Back for a second stint, veteran hotelier Abid Butt returned to Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts and sister brand Angsana Hotels & Resorts as Chief Executive Officer. He comes at a time when the brands are growing fast, widening their world footprint. During the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit in Abu Dhabi, Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan caught up with Butt.
Elite Traveler: Tell us about the background of Banyan Tree? Abid Butt: The company has been around for awhile, with its birthplace in Phuket, Thailand. We pioneered villas with a pool and the holistic and garden spa as opposed to a medical spa. We were more into relaxation and rejuvenation. The food was prepared in a healthy way, but not counting calories. We never tell you, “Don’t have a glass of wine.” The complex in Phuket has a Banyan Tree and Angsana. Both are five star, but the target for Angsana is a bit younger. So the little seed we planted in Phuket has now expanded and blossomed globally.
ET: Tell us about your footprint? AB: We have a wide footprint and tremendous pipeline with Europe, Middle East, China, we are already in Mexico. We are bringing our brand closer to consumers who have already frequented us when we started (in Southeast Asia). We have 34 operating resorts and 60-plus spas in 27 countries.
ET: What’s next? AB: Monday we open in Tianjin. It’s our urban resort concept in a high rise. We also have Kerala —all villas have private pools— it’s our first Banyan Tree in India and second hotel there.
ET: What’s changed since the start in Phuket? AB: The core essence and values of the brand have remained the same—we have always been very strong with sense of place. We have adapted to different geographies of the world.
ET: What brought you back? AB: It’s a tough job and somebody has to do it. It didn’t take long to convince me to come back.
ET: What about the residential component we see today at many luxury resorts? AB: We have residences where it makes sense—we just opened in Vietnam—Banyan Tree and Angsana, and both have vacation homes. We also have Banyan Tree Private Collection. It is the vacation club model similar to Exclusive Resorts. Private Collection also has some free-standing places in Japan and Tuscany where we do not have resorts.
ET: How about city center hotels? AB: Bangkok has been around for a very long time—Shanghai is a high rise. We have a high rise in Macau where every single room has a private pool, and Tianjin is a high rise. Clearly we want to be in gateways cities, not just resort locations.
ET: And how has your customer base evolved? AB: Ten years ago our typical feeder markets were Europe and North America. They still are strong and growing but now we get many guests from the pan-Asian markets, China and India and our presence in China has contributed to it as people are familiar not only for domestic use but when they travel outside China they seek us out.
ET: Do you have meeting facilities at the resorts? AB: We are very good at smaller scale meetings—we don’t do 1,000 person meetings—we do board meetings, brain storming meetings. We speciallize in events that require you to relax, meet, brainstorm and have clear takeaways.