Why Banyan Tree Group is going against the grain with midscale growth

Three hotel brands are being introduced this month, courtesy of Banyan Tree Group. Homm, Garrya and Folio are the newest brands announced by the rapidly-growing Singapore-based company. 

The first Homm property opens in Phuket, Thailand on 1 December, while the first Garrya was inaugurated in Lucun, Huzhou City, China on 9 November.  Yet another brand, called Folio, is also being announced, with the first brand signing to be disclosed soon. 

These three new brands join Banyan Tree Group's growing portfolio of products, which includes three other sub-brands and two Banyan Tree-labeled brand extensions.  

For the first decade of its existence, Banyan Tree Group seemed content sticking to its roots. When the first Banyan Tree opened in Phuket, Thailand in 1994, it pioneered the tropical garden spa concept with its Asian therapies and holistic focus on spiritual, mental and physical harmony. In 2000, the company launched its Angsana brand, creating opportunities to include hotels that didn’t quite fit into the Banyan Tree mantra. The vast majority of both Banyan Tree and Angsana properties were located in Asia.

But since 2015, the once sedate Asian hospitality company has been spreading its branches. That’s when founder and executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping decided it was time to grow the company’s presence with the goal, he said, “of becoming a leading worldwide independent, multi-branded hospitality group centered on a growing portfolio of brands.”  The first new brands to come on the market were Cassia and Dhawa in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The next round of brand announcements came in 2021.

Banyan Tree Group’s global brand ecosystem now includes the following: 

Angsana (first opened in 2000): An upper-upscale brand with a contemporary Asian touch. Originally designed to be a mainstream, big box, MICE-friendly five-star hotel to compete with the Fairmonts of the world, the brand also includes a portfolio of family-friendly resorts. 

Banyan Tree: The flagship brand, Banyan Tree resorts are designed as understated and luxurious “locally-infused sanctuaries in awe-inspiring locations.” 

Cassia (first opened in 2015 in Phuket): A serviced apartment hotel model where one and two bedroom units are sold to individual owners with standardized furnishing and then put into a hotel inventory pool. Cassia Residences are an offshoot of this brand, existing as more of a standardized branded residences product.

Dhawa (first Dhawa opened in 2016 in Cuba): Upper midscale full-service lifestyle hotel, designed to be hip, colorful and contemporary.

Banyan Tree Escape (first will open in Bali in April 2022): Small eco-resorts in rustic virgin locations. 

Folio (TBA): Functional, economical hotels with a strong sense of design. Micro-hotel concept, with a focus on small rooms (ranging from 13 to 20 square metres) and active social spaces. 

Garrya (first Garrya opened in November 2021 in China): The brand requirements of this upscale hotel include minimalist and peaceful design, with the addition of in-room wellness components.

Homm (first hotel opens in December 2021 in Thailand): A midscale catch-all brand, Homm will consist mainly of conversions with a strong sense of home, that is, the local destination. According to Ho, “We are trying not to be demanding on room size or character. We wanted to develop a very flexible model to offer international marketing opportunities for owners.” 

Banyan Tree Veya (first to soft-open in December, 2021 in Thailand): Luxury well being-centered destination resorts offering a clarified approach to well being and learning of sustained lifestyle practices through programming and practitioners. 

That’s a lot of new brands over a five-year time frame. And unlike other boutique companies that expand their portfolios by going upscale, Banyan Tree’s new brands, for the most part, are in mid-tier segments of the market. 

“Adding new brands in lower-tiered sectors may be going against the current,” said Ho. “But the reason we are doing it is that we are responding to the opportunities around us, not relying on what others have done in the past. So, for example, the big story now, particularly after Covid, is that the emerging markets of Asia are exploding. Regional, midscale tourism is now the storyline here. Previously, it used to be foreigners coming to Asia from the developed world and staying in luxury hotels. But now, as more Asian millennials travel, there’s more of a need for midscale brands in the region.” In fact, the growth of most of these new, moderately-priced sub-brands will initially be focused on Asia, due, said Ho, to both undersupply in the region versus “the clutter in lower-level brands in developed markets.” 

The Covid crisis also created demand among independent, family-owned hotels for a branding boost. Because so many of these hotels were suffering economically during Covid, said Ho, “That’s where the idea of Homm hotels came in... Family-owned hotels that don’t want to become part of big chain hotels with strict standards, but simply need the marketing boost provided by a major hotel company.” By keeping brand standards flexible, said Ho, Homm will be able to cast a wide net.

Banyan Tree Brand Extensions

In addition to its new brands, the company is developing three new concepts within the Banyan Tree phylum. All hearken back to the brand’s roots. “As pioneers of  the tropical garden spa concept,” said Ho, “wellness has been an important brand value since the beginning.” That’s why the company has decided to convert all Executive Club Floors (“an outmoded phenomenon,” according to Ho) into wellbeing sanctuaries. Basically, Wellness Sanctuary floors and villas will serve as a hotel within a hotel. 

The club lounge, instead of being stocked with Wall Street Journals and FTs, will be stocked with wellness periodicals. Breakfast and happy hour options will be healthier fare. In rooms amenities will induce yoga mats, stretch bands and singing bowls. The conversion into Wellness Sanctuaries is currently in progress at Banyan Tree’s larger business-focused properties. 

A completely new hotel product is coming in the form of Banyan Tree Escape. “Banyan Tree has always been strongly identified with eco-tourism and boutique,” said Ho. But as the brand has evolved to include bigger hotels to compete with the Ritz-Carltons of the world, we were concerned that we might lose our edginess as an eco-brand. Plus, the pandemic was making the idea of small well-being and eco-oriented resorts more popular.”  However, the pandemic ended up delaying the introduction of the concept. While the first Banyan Tree Escape has been ready to open in Bali for a while, the website booking window doesn’t start until April, 2022. The overall idea for Escape is to design small resorts (less than 20 villas) in remote, virgin areas. They will feature a “no doors, no walls” experiential and sustainable approach to hospitality.. 

Finally, Banyan Tree Veya, a new well being brand, is designed to compete with the Chiva Soms and Canyon Ranches of the world. One Banyan Tree Veya is soft-opening in December in Thailand, and Banyan Tree Maldives is being repositioned under the name, and is expected to open in 2022. They are described as “inspirational spaces with teams of resident well being specialists and professionals to provide a safe and supportive environment for development and connection.”

To market these new brands, Banyan Tree Group is opening new sales offices around the world.  New sales teams in Europe and the United States, said Ho, will focus more on the Banyan Tree and Angsana products “since we don’t necessarily have the distribution muscle” to competitively market the mid-scale brands in those regions. Ho added, “Our strength in these markets is definitely the differentiation of our luxury brands.”