William E. Heinecke, founder of Minor International
Minor Hotels Group operating 155 hotels in 23 countries around the world is adding South Korea to its portfolio by bringing its fastest-growing hotel brand AVANI to the southern port city of Busan and is eager to expand in the hospitality business in Korea hopefully also with food venture, said chairman and CEO of the Thailand-based hospitality conglomerate.
“AVANI is a hotel brand about six years old. It is our fastest growing brand targeting the younger generation by offering plenty of spaces and five-star facilities to encourage people to live out of the room and experience the country,” said William E. Heinecke, founder of Minor International in an interview with the Maeil Business Newspaper during his first visit to Busan.
The hotel location in Busan, surrounded by beaches within the East Busan Tourism Complex that would also house a theme park, a department store, a shopping mall, an aquarium, a science museum as well as other entertainment facilities, makes it perfect for an AVANI venue, he said.
“I imagined it to be beautiful, but Busan exceeded my imagination by a big margin,” said the American-born businessman who grew up in Asia, started his first business in Thailand at the age of 18 - which is how his company came to be named Minor -, and travels all around the world seeking for business opportunities.
“I look to bring something unique,” he said, claiming uniqueness was what he discovered from the Busan project. “The master plan (of the East Busan complex) is exceptional. The unique environment is rich with culture and history. You can see surfing and marina, walk to the temple (with Haedong Yonggungsa Buddhist Temple at a walking distance)!”
The oceanfront Busan Tourism Complex spanning over 3.66 million square meters along the eastern coast above the more famous Haeundae beach is under development by the Busan city at a cost of 4 trillion won ($3.5 billion) to 5 trillion won.
AVANI sells experience with the concept to make guests “sleep well, eat well, entertain well,” and it cannot have found a better location, he said.
The 400-room AVANI Busan will offer from 2019 an all-day dining restaurant, event space, meeting rooms, a rooftop specialty bar which is a signature for AVANI hotels, a Korean-style bathhouse and spa, a gym and swimming pool, and includes 170 rooms reserved for long-term stay guests and leasing. It will bring some of its unique favor such as a Thai restaurant, he said.
UL Pan Pacific in charge of the hospitality and retail project being built at an estimated development cost of $160 million has appointed Minor to run the hotel component for 15 years.
The Busan hotel is the self-built hospitality mogul’s first business venture in Korea, and yet he had no “hesitation of starting first in Busan” because of its lifestyle and the location on top of a reliable partner in Korea.
“We have been selected by a very good partner. It takes two to make something happen.”
His foray into Korea comes at a time when Korea has been called to seek capital, tourism revenue, and markets beyond China after being bombarded with economic retaliations from Beijing for the plan of deploying U.S. antimissile Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. Korean hospitality industry heavily reliant on Chinese tourists has been devastated after they stopped coming.
The Busan hotel would mark the beginning for Minor’s business opportunities in Korea, Heinecke said.
“Normally we go into countries either with hotels or food. Usually when we go with hotels, food comes soon and the vice versa,” he said. The group running 2,000 restaurants from fast-food franchises to gourmet coffeehouses and 300 commercial venues introduced Woncheon Chicken of Korea in airports.
“Food is the common denominator of the world. We either like or dislike. It is something we can easily agree or disagree.”
The success of his group that became a multinational hotel and restaurant major from a humble “minor” over the half a century lies in its practice of mixing indigenousness with internationalism to create a unique brand.
“We have our own brands and international brands like JW Marriot and Four Seasons. We observe the best from international brands to bring the best practices to our brands. We also bring our own touch to those. We take the best from our competitors and create our own thing,” he said.
The management crew is recruited from various nationalities and brand experiences.
“The cultural mix brings us unique product and outlook on things. It is the key to our success,” he said.
By Kim Ki-jung and Lee Yu-sup
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]