Dillip Rajakarier

Minor Hotel Group CEO

Everybody in business knows that innovation is key to relevance. In the hospitality industry, innovation is paramount – be it in concept, design or both. Bangkok-based Minor Hotel Group have recently expanded their portfolio into Europe and the UAE, adding trophy brands to their already impressive portfolio and sprucing them up with powerful strides in innovation.

We met with the CEO of the group, Dillip Rajakarier, to discuss the group’s expansion, the current state of play in the hospitality industry, and their future plans.

Minor Hotel Group currently operates 146 hotels, resorts, and serviced suites in 22 countries across the Asia Pacific, Middle East, Europe, South America, Africa, and the Indian Ocean. The future goals of the group are perhaps best articulated by the youngest brand in the group: Avani. Avani caters to millennials in the sense that, besides being replete with all the technological devices that one would expect, the properties are as much defined by their smart-casual, cutting-edge contemporary design as by their state-of-the-art technological offerings.

Minor Hotel Group: 5 brands to rule them all

Avani is one of 5 brands within the Minor Hotel Group: Avani, Per Aquum, Tivoli, Oaks Hotels and Resorts, and Anantara.

The brands espouse a particular identity, each catering to a different age group. Once could say that for each decade of your life the Minor Hotel Group has a type of hotel that will play host to your needs, wants and desires. Without trying to pigeon-hole the brands, as they cater to all audiences, it is the subtle nuances that define them.

The Avani brand, launched in 2012, comprises 14 hotels in Botswana, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, and Zambia. Design-led and tech-savvy, these are the hotels that show the greatest promise in terms of defining innovation in the 21st century.

Per Aquum launched in 2003. A boutique brand, it has only three properties: Huvafen Fushi and Niyama in the Maldives and Desert Palm in Dubai. Make no mistake though: for such a small group, it is a powerhouse in design and innovation, with The Huvafen Fushi Hotel by PER AQUUM being home to the world’s first underwater spa, LIME. A new resort on the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar in Tanzania is currently in the works.

Oaks Hotels and Resorts: As majority shareholder of the company, Minor Hotel Group oversees the maintenance of properties mostly in Australia and New Zealand, with a small number of sites in the UAE. The Oaks Hotels and Resorts concept is simple but effective: self-contained apartment accommodation.

Tivoli: the latest acquisition of the group. Tivoli is the driving force behind Minor Hotel Group’s expansion into Europe and South America. A recent acquisition (2016), this now adds 14 properties to the MHG portfolio across Portugal and Brazil, with plans in the works to expand further afield.

Anantara is the baby of the group. Founded upon a series of unfortunate events, it now represents the flagship model of the group: combining private residences with the hotel experience. The brand celebrated its 15th anniversary last year, marking a total of 35 hotels across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The jewel in the crown are the Anantara villas in Phuket. The Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas, palatial in size – the residences go up to 5,000 square feet – offer a unique opportunity to property investors and holidaymakers alike: one can purchase a villa to use at any given time, with the added benefit of being able to lease them out via the Anantara main hotel.

Fine-tuning a concept brand

It is Dillip Rajakarier’s astuteness that marks him out as a formidable CEO. Quietly confident and extremely knowledgeable about the hotel industry, he speaks in a relaxed – almost muted – voice, stressing the important facts surrounding the industry at large and MHG’s positioning – both within the general industry and by geographical location.

He is not only aware of all the demands of the consumer, but he actively encourages his team to think – and act – two steps ahead of the curve. He is cognizant of the brand junkies that fly from one branded residence to another. He is sensitive to the demand for ultra-luxurious time-share leases (or, as per the current fad terminology, ‘owner membership clubs’) that have come into demand. He is appreciative not only of the traditional hotel experience that people expect – but also of the heightened demands and expectations driven by frenzied keyboard warriors and social media users. Above all, he is acutely aware of the 30,000-odd hotels operating within the same industry and he makes it a priority of the group to constantly differentiate and innovate within a relentlessly evolving market.

Having established the basic consumer wants, it is under Rajakarier’s guidance that they have fine-tuned the hotel experience into three distinct concepts: the residences, the membership club and the hotels themselves. It is an approach that has allowed the group to expand rapidly whilst maintaining a loyal – and growing – customer fanbase.

Consciously or otherwise, Rajakarier transmits a sense of calculating opportunism. We ask about future plans and the reply is measured but firm. With the recent expansion into Europe and Oman, Rajakarier is currently scouting out potential areas of interest. Destinations such as the UAE and Cuba come up in conversation, in addition to a potential foray into the UK market.

al marjan island
Avani will still have a hotel on Al Marjan Island, UAE

Weathering the storm

With the recent acquisition of Portuguese hotels – and sales from the UK making up a large proportion of their customer base (60%) – does he worry that Brexit will affect business?
The answer is an unequivocal ‘no’. Rajakarier states that there are ample historical examples to suggest that whilst global disasters (the Gulf War, for instance) do have an impact on the hospitality industry, their effects are usually short-lived. Property – and specifically, hospitality – is a long term game and not for the faint of heart.

Taking CSR to new heights

Whilst the Minor Hotel Group is a market leader in innovative design, tech and brand concept, it sets itself the same standards in its approach to CSR.

It is notable that although each hotel brand has its own distinct identity, it is the group’s twin ethe of experiential stays and innovative CSR that brings them together holistically.

The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, The Mai Khao Turtle Foundation, Adopt-a-Coral, Coral reef rehabilitation projects at PER AQUUM Huvafen Fushi and PER AQUUM Niyama are a few examples of CSR efforts dedicated to preserving the environment, the indigenous and a more egalitarian approach to business. A recent acquisition of land in Cambodia saw the group publicise their plans to do exactly nothing with it: rather than build, the group have left the land alone to encourage rehabilitation of the area and to create a new lease of life for a self-sustaining ecosystem.

It is this kind of savvy, charitable and respectful attitude that has elevated MHG to a position where it can develop in a sustainable way – both in terms of their current business goals and with an eye on future developments.

For those looking to re-create the successful expansion that the Minor Hotel Group has managed, another Dillip Rajakarier will be needed. Taking a leaf out of his and MHG’s book, however, could be the first step to imitating a recipe of success that only a few know how to cook well.