As a growing hotel industry media outlet, Hotelintel.co is used to attending hospitality conferences around the region. Tuesday March 1st, however, marked the realization of Hotelintel publisher Wimintra Jangnin’s desire to begin hosting such events – a natural step forward given her role in providing a platform to share information and bring people together.

The inaugural Hospitality Leadership Roundtable was held at the Oriental Residence, Bangkok, where the CEOs of the four leading Thai hospitality groups discussed the challenges faced by Thai brands as they seek to gain a stronger international presence. Moderated by Bill Barnett of C9 Hotelworks, the event saw Dillip Rajakarier (CEO of Minor Hotel Group), Peter Henley (CEO of Onyx Hospitality), Anthony McDonald (CEO of BHMAsia) and Rustom Vickers (VP Development of Dusit International) fielding questions from the audience and each other as they illuminated their different approaches to expanding their operations.

To assemble such a high caliber panel within such an intimate setting is testament to the intentions of Hotelintel.co to offer attendees a rare opportunity not only to listen as industry leaders share their expertise, but also to freely discuss matters of interest with the gentlemen themselves over the networking lunch immediately following the discussion.

Placing the four CEOs together to address the same questions allowed the audience to differentiate easily between the companies’ priorities, which were influenced by their own specific circumstances. Dusit, as the oldest Thai brand represented, had sought overseas expansion as a response both to the political and natural disasters which had befallen Thailand in recent years, and to the fact that there was little room left for further domestic expansion. Onyx, in contrast, had seen a generational change in the ownership and with younger, foreign-educated family members at the helm, forays overseas became the new direction. In contrast, Minor’s rapid overseas development was inspired by the desire to diversify, through an opportunistic approach in which earnings should always underpin investment. In all cases, however, brand recognition was cited as a critical factor behind the need to fly the flag abroad.

Sometimes there was disagreement. While Anthony was confident that in Bangkok, the Chao Phraya River would become increasingly important for tourism in the future with new retail developments drawing visitors, Peter took the view that its inaccessibility will continue to ensure that the river remains nothing more than a niche. Dillip, meanwhile, placed his faith in those Thai destinations which are as yet undiscovered by the mainstream.

Sometimes the questions drew a blank. Do guests watch TV anymore? Do we need a TV in the room these days – or what? Absent the ability to predict the technological future, this one seems to be a conundrum. Existing approaches become obsolete, while companies such as Anthony’s BHMAsia with new rooms in the pipeline are ideally placed to drive the contents of the hotel room of the future – but can today’s content ideas still deliver tomorrow’s profits, or has the pace of change finally outstripped the pace of planning?

Sometimes the panelists threw out new ideas. Dillip explained that Minor had seen an opportunity to enter the Indian market in the field of Buddhist tourism. Thai, Sri Lankan, Japanese and Chinese visitors make up a majority of those wishing to visit niche destinations such as Bodhgaya, and Minor will be serving this trend from later this year. Anthony, meanwhile, had introduced the promotion of unlimited spa services at his Koh Samui resort as a means of differentiation from the competition. And sometimes there was banter. Dillip told Anthony he’d visited a hotel in Vietnam that was offering unlimited spa services, and Anthony stated that that indeed was the source of inspiration for his idea.

Speaking at the conclusion of what was a very successful event, and undoubtedly the first of many, Wimintra Jangnin expressed her thanks to the panelists, moderator and invited guests, and also to the Oriental Residence whose staff created such a delightful ambience for the day. Finally, Wimintra drew attention to the support of sponsors CS Loxinfo, who are themselves taking a greater involvement in the hotel industry through their new ‘Hotel In One’ online management system, and whose contribution was greatly appreciated.