Over coffee with… Des Pugson

The managing director of Banyan Tree Hotels & Resort tells Karen Yue it is high time his company chased the MICE dollar

Des Pugson

What motivated Banyan Tree to pursue business events?
A lot of our hotels are developed with good event facilities but our focus has always been on the leisure business, aside from our city hotels of course. We realised that increasingly, planners are looking for venues new and different, and we started to see that we fit quite nicely into that need. We are a leisure-driven resort but there is no reason (why) we cannot translate all that into a business events environment.

Des Pugson

To a lesser degree, that decision (to court business events) is also a realistic one. Resorts’ peak days are typically Fridays and Saturdays, while Mondays to Thursdays are always a little bit soft. We could fill that gap with the right type of business events.

What types of events are you most keen on?
Meetings and incentives, but (what we want and can handle) differ by brands. Angsana is built for volume and so the meeting and banquet facilities are geared to larger groups. Think of hotels like Angsana Xi’an, which houses the brand’s largest ballroom, over 1,000m2 (720 pax banquet-style), and 400 keys. It is catered to the meetings market that has time for an offshoot activity, such as a visit to the Terracotta Army Museum.
Angsana Fuxian Lake also has an enormous ballroom (1,000-pax banquet).

On the Banyan Tree side, people used to say to me, “Oh, we can’t do meetings there”. Well, we can. We just don’t do big meetings. We take executive retreats and board meetings with 10 to 15 people. Delegates can hide away to brainstorm, which is easily done at any Banyan Tree property.

We can also build distractions into their programme if they wanted, such as CSR-type activities which are part of our Meet for Good offer. Our hotels are very active on the environmental side.

How are you communicating to corporate clients who may know your brands more for their leisure appeal?
This has become one of our key messages going forward for all our main accounts. We’ve engaged with planners and will continue to do so to build the awareness.

Will your intensified focus on events influence how future properties are built?
Our new hotels are designed to contain good meeting facilities that are in line with (current and future) market demand.

When we were designing Angsana Xi’an, I remember wondering, my god, were we designing too big a ballroom? But at the end of the day, I’m glad we did!
Its (Chinese pavilion-style) courtyard is beautiful and designed for unique banquets. The massive hot springs (part of the hotel) also provide a great incentive activity option.
Planners sometimes associate resorts with beaches. That’s no longer the case. More and more resorts, particularly in China, are in the mountains. We’re about to open a Banyan Tree in Jiuzhaigou (Sichuan), half-way up the mountainside. It is a beautiful location, and another perfect place to host high-level, do-not-disturb type of meetings.

Can we expect to see more of your brands in non-beach locations then?
We still tend to be approached more for beach resorts than for hillside or mountainside resorts. The latter have a certain appeal though, and we are starting to get more requests from planners for something that’s not by the beach.

Europe would be an interesting place for such properties, with so many hills and mountains around. We are getting closer to Europe, with Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay opening last year in Morroco, a 20-minute ferry ride from Spain. We will open Angsana Corfu (Greece) in March 2018, and a Banyan Tree in (Bodrum) Turkey in 2019.

Your brands are seen as being luxurious. With the general business outlook being conservative, is it hard to get clients onboard?
I’m a positive thinker. When you tell me the economy is bad, I’ll say as bad as it may be, there are always companies doing well. And the desire to recognise achievers in the company transcends economic limitations. As a (commericial entity) ourselves, we’ve got to hunt down that piece of business, find those customers that are doing well.

How does the AccorHotels Group alliance benefit your company?
We now have a great opportunity in business development because of AccorHotels’ worldwide network, which a company our size can never have. This will raise our brand awareness worldwide.

We can leverage on AccorHotel’s worldwide reservation system to get more visibility. Corporate accounts wanting to book hotels will see Banyan Tree brands and properties in the system.

AccorHotels’ loyalty programme is also accessible to us. Their guests can redeem stays at our properties, which opens up another market for us. The cost of developing our own loyalty programme is prohibitively high.

Is there a risk of your management style, brand identity and products being influenced by the bigger partner?
AccorHotels’ interest in Banyan Tree is because it is Banyan Tree. They want our level of hotels in their portfolio. They consider us the market leader in luxury resorts.
The hotel business is increasingly centred around a few massive, global players, so smaller players like ourselves have to tie up a relationship with a bigger partner which does not affect our brand and experience yet enable us to fly more flags around the world.

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