Starwood targets expansion in recovering Thailand

Starwood Hotels & Resorts is continuing to expand its portfolio in Thailand, as the country’s tourism recovery gathers pace.

At an event in Bangkok on Friday, Starwood’s president for Asia Pacific, Stephen Ho, confirmed that the company has signed its first W Resort in Phuket, the announcement of which comes just a week after the unveiling of plans for the first Sheraton in Koh Samui.

Stephen Ho
Stephen Ho, Starwood’s president for Asia Pacific

And talking to Travel Daily, Ho said that despite the country’s recent problems, he has confidence in long-term future of Thailand.

“We came into Thailand in the ’70s and this has been one of the key markets we’ve been focusing on,” Ho told Travel Daily in an interview. “We’re doing a lot to increase our footprint and we’d like to do more. We have development teams visiting here almost every month. We are always on the look-out for new opportunities.”

And with Bangkok now containing eight of Starwood’s nine brands, Ho said the company would focus more on expanding in the country’s resort destinations.

“In Bangkok… we’re still continuing to look for new opportunities. Other than that, we’re looking to develop in resorts. For example, we don’t have a Sheraton in Phuket and that’s definitely something we’ll be pursuing very aggressively.

“We’re actually the largest resort operator in Asia Pacific, with over 70 resorts in operation. So that is a key element.”

In terms of the recent downturn, Ho said that while Starwood’s Thai occupancy has suffered, hotels in the country’s resort destinations have “rebounded very quickly”.

Starwood is planning to expand in Thailand's resort destinations, such as Phuket
Starwood is planning to expand in Thailand’s resort destinations, such as Phuket

“Obviously when martial law was declared [we saw a downturn], but also the recovery has been very fast. Once people realised that the new regime wasn’t doing too bad a job, [they] started to get more confident.

“Even in Bangkok we’re seeing a very strong recovery. We worked with our global sales office in putting [together] a very robust recovery plan for Thailand. And I think that once martial law is lifted we will be very bullish about Thailand,” he added.

One key factor that limited the damage in Thailand for Starwood was its brand recognition in China. As Thailand’s largest visitor source market, mainland China now contributes a “low double-digit” percentage of Starwood’s occupancy in Thailand. And Ho revealed that Chinese business, especially in resort destinations with direct connectivity, has been “extremely resilient”.

Starwood was the first international hotel brand to enter mainland China when it opened a Sheraton in Beijing in the 1980s, and the company has since generated a strong following among Chinese guests.

“It’s helped us not only in Thailand, but everywhere. We want people to know our brand, so when they travel that gives us the advantage to be able bring people here as well, both for MICE business and leisure. We have been able to build this into the recovery plan,” Ho said.

Outside Thailand, Ho also confirmed that Starwood is looking at “several opportunities” to open its first hotel in Myanmar.

“We’ve been looking at the market since it opened up and we have development people going there regularly. We’re looking at several opportunities. Obviously we’d like to get in as soon as possible,” he said.

In terms of possible destinations, Ho added that Yangon was “obviously the top choice” but that he is also looking at “several potential projects… throughout Myanmar”. These are likely to be upper-upscale properties, under the Sheraton, Westin or Le Meridien brands.

“We hope that in the not too distant future we can make an announcement,” Ho said.

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