be 10 years old?
Ho: We are going into adolescence; we can be naughty from now on. Seriously, it's been hard work. We had a good run in the first three years, then the financial crisis hit. After that came the dot.com busy, global recession, September 11, SARS – it's been a litany of disaster one after the other, and we had to focus more on crisis management than on expansion.

It's really only been in the last 12 months when suddenly, things have taken off. We have signed up Banyan Trees in Mexico, Greece and Morocco and just yesterday, we signed two in Dubai and one in Caribbean.

The two deals in Dubai are with the Crown Prince, which is an important fact for us. We will develop a wellness sanctuary in the city of Dubai, an integrated development which will have a Banyan Tree Hotel & Spa and Banyan Tree Serviced Residences. The other is a very exclusive Banyan Tree Resort & Spa in the last remaining piece of prime beachfront, 700 metres, at Jumeirah Beach.

Then we are also expanding Angsana Resorts & Spa, as well as our Colours of Angsana.
Let's just say our calendar is pretty full.

Q: What would you say was the tipping point – when Banyan Tree started getting hot?
Ho: It's probably the upswing after SARS. If you look at the macro level, it is the first time the world has had a simultaneous recovery in three markets – Japan, Europe and the US – at various strengths of course. At the micro level, SARS taught us an important lesson – that as bad as things got, tourism can make a very quick recovery.

Q: Perhaps it's the magic number of 10 that's also doing it for you?
Ho: I suppose it means we've been around a long enough time to have credibility. The brand's out there in the marketplace.

Q: Looking at Laguna Phuket now, 10 years on, do you feel a vindication of your vision? After all, there must have been skeptics at the time who thought you were crazy, developing a disused tin mining area.
Ho: I am sure there were skeptics but I didn't do it for the sake of vindication. Sometimes we are our own worst skeptics. Ten years ago, I knew what we had to do if we wanted to build Banyan Tree. I was 40, there was not much time left. So we set out to do two things – build a sustainable brand so that people would come to us for our experience, rather than our low costs, and build a global company.

I think now we are at the door of a new threshold. Hopefully we will be able to open the door and walk through it and become a serious player.

Q: Is there anything you would have done differently, on hindsight, with Laguna Phuket?
Ho: Not really. We did it in a cautious manner. We spent a lot of time in the late 80s and early 90s, at the height of the Japanese boom, visiting Waikaloa and other resorts in Hawaii, those built by Chris Hemmeter. We saw the writing on the wall then – it was the end of the boom, and we knew we must not develop it the same way. We must stage it and do things slowly and make sure that all the things that are integrated do not put cost loading on the resort because you are sustained only by the room rate.

Q: You built Asia's first integrated resort. Will it also be your last?
Ho: We tried it in Bintan and, if not for the problems Indonesia had, it would have worked. An integrated resort's not an easy thing and we don't have much interest in doing another one.

Q: What do you think will be your challenges over the next 10 years?
Ho: They will be the challenges of growth – financial and people. If you get carried away and are not prudent enough, if you over-expand and then something cataclysmic happens, you could have a hit to your business. So we have to ensure that even as we expand, we do not over-reach ourselves.

Fortunately, I have good people who tell me what we can't do because we don't have the money.

The other challenge – people – is a social issue. Can Banyan Tree deliver the same experience in Greece, Morocco or Dubai or are we too Asian a brand? Can we maintain our standards even when we are in Mexico?

Q: Where do you see Banyan Tree Holdings 10 years from now?
Ho: The largest hospitality investor in Thailand through Laguna Resort Holdings and we want to identify niches and spaces within the hospitality, retail and lifestyle area where we can aspire to be among the top three players.

About The Author
Yeoh Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd.
Her company's mission is "Content, Communication, Connection". She is a writer, speaker, facilitator, trainer and events producer. She is also an author, having published "Around Asia In 1 Hr: Tales of Condoms, Chillies & Curries". Her motto is ‘free to do, and be'.

In addition, she writes an exclusive weekly column for 4Hoteliers.com on news, trends and issues in the global hospitality industry and interviews with leading personalities.

Contacts: Tel: 65-63424934, Mobile: 65-96801460

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