Banyan Tree speeds up expansion to stay ahead – interview with CEO Abid Butt

How has your company performed so far in 2015 and what are your expectations for the rest of the year?

As an international hospitality operator with global presence, we are naturally affected by worldwide events.  In recent years, the global economy has experienced plunging oil prices, fluctuating currency valuations, peaks and valleys in global markets coupled with social unrest in some parts of the world.  As a result of diversified feeder markets in our portfolio, we have been able to perform well. External factors notwithstanding, we are pursuing an aggressive growth strategy focusing on building sustainable income streams with a multi-brand business approach.  With several hotels currently operating under the Banyan Tree and Angsana brands, the first Cassia (our third brand) will commence operations in Phuket in October along with the official launch of our 4th hotel brand later this year.

Has any particular region performed better than expected?

China continues to be one of our strongest growth regions.  Over the next five years, half of our new resort openings will be in China.  The emerging middle class and launch of our new brands, will present us an opportunity to grow in markets with high barriers to entry.

Many of your hotels depend on Chinese travellers.  Have you noticed a particular trend in outgoing Chinese travellers?

Chinese travellers have developed into discerning guests over the last decade.  They seek authentic experiences in beautiful destinations whilst expecting hotels to understand and meet their cultural needs and nuances in terms of language and cuisine preferences.  Buying behaviours of the Chinese travellers are ever-evolving with one of the highest consumption of digital media in China.  Social media continues to be an important channel and motivating factor for the Chinese travellers, therefore we are putting focus on our social media efforts and digital marketing that caters specifically to the Chinese consumers and their requirements.

Which are your top 3 nationality consumers?

China, South Korea and the UK; followed by Hong Kong and USA.

What is your business operations approach to expansion? – franchising / management / ownership

We are one of the only hospitality groups in the world that creates 100% of guest experiences in-house – from master planning, architectural design and interior design to customer experiences, which in turn offers unique full service hospitality support and development opportunities to investors.  We own approximately 30% of our portfolio of hotels, whilst managing the remaining, representing approximately 4,600 rooms in total.   We have adopted an asset-light philosophy and look for partnering with developers as operators.

Are there any particular regions you particularly target in terms of expansion? What is the ideal property you are seeking?

We have a strong footprint in Asia and continue to evaluate more opportunities in other emerging destinations within this region.  The Middle East, Europe and the Americas are focus areas, with a number of interesting projects developing across these regions.

How does Banyan Tree relate to lifestyle? What is the profile of the most loyal Banyan Tree consumer?

Banyan Tree endeavours to create memories for our guests through lifestyle experiences – our aim is to offer a ‘Sanctuary for the Senses’.   Our resorts offer emotional enrichment as a result of being in unique off the beaten path locations, we create meticulously designed resorts that reflect the local architecture whilst offering a high level of service that celebrates the local culture.  This lifestyle experience also extends an opportunity of investing in our resorts through the purchase of private residences.  Buyers enjoy all of the resort facilities as well as an attractive investment return, should they decide to participate in the rental programme.  The profile of a Banyan Tree customer varies depending on each hotel brand; however our guests tend to be business executives in their 40’s looking for a holiday escape with their loved ones in a stunning destination, where they can recharge and rejuvenate.

Spa is a key component of your offering. What is your current offering? Do you have plans for future innovative treatments?

From the very beginning, innovation has been at the heart of everything we have done.  From the introduction of ultimate privacy via our private pool villas to pioneering the “Tropical Garden” spa concept in our resorts.   Banyan Tree Spa continues to be a leading spa operator.  Our award-winning spas provide a unique blend of Asian healing therapies and beauty remedies within our own signature treatments.  Another signature offering is ‘The Rainforest’– a unique hydrotherapy facility attached to the spa where a 10-stage trail takes guests through hot and cold water therapies.

Human Resources is key to ensuring a high standard of customer service. In markets such as Dubai with a high turnover of staff, what is your company’s approach?

In 2008, we launched the Banyan Tree Management Academy, designed to equip our associates around the world with relevant skills, knowledge and capabilities.  Through the Academy, we identify and nurture talent with special courses such as the Management Development Programme (MDP) and Talent Management Programme (TMP) for career development and to identify future leaders of the organisation.

Mr Abid Butt initially joined Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts in year 2000 as Area General Manager for the Group’s flagship resort, Banyan Tree Phuket, followed by his appointment as the first Vice President of Operations.  In this capacity, Mr Butt oversaw operations and branding for existing hotels and resorts and the launch of new properties.

Prior to his current role, he was the Vice President for Asset Management of Host Hotels & Resorts in the United States, where he oversaw the preservation and asset enhancement of a collection of hotels.  He has also been affiliated with Sheraton Corporation and Benchmark Hospitality International during his hospitality career.  Mr Butt has been involved with many hotel openings, renovations and repositioning projects, along with working with a team to facilitate the launch of Four Points Hotels.

Abid Butt, CEO Banyan Tree