September and October will be busy months for luxury hotel operator Anantara; with launches planned in Dubai and Siem Reap, both of which lie ahead of rebranding a just-acquired property in Bazaruto, Mozambique. While busy, there is no doubt that the effort is likely to be rewarding.
Messages coming out of the company are positive too. Sources within the group hope openings will be wrapped up in time for the Southern summer and Christmas/New Year breaks.
The chairman and CEO of parent company Minor Group, explained at the King’s Cup Elephant Polo in Hua Hin, that the company’s growth would be in cities, and interestingly, a major part of that focus would be on Africa.
The Mozambique resort is just the start of the African push however, with the company aiming to take both its Avani and Oak brands to the continent as part of its bigger strategic picture. The firm – on both a company and group level – is being cautious with regard to markets – at least according to its chief.
“Anantara is an international brand but we are not trying to go to Europe and America,” he explained. “We are looking at Myanmar but you can be too early. It’s worth seeing how things pan out regarding property prices and legislation.”
The reasoning behind the market decisions is a sound one: Europe and the US are the most mature hospitality markets in the world, with both representing a challenge that would not offer the investment-to-gain ratio that emerging markets are boasting right now. However, the race into Myanmar is well underway. Heinecke admits that country is on his radar, but, while some hoteliers are throwing caution to the wind during such an embryonic stage of the country’s development – will their gamble pay off?
Anantara is an international brand but we are not trying to go to Europe and America
Indonesia is another market Minor is considering. Already the owner of two impressive properties in Bali, it is looking to add four others there and is exploring Jakarta for a city hotel, where it is feels important to have the brand.
Even in Thailand, Anantara’s and Minor’s home base, expansion is planned. The group currently has two Avani hotels slated to open in Bangkok before the end of the year and another property in Koh Samui. Even with an element of caution over rates and prices. The company is also looking at a property in Trang but believes a marketing push is needed before the investment could be justified.
Heinecke himself is diplomatic, conceding only that rates in Bangkok, with it’s over inventory status, mean “there is a bit of a challenge”.
Anantara, he points out, has been able to gain from higher rates in destinations such as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and by intermingling resorts with city hotels, even in the cities it serves by ensuring that prices don’t outstrip value for money.
Another part of its response is to create unique experiences for guests.
The example given by Dilip Rajkarrier CEO of Anantara is to use hotels and their local environment to generate different experiences, rather than relying on nearly identical properties and services.
Rajkarrier jokes that CEO’s need to see themselves less as executives and more as ‘chief experience officers’.
Chiang Rai and the use of the elephants and their mahouts as a guest experience is something Anantara has created as part of its branding and corporate and social responsibility.
“We set it up, make sure it is clean and hygienic,” he explains. “It is unique and no-one else does it.”
It’s a great example of marrying product with experience. Something that Anantara is mastering in its home markets and is now looking to take on a campaign of expansion around the world.