HotelsHotel investors see plenty of opportunities — save for the ones that got away.

High-profile hoteliers take a close look at markets around Asia

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High up on the investment radar, Japan was on almost everybody’s lips at HICAP 2022.
High up on the investment radar, Japan was on almost everybody’s lips at HICAP 2022. Photo Credit: Adobe/maiku

HICAP (Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific) 2022, which recently took place in Singapore after two years of virtual editions, provided a unique opportunity to bring hotel investors, owners and operators together.

Competitors found themselves in the same room, on the same panels and perhaps, most importantly, at the same after-conference dinners and cocktail parties. Those opportunities were exactly what the 2022 edition of HICAP, held in Singapore and for the first time in person since the onset of the pandemic, delivered.

One of the panels, entitled 'Investment Insights: Financial Gurus Open Their Knowledge Vaults', featured four speakers whose combined portfolios are valued in the tens of billions of dollars. When the conversation turned to where opportunities lie, Japan was on almost everybody’s lips.

Kenneth Gaw, president and managing principal, Gaw Capital Partners, saw Japan as “a very diverse offering for both business and tourism”. He reeled off attractions like “culture, food, shopping, and natural scenery” as well as sports like hiking, skiing and golf.

As an investor, he pointed out that “a lot of good hotels built for the Olympics are suffering” and that “the yen is very cheap”, meaning that he sees opportunities to enter or expand in that market.

Lure of the East

Staying in North Asia, he also mentioned South Korea, fuelled by interest in Korean culture, but pointed out that the destinations in the country were not as diverse as Japan.

Wei-Lin Kwee, senior vice-president, hotels, Pontiac Land Group, the real estate developer that is also the owner of the Capella Hotel Group, pointed out that her company had recently announced signings in Japan under the Capella brand, the first of which will be Capella Kyoto in 2025.

Panel speakers at HICAP's 'Investment Insights: Financial Gurus Open Their Knowledge Vaults' session took turns to share their investment hotspots in Asia.
Panel speakers at HICAP's 'Investment Insights: Financial Gurus Open Their Knowledge Vaults' session took turns to share their investment hotspots in Asia. Photo Credit: Wei-Lin Kwee

Siddhant Jhunjhunwala, director of Investments APAC, KSL Capital Partners, brought the conversation back to Southeast Asia, which he called “overlooked”. He cited lower operating costs and sustained interest in the market. “It’s an interesting place in the world right now,” he said. “We’re looking for opportunities there as well.”

Gaw mentioned Thailand as a major player in the tourism industry. “Thailand is an attractive destination that will recover”, pointing to resort destinations like Phuket, Pattaya and Samui to lead the bounce back.

He mentioned that for new investments, he probably wouldn’t be looking at Bangkok unless an asset was truly distressed and could be acquired for a good price.

Suchad Chiaranussati, chairman and founder of SC Capital Partners Group, himself a Thai national, pointed out that he hadn’t bought anything in Thailand in 15 years, saying that “I can’t find any value” as an investor.

He also pointed out that 2023 was “a very critical year” with elections that could result in “a landslide for the other side”. In the face of such uncertainty, he said that he’d “love to hear that music play out” before entering the Thai market again.

It's wait and see in the Maldives

The Maldives, its attraction for high-spending tourists and the few restrictions the country applied during the height of the pandemic came up in the conversation. “This December we will wait to see what happens,” said Pontiac’s Kwee. “On the books it’s looking OK.”

Gaw, on the other hand, pointed out that the lack of freeholds could discourage hotels from setting up there.

The one who got away

As the panel drew to a close, moderator Mike Batchelor, who is also CEO Asia Pacific - hotels & hospitality group at JLL, asked each speaker about the deal that got away.

Kwee cited being the losing bidder for Raffles Singapore by a slim margin, but Chiaranussati drew the most laughs by saying “Answering this question, you cannot not hurt people.” He then mentioned Westin Tokyo as a bid he lost.

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