by Bill Barnett of c9hotelworks.com (First appeared on linkedin.com)
The emergence of boutique hotels, hostels, hip bars and cafes has revolutionised the way Chinatown, Bangkok is seen. This, together with the entry of international branded operators setting the stage for exciting changes.
Overview of Chinatown
For over 200 years, Yaowarat Road in Bangkok or Chinatown has been a center of Chinese immigrants in Thailand. Although some newer development has taken away some of Chinatown’s authenticity, it is still to this day one of Bangkok’s most visited areas which hasgenerated a splendid mixture of the old and new, be it street-food vendors, temples, or art galleries. On top of that, what really draws both local and foreign demand to the area is the ultimate experience itself.
Jammed streets with full tuk-tuks, small vans, and street merchants are what the other areas cannot offer. With some buildings and land is left unused, there have been many redevelopment projects for hotels and residences, and now domestic and international hotel chains are entering the market. What follows, is meant to shed light on the transformation of Chinatown.
With the combined number of passenger arrivals at Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang International Airports close to 50 million in 2017, the gateway experienced a 5-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11%. Based on our research and market interviews with hotels in the area, the number of tourists visiting Chinatown has sharply increased over the past few years. Thus, hoteliers in the area foresee that Chinatown will be reinvented over the next five years
Chinatown is now one of the hippest areas in Bangkok, while a few short years ago Millennials would view Chinatown as an ‘ancestor’s area’ where elders meet up and have their Asian breakfast. Similarly, the traditional food scene still exists, except that the average age of visitors has dropped substantially and visitors now are becoming bar or café hoppers. What changed is how the vibe shifted over a short period of time.
After five years of construction, the upcoming MRT station of Wat Mangkon is now close to completion. Scheduled to open to the public in mid-2019, this station will be the nearest mass transit connection to Chinatown and sits right across from the upcoming 224-key Holiday Inn Express Bangkok Chinatown.
The station’s name originated from the largest Chinese Buddhist temple in Bangkok, Wat Mangkon Kamalawat. Regardless of how trendy Chinatown is, the area is not expected to be another Thonglor as there is no plan for a BTS station. It will be advantageous to have better access to public transportation, but the MRT does not carry the same clout as the BTS since many tourists are not familiar with the MRT.
Due to the location of Chinatown, budget hotels face challenges in competing with similar hotels in other parts of Bangkok such as Sukhumvit. Boutique hotels in the area are on an upward trajectory, yet accessibility to public transportation in the area remains a key factor.
The average daily rate (ADR) of boutique hotels in Chinatown ranges from 2,000 up to 6,000 baht, with occupancy averaging over 75%. Due to the constraints on development scale, hotel inventories for the existing hotels range from a handful up to 70 or 80 rooms. Given a captive guest base, revenue from food and beverage cannot be overlooked. Hotel operators are generally more focused on generatingother income for their properties compared to other areas in Bangkok. According to our research, some hotels’ F&B contribution can reach 70%, while the market-wide average is 31%.
Online travel agents (OTAs) play an important role in this market among all distribution channels as boutique hotels mainly target younger guests who search for more authentic locations. Some boutique hotels try to stimulate direct bookings by offering complimentary breakfast and discounts on F&B and spa packages. One of the best performers in the market is able to achieve 70% for direct bookings.
In general, OTAs account for 75% bookings on a broad basis. For the nationality mix, the Asian market accounts for 38%, followed by European and American markets with 34% and 29%, respectively. The purpose of stay is mostly leisure at 93%, and only 4% of guests come for business.
Land vs. Rental Prices
With a peak land price of 375,000 baht per square metre, Chinatown is one of the most expensive areas in Thailand. Such high land prices result from the limited land supply and the vintage-style buildings. It is important to highlight the inverse correlation between land prices and rental/lease rate in Chinatown. Rental prices vary but generally tend to be in the range of 300 baht per square metre per month, while they can be well over 1,000 baht per square metre in Bangkok’s CBD areas. With a business model heavily reliant on leasing property, small boutique hotel and hostel supply isexpected to surge in Chinatown.
International vs. Domestic Chain Offerings
There has not been an international hotel brand in Chinatown until recently, with the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) poised to enter. The agreement between IHG and Uniland Company Limited to open a Holiday Inn Express is expected to be completed bythe end of this year. On the other hand, the notable Thailand-based Burasari Group, who own and manage Shanghai Mansion Bangkok, has signed an agreement to manage a new 128-key property in Chinatown early this year, marking itself as a leading operator in the area.
Burasari Group, with seven hotels in the portfolio domestically and internationally, is expanding its hotel network within the country. The group has been managing Shanghai Mansion for almost 10 years and believes the upcoming changes in the area will elevate guest experience and draw more demand to Chinatown.
Holiday Inn Express Bangkok Chinatown is part of the THB3-billion ’I’m Chinatown’ mixed-use project. Positioned as ‘Modern Chinese’ in terms of design, the project includes 5,000 square meters of retail space, a 224-key hotel and 46-unit residence for sale. With its strategic location situating across the upcoming mass transit station, the hotel will mainly target foreign tourists and business travelers. The property is expected a year-round occupancy over 80% with average room rate over 2,000 baht.
Another project in the Chinatown pipeline, which will be managed by Burasari Group, is the redevelopment of a 50 year old vacant hotel. With 128 keys, W22 will be situated on Wongwian 22 with an opening in the mid of this year. Positioned as a boutique budget hotel, it is targeting Asian travelers and tour groups. The hotel will offer multiple room types including dormitories, double, twin and family rooms with an average room rate of 1,000 baht projected.
The two projects will create a new dynamic. Firstly the HIEX will provide standardised accommodations with expected amenities such as a swimming pool, which only a handful of hotels in the area have. Secondly, the W22 hotel will not only offer an affordable stay but also a varietyof room types and a large common space for guests to relax.
Because of the continuously increasing number of cafes, bars, and restaurants, further hotel development is expected to highlight the importance of design. Although cultural experience hasbeen the whole point of coming to Chinatown, the ‘chic’ experience will be a secondary factor to generate demand. From the recent developments and upcoming hotels, all properties have their uniqueness in design no matter in common areas or F&B outlets.
Even the 10 year old Shanghai Mansion Bangkok has been able to maintain high performance due to its unique interior design. Looking across Bangkok’s luxury Riverside projects, such as Four Seasons and Capella which will come into the market soon, it is clear that luxury hotels have come out of the Bangkok Central Business District. With mass transit and proximity to the river, there is a high possibility to see more upscale development coming up in Chinatown.
In the bigger picture, the new MRT station will be a key turning point for the area and its future potential remains unique in its offering.
Hong Kong property tzars team up for new Phang Nga development “Aquella”
Two of Hong Kong’s leading entrepreneurs Allan Zeman and Richard Li are developing a mixed-use project in Thai Muang, Phang Nga named Aquella.
The initial phase of the development includes a par 72, 18 hole golf course, resort pool villa residences with two to four bedroom unit configurations back of a massive land site that offers over 2.5 kilometres of white sand beach.
Previously, the approximate 1,000 rai site was the home of the Thai Muang golf course. After acquisition the course was closed, and the master planned Pinetree project that was to contain a marina and luxury Park Hyatt hotel stopped when land zoning issues changed in Southern Phang Nga.
Today, the new golf course has been reconfigured and Zeman’s Paradise Group who developed Kamala’s posh Andara ultra villa resort in Phuket are collaborating with Li’s Pacific Century Premium Developments (PCPD) group.
South West Phang Nga hosted some of Asia’s most significant luxury villa sales in the mid 2000’s given it’s close access to Phuket International Airport, over the Sarasin Bridge.
Changes in the zoning regime stunted the area’s growth over the past decade but a new wave of interest has been born in projects such as Charn Issara’s Baba Beach Club.
Land prices in Koh Pilai and Koh Kloy have sharply escalated in recent months on the announcement of a second Greater Phuket airport by Thai aviation authority AoT.
That said, the area has a rich history in demonstrated luxury residential sales in projects such as Aleenta and Sava.
With Phuket bursting as the seams, and prime oceanfront plots limited, the recent transaction of the former greenfield site of the Ritz-Carlton Reserve has indicated positive sentiment.
Car and house loans surged in 2018
The Bank of Thailand says they’re concerned about the double-digit growth in loans for cars last year. The central bank is now monitoring the trend and will keep track of statistics for the rest of 2019. Their concerns about the Thai mortgage market the year before resulted in new regulations coming into effect this April.
Loans for cars were up nearly 13% in 2019, up from 8% growth in 2017 and much smaller growths in the years before.
They reported that commercial bank auto loans rose to 1.07 trillion baht last year, a rise of 12.6% from the previous 12 months. Defaults on loans has also risen during 2018 but the BoT says the rate is still “manageable” at 1.66%.
The BoT says they will need to continually monitor the business of loans for cars for at least the rest of 2019.
Last year they put the spotlight on property mortgages. The study resulted in more stringent conditions for the loan-to-value ratio, especially for second or subsequent housing loans.
Mortgage lending expanded nearly 8% in 2018, compared to 5.5% in 2017. The more stringent requirements for housing mortgages comes into force on April 1 this year.
Generally, the loan sector for commercial banks rose by 6% last year, again a rise from the previous year where the rise was 4.4%.
But the BoT reports that the profitability of the banking sector remains in positive territory. Interest income is now the main source after the fee-based income of some banks, particularly fund transfer fees, declined.
Kamala’s Twinpalms Montazure poised to welcome guests in July
Set on the golden sands of Kamala Beach, Twinpalms MontAzure will welcome its first guests in July this year.
Already a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the boutique beach hotel offers beautifully appointed Suites, Penthouses and Private Pool Suites.
Suites range in size from 70m2 to Penthouses with private pools and sea views boasting large living spaces of up to 300m2. Guests will also enjoy using a lap pool or an infinity pool offering views of the Andaman sea.
Twinpalms MontAzure will also launch its beachside restaurant and lounge, ‘Shimmer’, with uninterrupted sea views. Shimmer restaurant will serve vibrant and tasty food with an Asian focus, delicious and creative cocktails, and a great wine list, all served with the customary gusto and flair expected from the Twinpalms brand.
Olivier Gibaud, General Manager of Twinpalms Hotels & Resorts says, “With 15 years’ experience refining Twinpalms excellent service standard complemented by a luxurious dining and entertainment quality that sets itself apart from other destinations on the island, we are very excited to bring this knowledge to a new hotel”.
Designed by Martin Palleros, following the original Twinpalms concept and style, of utilising Phuket’s beautiful landscape, Martin has allowed the design to maximize the sea views from most of the Suites and areas within the buildings, whilst also ensuring the preservation of the views of the mountainside from other perspectives.
Resident Manager, Thipwimon Chatchavansilachai says, “For respect for our island location, we will launch with a ‘no single-use plastic’ policy, meaning alternatives to common plastic items such as straws, packages for bathroom amenities and water bottles will be replaced with materials such as bamboo, ceramic and recycled paper.”
“We will continuously find better alternatives in our hotel operations for the preservation of the environment”.
Naturally, guests of Twinpalms MontAzure also have access to the brand’s other dining destinations, taking full advantage of the three beaches Twinpalms has a presence: HQ Beach Lounge – a few steps away on Kamala Beach, Catch Beach Club, Catch Junior and Palm Seaside, located on Bang Tao Beach and the flagship resort, Twinpalms Phuket, is just a few steps from Surin Beach.
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