Banyan Tree Phuket Spa Pool Villa, Thailand

are only two advantages in life which are proprietary: technology and
branding. Since I’m not a technologist, I decided that whatever
business I was going to do next had to have a strong brand.” 

Having left journalism to join the family business, Ho Kwon Ping,
founder and Executive Chairman of the luxury hotel Banyan Tree Group,
realised that his family’s various contract manufacturing companies
were stuck in constant competition on the basis of cost alone, and that
the hotel business could provide a vehicle for such proprietary brand
creation. “The difference between us and some others is that, for many
other companies having a strong brand is a reward for being successful
in many things that you do but it’s sort of coincidental. It comes
afterward; it’s a reward for success in other areas. For us, we’ve
always said from the very beginning  - having a strong brand is
imperative for our survival.” 

VideoINSEAD Professor Amitava Chattopadhyay on the Banyan Tree’s success

firm identified a niche that existed at a time when there were not too
many players and they came up with a unique concept and implemented it

Exterior of Banyan Tree Ringha, China

attributes the success of the Banyan Tree Group, as opposed to other
Asian brands, to his ability to understand Western consumer markets.
While Ho’s upbringing has allowed him to straddle both East and West,
this will not be key moving forward, he says. “The 21st century is
really going to be the age of Asia – both India and China. The huge
consumer markets are going to be Asian … Now there’s a real opportunity
for people of Asian origin, who have an instinctive cultural feel for
where their consumers are moving towards, to come out and create a
brand which can be primarily rooted in their own Asian context, but
have a global relevance.”

These new global opportunities have spurred the company to broaden its focus from spa resort hotels

Banyan Tree Al-Areen Desert Spa & Resort, Bahrain

Asia Pacific to various locations around the world. “If we don’t become
a global player, we’ll be left behind.” As outlined in an INSEAD case

(2003), Banyan Tree Resorts and Hotels: Building an International Brand From an Asian Base,
the company re-evaluated its expansion strategy following the Asian
financial crisis, which saw four planned projects in Indonesia
abandoned as a result of the financial difficulties faced by local
partners. Having identified its three major markets as North-East Asia,
Western Europe and North America, the group is now trying to ensure
that its hotels and resorts are accessible to these markets on a
long-haul, medium-haul and short-haul basis; while selecting locations
where the ‘jaws’ – the gap between room rates and operating costs – are


Chattopadhyay on globalising the Banyan Tree brand

not saying [the hotel group] can’t expand outside Asia-Pacific, but it
may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement the value proposition
in the US or in the OECD countries of Western Europe, because the
staff-to-guest ratio is very high in the Banyan Tree and the cost of
labour is a key component.

Banyan Tree Seychelles

Japan to Tuscany in Italy, to Mexico, the Banyan Tree currently has
some fifty projects in the pipeline, which include  -- in addition to
Banyan Tree signature spa resorts – city hotels and the Banyan Tree
Private Collection, which will give members access to exclusive
individual apartments and villas. Ho says the major challenge in moving
from being an Asian brand to a global one is one of scale. 

a relatively small regional company – even though we’re listed – we run
the risk of organisational diffusion, lack of clarity, lack of cohesion
in decision-making [and] being diluted, so I think the big challenge as
I see it, is to maintain cohesiveness in structure, in brand identity
[and] in service standards.”


Chattopadhyay on the hotel group’s challenges moving forward

they increase the number of properties and their geographic spread
increases, this [organisational structure of having managers playing
two roles – one at a hotel property, the other in the corporate
structure] will become a very, very central challenge because it’s
easier with four or five properties, but much harder if you suddenly
have 50 properties.

Ho also intends to maintain the social responsibility standards practiced by the company since its

Surveying coral reef

inception.  He says that he and his wife, Claire Chiang, a former

of Parliament in Singapore, became interested in economic development
and social activism, having grown up during the Vietnam War years. The
Banyan Tree was also, therefore, “a vehicle for us, using business as a
means to create something that we hope is beautiful and sustainable,
but at the same time using business as a means to enable many of the
deep-seated beliefs we have about CSR.” 

The core beliefs that inform the group’s corporate social responsibility policies, which
range from building and running resorts with as little environmental
damage as possible to conducting community development and
environmental projects at each resort, are “more fundamental to us than
the notion of building a Banyan Tree,” Ho says. “So there is no way we
could possibly lose that.”

Ho Kwon Ping is a member of INSEAD’s East Asia Council.