Talking Business: Travis White, Minor Hotel Group

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• Can you give us a brief career history?
 "After finishing my Master of Science in Government from London School of Economics, I worked for AIG out of New York and Hong Kong for five years in credit risk management, before joining Minor Hotel Group in 2006. I have concentrated on growing the hotel management asset portfolio under the various hotel brands and have completed 68 hotel management contracts for Anantara, AVANI, Per Aquum and Oaks branded properties. Working here has been exciting and challenging and I will never get tired of seeing the doors open on a hotel that started as an empty land plot and a few sketches on a napkin."
 
• What were the main reasons for MHG to purchase the Oaks brand in 2011?
 "We saw this as an opportunity to enter a new market segment through a platform acquisition with a good price multiple. The purchase gave us access to the Australian market, access to experienced serviced apartment operators and has allowed us to leverage our own operation and distribution infrastructure to bring the brand into Asia, the Middle East and Africa."
 
• What is the typical mix of business v leisure customers in the Oaks portfolio?
 "Generally speaking, serviced apartments are more heavily weighted towards business travellers, but the mix will vary for each property. We also have branded residences under 'lease-back' in resort destinations where we rely almost entirely on leisure guests. Guests are looking for more space when travelling with friends and family (sometimes for longer periods of time) and these are important customers for Oaks. The traditional hotel business model gets very expensive if you are looking for a two-bedroom suite, but like AirBnB, the serviced apartment model provides a reasonable alternative for this segment."
 
• When we spoke in Dubai in October you talked about the potential for rolling out the Oaks brand in new territories. Since then you've announced the first Oaks property in India - what else do you have in the Oaks pipeline and which other markets do you see as a good fit for the brand?
"We are working on deals across Asia, the Middle East and Africa, so please stay tuned! What I like about the Oaks brand is that we take a developer's objectives and look at the market and then tailor the facilities and services around those variables. We can run a 'lean-and-mean', high-GOP, low maintenance operation, but we can also spec out great F&B concepts, higher levels of service, and other facilities and services, depending on what revenue generating opportunities are identified."

"As such, Oaks works in various contexts and settings - whether it is a prime, downtown location offering high-end long-stay accommodation to corporate clients; a converted apartment building offering serviced residences under management letting rights; a resort with a kids club and a spa blending long-stay clients with the higher-yielding short stay customers; or a serviced apartment sharing facilities and creating operating synergies with an upscale AVANI hotel. We like to adapt and we work with our clients to provide them with what is right for their asset, wherever it may be located."
 
• Do you see an increasing demand for branded residence product in your pipeline of upscale hotel projects? If so, where is there most demand?
 "We have seen demand for branded residences shift from luxury to upscale products and we have also witnessed a shift by developers from mono-line hotels to mixed-use properties. Markets like the UAE, Vietnam, Korea, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are all popular locations for mixed-use assets. Some people want to buy branded units for capital appreciation; some want to have properties where they can holiday for a fixed number of days per year; and some are looking simply for a return on investment. Branded residences can be very attractive to developers because it can significantly improve a project IRR, but with higher reward comes higher risk, which we can help developers manage."
 
• Do you have any plans to enter the serviced apartment or branded residence space in Europe or the US?
"We plan to bring our various hotel brands (including serviced apartments and branded residences) into Europe and the Americas. Entering Europe and the US has been a challenge for many Asian hospitality brands, so this is not something we are approaching lightly. The key challenges are building scale and operating capacity. We believe that our recent acquisition of the Tivoli brand and infrastructure in Portugal and Brazil will help position us to operate in these markets successfully."

www.minorinternational.com

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