Deep dive with Dillip Rajakarier, CEO, Minor Hotels

Minor Hotels’ strategic plan over the coming years will see the group’s brands cross-pollinate globally, so we sat down with the CEO to get the inside track.

Dillip Rajakarier further revealed that the firm will also be pushing its umbrella group branding to the fore to ensure Minor Hotels is recognised all over the world.

Vibrant pipeline

One of the key elements of the Thai-headquartered group’s strategy is a vibrant pipeline of about 50 properties delivering over the next two years. Across eight lines – NH Hotels, NH Collection, nhow, Tivoli Hotels & Resorts, Anantara Hotels & Resorts, Avani, Elewana Collection and Oaks Hotels & Resorts – more than 10,000 rooms will be added to the portfolio.

Around half of these forthcoming sites will be in Europe, with a major proportion heading to Asia Pacific and the Middle East and a smattering in the Americas.

Rajakarier detailed: “We’ve already opened seven Anantaras in Europe and we have a strong pipeline, including sites in Dublin, Ireland and on the Amalfi coast in Italy. We should get to about 10 by the end of the year.

“However we only have one Avani in Europe so we are hoping to launch about six or seven in the next two years.”

Brand synergies

Following Minor’s acquisition of the NH Hotels Group in 2018, the combined group had a substantial presence in both Europe and Asia, and the overall organisation is now cross-pollinating these brands to maximum benefit.

Rajakarier outlined: “We have taken NH out of Europe and South America to Asia and the Middle East. We have a strong Asia-based clientele and we can introduce them to our European brands. Bringing our European brands to our customers in Asia is very important, and likewise for Anantara has a strong following in Asia so we can bring that to Europe. It’s a great opportunity for our brands.

“When we acquired NH we didn’t overlap in any countries, it gave us all-new locations and made us a global group – we’re now one of the top 10 in the world.”

Umbrella emphasis

Another crucial plank of its expansion plan is a focus on Minor Hotels as the group’s umbrella identity. “There will be a lot more synergy across our brands due to them all sitting under the Minor Hotels umbrella mothership, it will allow us to implement schemes such as loyalty programmes within the group,” said Rajakarier.

“Historically we had a very keen focus on each individual brand, setting them up in the marketplace. But now they are more established in their market segments we have the opportunity to go back and refocus on Minor Hotels as the umbrella brand and leverage across all of our eight lines.”

Soft focus

So does Rajakarier think the group’s current portfolio of hotel brands covers all market requirements? “I think there is a lot of demand in the marketplace for us to come up with some soft brands,” he responded.

“Some sites don’t really fit into our brands, so there is more pressure from our investors to come up with soft brands where properties want to maintain their identity. So we are exploring soft brands and we may create some in the future.”

Constant vigilance

As to whether further expansion would be accomplished by more merger or acquisition activity, Rajakarier noted: “We always continue to look and we are very opportunistic. All our deals so far have been ideal – and carried out below the radar.

“If it’s an acquisition, we always consider what value it is going to add to our existing portfolio in terms of customer base, locations, people and earnings because we are a publicly listed company. Those are our criteria.”

China connection

More growth scope could be found for Minor in China, in part thanks to the hotel management joint venture it signed with Funyard Hotels & Resorts for the country in 2021. This agreement oversees business development, hotel operations, as well as the sales and marketing functions of seven Minor Hotels brands in China.

“That has given us a huge opportunity in terms of hotels opening up in China,” said Rajakarier. Although he acknowledged that development there had slowed during the pandemic, he revealed: “In spite of that, we signed 16 hotels in China last year. We have strong traction there because the Chinese understand our brands and they want global brands.”

Rajakarier cited Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and other resort destinations as being on Minor’s wish list for development, adding: “Country Garden, the biggest developer in China, is able to get some really nice hotels to us which we manage under joint venture.”

He further noted that there are many greenfield sites available in China, as compared to Europe, the Middle East and other Asian nations, where conversions are more common.

Location criteria

Regarding considerations when Minor is deciding where and what brand to develop globally, Rajakarier summarised: “It depends on location and how many hotels we have nearby. We are quite careful as we don’t want to cannibalise or dilute our brands by opening too many in one place.

“For example, Anantaras will always go into gateway cities, and there will be maybe one or two in each city. Avanis and NHs we can leverage more because of our distribution. So it’s not about flags on the map, it’s about quality, that’s our focus.”

In relation to attracting investors, he mentioned: “We’re looking at an investment in the Maldives with an investment partner, who is positive about it because our expectations are high. I always say to our partners, if it meets our expectations you will be so happy because we will definitely exceed your expectations. If any locations don’t meet our expectations, then we pass.”

Supplier standards

When Minor chooses which suppliers to work with on each project, Rajakarier asserted: “We look at it by country. Our brands are not cookie cutter, our main focus is to incorporate the local culture and architecture. 

“So whenever we look at projects we will look at local architects and designers to ensure that locality is weaved into the hotel. We don’t work with one architect or designer across the board because we want to create that different experience, a sense of place.”

In terms of ESG, all Minor’s suppliers have to sign a code of conduct. “We make sure they are reputable and that traceability is there as well, because one of our core pillars is sustainability,” Rajakarier recounted. “Our supply chain goes through a vigorous appointment process.”

Top trends

Minor is constantly monitoring trends in the hotel market to inform its developmental direction and Rajakarier identified slow travel, wellness, extended stay, children’s’ facilities and allying cultural experiences around a hotel site as proving popular at the moment.

For the coming years he sees: “More experiential travel, more generational travel and more Millennial travel. Our customer segments and our guest expectations are changing as they are becoming more savvy. We need to up our game as we go, otherwise we’ll be left out.”