Successful Thai Hotel… Brand Blissfully Claims Higher

In the extremely competitive Bangkok hotel market where practically all major international management brands are well-entrenched it was a pleasant surprise to stumble across a Thai one which is steadily gain ground.

This up-and-coming Thai brand is Bliston which first built itself up at the well-know Bliston Suwan Park View Residence Suite and Hotel near Chidlom skytrain station and is now managing two more hotels – Baan KResidence and Viva Garden with the latter being a recent addition to the portfolio.

Similar to a host of textile companies that in recent years have drifted to property and hotel businesses Bliston’s owner, Suwan Group, also did so about nine years ago with the opening of its 152-room downtown hotel and about five years after that it terminated a management contract with an international brand in order to itself take the helm and expand.

Kijja Laowsuwan, Bliston Property Management Company’s general manager said recently that Suwan Group has a four-decade-old yarn and grey fabric factory is in Samut Sakorn province while also owning and operating Suwan Golf and Country Club in Nakhon Pathom and The Circle Ratchapruek community mall.

What is interesting about the new Bliston property, Viva Garden, is its location on the eastern fringes of the metropolis just a few steps away from Bangchak Skytrain Station with this adding to the massive build up of the whole stretch from Sukhumvit Soi 71 all the way to Soi 107 in recent years. Many property developers already foresaw the potential of this area and have steadily launched numerous condominium buildings priced lower than the offering in downtown proper.

However as hotel competition in Bangkok is really fierce at the moment one does have to have something special to attract guests and Mr. Kijja said Viva Garden does so by offering specious 90-square-meter one-bedroom suites which have a pantry in one corner of the large living room. This new hotel also has a swimming pool, deck and garden in a secluded area at the rear of the building.

“The location of all properties we manage has to be easily accessible be it by road or public transportation – Skytrain and the underground.

“Secondly the rooms have to be good and by good I mean better than others in the same price range

“If you can’t beat them on facilities you have to do so in room size”

While building up a Thai brand is challenging, Mr. Kijja pointed out that local ones have an edge over international chains and this is particularly so in term of getting along with the property owners.

“While international brands have their strengths, we have ours too and we understand the owners because we are on both sides – we own a building while also managing properties.

“International brands are quite strict about managing a hotel – you have to invest in furnishing a certain type of room and have a theme that matches their brand.

“But we try to operate an existing property by working out how it could function as a hotel and serviced residence. Of course we do this without the owner having to invest a lot in refurbishing all the rooms again.”

Those determined to get a global brand should rope one in just when the contruction begins because doing so later means having to spend a lot more money in making changes. Mr. Kijja added that it is not only the rooms that have to meet their standard with the contract too usually being as they want it and the cost is higher than a local label.

“While there are successful international brands, there are also many that have failed. And although it usually looks good to the owner, in the end there is nothing left because while the income is good the expenses are also high.”

He succinctly added that global brands have a host of hotels in the portfolio and might find it difficult to please all the owners while Bliston does tend to select clients and ensure that they don’t compete in the same segment.

It is well-know that no matter how tough a market there will always be investors keen on jumping in with this definitely applying to hotel business but these potential investors are warned that this is a long term undertaking and they should not expect a quick return on their investment.

Management contracts too are long term and although Bliston accepts a five-year term the marketing standard is 10 years, sometimes even 12 years. Of course there is an exit clause if the management fails to deliver what is promised in the contract.

“We normally table a business plan to the owner to consider and we have to follow this plan. If we can’t deliver then we have to sit down and talk about why we cannot do so.”

While competing as best they can, Bliston Property Management does draw the line on reducing room rates to pull guests with charges levied at Viva Garden being on par with internationally – branded establishments.

“Consumer habits have changed and they no longer follow the brand and mostly now focus on the product.”

“Previously guests had to book through agencies but today they can do so directly via the internet.”

Although there is no denying the global impact of the lingering western economic problems with all spheres of life being affected, Mr. Kijja pointed out that although some groups of customers have had to cut their hotel budget and find cheaper accommodation others continue to require a better-branded hotel.

“Although there is an impact it is not a total one, it is not that only three-star hotels are selling well because the price is not the only factor with quality too counting.”

Being very pleased with what he has achieved so far Mr. Kijja is now looking ahead to expanding to neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

While Myanmar is currently attracting a lot of attention from all types of investors, he pointed out that it would not be easy to enter Myanmar and there would continue to be uncertainly as well as a certain amount of fluctuation.

 cr: By Post@Post, The Bangkok Post Classified 7-8/04/12

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