TravelDailyNews : How is the evolution of Asian markets for Best Western? Are they winning and losing destinations?
Glenn de Souza : In the Asian Region, Best Western International is expanding in a majority of countries We currently have 125 hotels and resorts operating in Asia, but we have almost 50 more either in the process of being developed, converted or also rebranded. Among the destinations on the sharpest growth trajectory is Indonesia, in which we will be opening 20 new hotels in the coming years, with debuts in key cities such as Bandung or Surabaya – planned for 2015, while we are developing new properties in Jakarta but also in Pontianak and Banjarmasin in Kalimantan or in Palu (Sulawesi), Semarang and Solo (Central Java).
Malaysia will also see at least eight new Best Western Hotels in the coming years while another six are in the pipeline in the Philippines and five in Thailand. And not to forget finally Bangladesh that we consider as a key growth market with our portfolio in the country expected to grow from one to five hotels within two years time.
TDN : How large is Best Western International portfolio today in Asia? What are the top countries?
Glenn de Souza : Our largest Asian markets in terms of existing portfolio size are China (36 hotels), India (23), Japan (15), Thailand and Indonesia (12). But as explained above, our fastest growing markets are Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Bangladesh. We however see two other markets with tremendous potential: Myanmar and Sri Lanka. We have recently been in Myanmar the first US hotel group to be present in the country, since it opened up to the outside world. We inaugurated late last year the Best Western Green Hill Hotel in Yangon and the hotel is performing well. We will debut our Best Western Premier brand later this year with a second property in Nay Pyi Taw and we have high hopes for this property. We are always on the lookout for new opportunities and destinations including more hotels in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw but also in Mandalay, Bagan and Lake Inle, although we have no further firm plans to reveal at this stage. We will also debut in Sri Lanka this year and see further growth opportunities there.
TDN : Are some of your brands growing faster than others?
Glenn de Souza : In terms of product, our Asian expansion is being driven by all three of our brand tiers, including midscale Best Western, upscale Best Western Plus and luxury Best Western Premier. In recent years we have launched new flagship hotels in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Bali under the Best Western Premier banner and we expect to enter more key markets such as Nay Pyi Taw in the future.
TDN : Looking at Thailand, how did Best Western react to the political instability? Does the company slowdown potential investments or delay hotel opening? Are you also pushing upcountry destinations?
Glenn de Souza : Of course the situation in Bangkok is not ideal. Best Western International has its regional headquarters in Bangkok and we feel close affinity with Thailand and Thai people. We only hope that the country works out its differences quickly and peacefully. Naturally we experienced a slowdown at our five properties in Central Bangkok but we are fortunate to have a nationwide network of 12 properties covering six destinations. Consequently, business at our properties in Phuket has been relatively unaffected. Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are also faring well. We see further growth potential in Thailand in traditional destinations such as Chiang Mai and Hua Hin and also in Rayong, a destination which needs to be however more promoted.
Most inbound markets are holding up well, especially those from Europe, the USA and Australasia. We noticed meanwhile a decrease in intra-regional business from markets such as Singapore. But I firmly believe that the long-term outlook for Thailand is incredibly positive.
TDN : How about the Philippines following last year typhoon?
Glenn de Souza : Typhoon Haiyan caused some minor structural damage at our hotels in Cebu and Boracay but all our properties in the Philippines are now fully operational once more. Our confidence towards the country is undiminished aand we plan to launch six new hotels across the Philippines in the next two years including two new properties in Cebu.
TDN : Are they Asia Pacific markets where Best Western International want to establish a stronger presence?
Glenn de Souza : Our regional development is very much on track. But we would naturally consider some of the exciting new and emerging markets in the region where Best Western is not currently present. This could include Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Mandalay, Phnom Penh and also Bhutan, although we have no firm plans to announce for the time being.