Deep dive with Yuthachai Charanachitta, CEO, Onyx Hospitality Group

With Thailand-headquartered Onyx Hospitality Group recently previewing a promising pipeline, we caught up with the CEO to see where hotel developments will be focused.

Yuthachai Charanachitta outlined why aparthotels and conversions will be particularly prevalent in the company’s plans. 

What does Onyx’s overall hotel pipeline look like and how has this progressed over recent years?

Onyx is planning to open at least 11 properties over the next couple of years. We are on track to have 54 properties in our portfolio by 2025. Last year we introduced six properties – with the openings of Amari Kuala Lumpur, Amari Spice Penang, Shama Yen-Akat Bangkok and Y-Hotel in Hong Kong. We also converted two existing properties to the Shama brand with Shama Petchburi 47 Bangkok and Shama Ekamai Bangkok.  

Will you be looking at expanding any particular brands or will growth be across your portfolio?

Each of our brands caters to a different audience and as such we have a broad range of offering for potential owners and investors. Amari is our core full-serviced upper-upscale brand and performs well in both urban and resort locations. Ozo is our lifestyle brand, also offering a strong proposition in urban and resort locations. Shama is our growing regional serviced apartment brand which caters to short- and extended-stay guests in search of homelike comforts, competing with brands like Ascott and Somerset. 

Why is your geographical focus on southeast Asia at the moment, in particular, Malaysia?

As a Thai-based company and Malaysia being our neighbour, it is a natural progression to our expansion. Malay travellers have been within the top 10 source markets to our properties in Thailand so there was an existing awareness of our brands, in particular, Amari. This led us to open our first property, Amari Johor Bahru, with our partner UMLand. Malaysia is also known for its hospitality, as there is a growing economy with a rising need for our hospitality services. 

Which other regions or countries do you think have the most potential for hotel development?

For our core brands, we are looking to continue expansion in our homebase Thailand and countries where we have an existing footprint including Malaysia, Laos, Hong Kong, Maldives but are also looking into new territories including Singapore and Indonesia. Especially for the Ozo brand, we see potential in key cities across southeast Asia including Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Vientiane, Singapore and Hong Kong.

What hotel segments have you identified as being most promising for expansion?

Shama, our serviced apartment brand, currently poses a very strong investment proposition as it’s a high-yield proposition with many extended-stay guests and higher profit margins. Shama also offers three sub brands creating a broader serviced apartment offering, with Shama Luxe, Shama and Shama Hub

Will you be focusing more on newbuilds or conversions?

Conversions, especially of serviced apartments for our Shama brands, are relatively straightforward to do. As such, they are very attractive investment propositions for owners and operators like Onyx.

Are you intending to launch any additional brands soon?

Our current house of brands is pretty comprehensive, we have luxury, upper-upscale, upscale and serviced apartments all under our umbrella. In the future we would like to expand Oriental Residence, our branded luxury residences, but we hope to expand this portfolio with further city and resort properties throughout Asia Pacific. 

Are you looking at any mergers, acquisitions or joint ventures?

Of our current portfolio, Onyx owns 15 properties with the remaining under management contracts. When it comes to Onyx investing in any property, partnership is key with long term in mind. Whether this is growing with our current partners like UMLand and SP Setia in Malaysia or Panchshil Realty based in India, with which we are opening Amari Raaya Maldives this summer.

What are the advantages and drawbacks of the current southeast Asian hotel development market?

The Asian hotel market has always been incredibly competitive. All brands are here, so operators like us have to work hard on our brand offering and guest experiences, going beyond the cookie cutter approach to hospitality. We can tap into our over five-decade experience operating in the region, so we know what we are doing. That said, we will have to work hard to evolve our offering to keep up with market expectations. 

How do you see Onyx progressing over the coming years?

I can see a huge boom in the development of the Shama brand. Post-pandemic we are seeing a big increase in demand for apartment-style accommodation from short-, extended- and long-stay guests. This, coupled with the potentially strong return for investors, is making it a strong proposition currently, with interest in southeast Asia, but also countries like India. We are also about to launch our second property in the Maldives. We are very experienced at running resort properties, so this is another area I can see growth for potentially Amari, Ozo and even Shama.