This week, Travel Daily’s Managing Director, Gary Marshall, chats face-to-face with Singha Estate’s Chief Investment Officer, Thiti Thongbenjamas, about his company’s plans for the new Emboodhoo Lagoon development in the Maldives…
Q) What impact do you believe this project will have on the Maldivian tourism economy?
Obviously we’re a developer and one of the key items is the investment outcome. In addition we are looking at international development – as you know we have 29 hotels in the UK and we want to diversify our investment into other locations. Everyone wants to be in the Maldives, especially investors and management companies.
As a country, were going to provide more than 5,000 jobs. Being very closely to Malé, it has allowed people not to travel far to work; these individuals can go to their family on a daily basis and enjoy what family life is about – a nice dinner and family time – then they can come to our site the next day.
Q) Will this development expand the country’s appeal, in terms of the visitors it attracts?
It definitely will, the reason being that the luxury market in Maldives has changed. National inbound has shift from more than 50% in Europe to Asia Pacific. The landscape of the type of customer coming in and the offering are mismatched.
Historically, the luxury segment declined by 18% but the upscale and midscale segments have increased in terms of ADR and occupancy. Supply is not very available. We want to concentrate this project on midscale family up to upscale segments so that people can visit this place more than once in a lifetime – it could be a weekend trip.
Q) How will the guest experience differ from the classic Maldivian holiday experience, in terms of vacation type, lengths-of-stay etc?
I often speak to my wife about my work. When we spoke about the Maldives, she said it was beautiful but that she would get bored. I said; “What if you are able to come for a few days but at the same time you can do your shopping, and the kids can go and swim?” She said “That would be great!
That’s how we came up with this product. When people come they can balance their life – they can really enjoy what the Maldives has to offer and by the same token when they want to they can come and enjoy what their daily lifestyle has to offer.
Q) What challenges do you face in developing this project?
The initial island creation was one of the big challenges. The next one is to complete the phase one project by the middle of next year. It’s already difficult enough to complete a township and two hotels and 400 keys on a mainland – it’s even more difficult to complete this in the middle of the Indian Ocean where everything has to be imported.
As Singh Estate company, we own 51% of the fabrication factories with know-how from Japan. We will prefabricate as much as we can at our factories in Bangkok and have it assembled here, from foundation to roof.
Q) Hard Rock International has already committed to the project; will you be targeting other hotel brands from different market segments (midscale, luxury – even economy) – in future?
We want this particular project to be emotionally-driven. Hard Rock Hotels is about music and lifestyle. The Transit Hotel, which will be announced soon, will be another type of offering: mid-market with a little bit of excitement at a very affordable level. We will also cater to honeymooners and couples who want tranquillity and privacy.
With all those experiences in mind, different brands offer different emotional experiences – I will announce more in due time.
Q) What, for you, is the single most exciting element to the project?
Good question! I’ve been in the hotel industry for the last 25 years. Originally I started as architect and went into the hotel industry as a finance intern with IHG then picked up marketing.
Because of my background, this particular project infused a lot my past experience into one project. Is it a challenge? Yes. Is it above and beyond what I’m able to accomplish? It would be if I didn’t have the right company behind me and the support from the Maldivian people and the team. The difficult part is getting these various elements of people to work in one direction.
Obviously this is the largest integrated resort project of any Thai company outside Thailand. Most of the team is based in Bangkok; being able to provide them with the drive and the knowledge to accomplish this is one of the challenges, however we have completed our first milestone and we’re doing extremely well. I’m confident that we’ll get to the next milestone with fewer obstacles.