Centara Hotels & Resorts aims to be the go-to hotel chain in Thailand as well as grow its four brands globally to double its portfolio size in the next few years.
BANGKOK—The mission for Centara Hotels & Resorts is to become the “leading international hotel group of Thai origin,” said Andrew Langston, who took up his role of VP of business development in October 2018.
Langston’s goal is no small one. Fellow Thai hotels firm Minor International, which owns Portuguese chain Tivoli and Spanish chain NH Hotels, might well argue the point.
“If we can embody the strengths of Thai hospitality and locally adapt them to each of our destinations, we shall differentiate ourselves and be successful,” said Langston, who also touted the delights of Thai cuisine and the huge number of its international adherents.
Langston knows something about hospitality—and decorum—having worked for more than eight years at Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts but also, at the beginning of his career, as a footman at Buckingham Palace for Her Majesty The Queen and Princess Diana.
Currently, Centara’s open and development portfolio consists of 13,477 rooms and 68 assets, 45 of which are in Thailand.
Growth outside of its home market is key to expansion, Langston told Hotel News Now.
He said a total of 10 hotels comprising 1,294 rooms had been secured in 2018, and the company will double its existing stable to 134 hotels by 2022 via a five-year “multi-brand expansion strategy.”
It will be a business model of aggressive growth mostly via hotel management agreements, Langston said, adding that 19% of Centara’s portfolio is owned.
Its brands all begin with the letter “C”—the upper-upscale Centara Grand and the upscale Centara, which also has two sub-brands: midscale Centra and boutique-budget Cosi, the latter having debuted in 2017 and concentrating on both resort and urban locales.
It is not just about spades in the ground, Langston said.
“We will strengthen our core infrastructure, including operating platforms, technology and reputation. We want our systems to be best in class. … Centara also aims to increase international brand awareness using mass media, new media, event and relationship marketing,” he added.
Marketing for Cosi will target what Langston calls a “new generation of connected, freedom-loving, pricey-frill-hating travelers.”
Many of those hail from China, traditionally Thailand, which is Centara’s principal customer base, he said. Many of these guests “book on the day for the day,” he added.
“Roomnights for Chinese travelers increased 12% in 2017” for the company, which helped to drive a year-over-year increase of 19% in revenue, Langston said.
He noted that Chinese travelers to Thailand recently surpassed domestic travelers for the first time.
Langston added Chinese outbound demand did dip in the third and fourth quarters of 2018, but that numbers had since bounced back.
“The more we understand (Chinese travelers), the better we can serve them, and the more Chinese are aware of Centara. Success builds in itself,” he said.
Bangkok continues to benefit from being synonymous with overnights and longer breaks stemming from the Australian leg of the world’s long-haul air carriers, he said.
In Thailand, the resort destination of Krabi remains a focus, with three hotels open and another two, including the Centara Ao Nang Beach Resort & Spa Krabi, opening this year and next. All four of Centara’s brands will be present there, Langston said.
Elsewhere in Asia, Centara has presence in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, The Maldives, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, and discussions are active in Japan, he said.
Other markets farther afield are being looked at, he added.
Betting on Vietnam
Vietnam is one market that excites Langston.
“Vietnam is in a growth cycle in all disciplines. The main challenge there is to have infrastructure grow with supply,” he said.
Development in Vietnam will be helped by Centara’s listed parent company Central Group, a conglomerate with, among other interests, investment in shopping centers and whose guidance in 2018 earmarked total sales of $11.9 billion.
“(Central Group) is growing there, so it makes sense to grow with them,” Langston said.
“Hotel operations generally are not the same as shopping, but in Vietnam both are the same,” he said.
“The biggest challenge is spreading the word (about Centara) … looking for significant expansion globally over five-plus years while keeping our Thai origins,” he said.
In the Middle East, the company has assets in Oman and Qatar, with an asset in Dubai set to debut in 2020.
As the footprint expands, Langston said the firm might pursue developing a brand combining luxury and lifestyle, what he termed “ultra lux.”
“We see being Thai and Thai-centric as an asset, and we will grow via a mix of innovation and traditional HMAs,” he said. “And this will include consolidating (our) position as the largest homegrown hotel operator in Thailand.”