The largest hotel group in Thailand isn’t Centara Hotels and Resorts – yet – but the company’s vision is to reach that number one position in the near future, and the new man driving operations forward is Markland Blaiklock. Hotelintel.co enjoyed a lengthy chat with Markland in Bangkok this week to find out what lies in store for Centara.
130-140 New Properties in Five Years
As of today, Centara operates 45 properties, with the major growth coming in the managed sector. There are also 32 new projects in the pipeline, while Markland believed that “the target would be around 130 or 140 in the next five years.” At present only 15 of the hotels are actually owned by Centara, with 13 in Thailand and two in the Maldives, but this looks set to change.
“For expansion we’re looking overseas, and one of the main drivers is not to have everything in one market. In Thailand we think of two markets – corporate Bangkok and then the resorts – so in a year like last year when the corporates suffered tremendously, having the hotels in the Maldives was great in terms of balancing the negative effects here with positive effects there.”
We asked Markland which other countries had attracted Centara’s attention.
“We have a hotel in Sri Lanka and we’d like to invest and manage other properties in Sri Lanka. We’ve gone from operating one hotel in Bali to five or six other projects there. We should be opening the Centara Crystal on the Bay in Bali this year, and we’re also looking in Indonesia at Surabaya, Yogyakarta and Jakarta itself. We’re actively looking at Myanmar; if we were only focusing on new builds we’d be a bit late but if we take over existing properties we’ll be in the market right now. We’re hot to get in there, so rebranding is a way to get to market faster.”
Although Asia is the evidently the main focus, Centara’s ambitions might extend as far as Europe.
“We’re interested in anywhere we have feeder markets, so London is a priority because it’s a strategic city and the UK is such a strong feeder market. We would be prepared to invest there, or manage, but obviously in London you will generally not get the kind of returns you get in this part of the world because the costs are so high, so it would be mostly a strategic move.”
What’s the Essence of a Brand?
In addition to the plans for overseas expansion, there is also work to be done domestically in Thailand. At present there are four main brands under the Centara umbrella: Centara, Centara Grand, Centra and Cosi. Some people might find all these similar names rather confusing, but Markland pointed out that “there is a very specific physical difference, or product difference, which maybe needs to be shared. The core brand is Centara, and Centara Grand is a grander version, with larger rooms and a higher level of luxury. Centra is a completely different name; it’s a three-star brand with limited services and smaller room sizes. One element we’re working on is what the essence of the brand is. That will be rolled out later this year to give the customer a better understanding of the differences.”
The fourth brand, Cosi, is designed as a two-star product but hasn’t yet been brought to market. “We hope to start building one this year and the Cosi model shouldn’t take more than nine months to build. We prefer to launch with our own hotel so we can control all aspects and make sure it’s the prototype we want it to be.”
The Greatest Challenge
With all these expansion and brand differentiation strategies in place, we finally had to ask Markland what he saw as the biggest challenge he would personally face. The answer came without hesitation: “to adapt the organization in terms of scale to be able to give the support that the growing number of hotels requires.” If everything goes to plan he’ll certainly be a busy man..