The Nation

business

Smaller
Larger

MINT looks for overseas opportunities

Heinecke

Heinecke

Despite the political turmoil in Thailand, Minor International (MINT) is confident of achieving growth this year as it looks for additional business overseas. With the political crisis on hold, it was business as usual for MINT - as the company is widely known - as its CEO and chairman William Heinecke and his fellow CEOs flew to Brisbane in Australia on his private jet.

Their aim is to lessen the group's dependency on the Thai economy, making it account for 40 per cent of revenues, with the remainder expected from overseas.

The target is to double the group's hospitality, food and retail business within the next five years in a region stretching from Africa to Australia. MINT has already made its mark in becoming the first major Thai company to invest in the Maldives, Africa, the Middle East and China.

Their main market right now is Australia, as it contributes between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of overall revenue. Empowered by its stable mining business and quite sheltered from the global economic crisis, MINT aims to spread its presence in Australia with Oaks Hotels and Resorts and the Coffee Club.

Oaks is a well-known budget executive-apartment business and the Coffee Club is most Australians' preference to Starbucks.

Opening its 48th branch in Gladstone, MINT Hotel Group CEO Dillip Rajakarier said Oaks was a great example of how MINT wanted to enter a market.

With a good structure already in place and at a good price - given that Oaks was in financial difficulty at the time MINT acquired the business - MINT is confident it can now expand its Anantara chain in Australia, he said.

On his way to Perth and Sydney, Heinecke said he was looking into the possibility of doing so, but was realistic enough to know that it may be too expensive as the average pay for a janitor in Australia is US$22 (Bt710) per hour, way more than the minimum wage in Thailand. So, to extend the same quality of the brand overseas is tricky.

"You can't simply open a high-end hotel just because the CEO wants a nice place to stay when he visits," he said.

As for Asean, MINT is likely to keep its base in Thailand as it first enters neighbouring markets with its restaurants.

Moreover, it has no plans to launch a real-estate investment trust, as it has sufficient cash and such fund-raising vehicles in Thailand are still in their early stages, he said.

However, this does not mean MINT has been left unscathed by the Thai political crisis. The shutting down of the Ratchaprasong area led to abruptly cancelled bookings for the St Regis and the Four Seasons in what would normally be a high winter season.

One by one, corporate guests cancelled their reservations, bringing what was going to be an 80-per-cent occupancy rate down to just 30 per cent, as insurers would not cover corporate travel after the imposition of the emergency decree.

MINT restaurants in closed shopping malls were also affected.

Heinecke made his concerns clear in an open letter, criticising embassies for their travel warnings at the time. He believes travellers have great access to information and can judge for themselves where it is safe to go.

"If there is an incident in Bangkok, we have travel warnings not only for Bangkok, but very often for the whole of Thailand. And that affects everyone," he said.

Despite the lifting of the decree, Heinecke is still concerned over the portrayal of the country in the eyes of foreign media such as BBC and CNN.

"The international media dramatises it to such a degree that it not only scares foreign tourists away, but keeps them away," he added.

Luckily for MINT, bookings made from overseas last year saw visitors going to other branches of its hotel chains, such as those along the Chao Phraya River, and outside Bangkok in tourist hotspots such as Phuket, Samui and Chiang Mai.

Bangkok only accounts for 5 per cent of MINT's revenue.


Comments conditions

Users are solely responsible for their comments.We reserve the right to remove any comment and revoke posting rights for any reason withou prior notice.