SEOUL—The first Banyan Tree Club & Spa opened Tuesday in Seoul, South Korea. With 34 luxury hotel rooms and 16 private member quarters, it marks the brand’s foray into mixed-use development.
But how will the urban resort and private member club fare? And why debut the development model on the Korean peninsula? HotelNewsNow.com turned to GM Stefan Thumiger for answers.
HotelNewsNow.com: Why has the company chosen to open in South Korea?
| A view from a cabana at the Banyan Tree Club & Spa.
Stefan Thumiger: The Banyan Tree Group has been waiting for the best opportunity to lay its roots in South Korea. Mount Namsan in Seoul is known for its beautiful natural environment that is designated a natural ecological zone in the heart of the city, and we felt it was the best location for an urban resort.
HNN: Is there much recognition of the Banyan Tree brand?
Thumiger: The Korean market has been a key feeder market for Banyan Tree resorts in the region, especially in properties like Indonesia, Maldives and Thailand. This means that Banyan Tree has established fairly strong brand recognition in the Korean market.
HNN: The Banyan Tree Seoul is South Korea’s first membership club and hotel. Why has the group gone down this route instead of a standard hotel?
Thumiger: Social clubs are not yet established in Seoul, although (the country’s) economic profitability is highly developed, and we wanted to create an exclusive cultural and social club targeted at families.
The concept itself is not a first for us. We have two other Club & Spa projects in Taichung, Taiwan and Colombo, Sri Lanka, under the Angsana brand.
HNN: Are there enough people in Korea who can afford a 100 million won (US$102,000) registration fee and an annual fee of 3 million won (US$2,500) per person?
Thumiger: As of April 2010, we have about 3,000 club members and many more members are expected in the future. Membership is controlled by the executive committee, with potential applicants being referred by existing members. Members have access to extensive facilities and networking events. We have partnership alliances with many leading brands so that our members can take advantage of exclusive art programs and VIP travel, for example.
HNN: Is the opening a sign that the Korean luxury market has been unaffected by the global economic crisis?
Thumiger: The hotel industry remains positive as the number of travellers to Korea continues to increase year on year. We see ourselves as a niche market operator within a small luxury hotel industry (in the country), hence we do not believe that it affects us.
HNN: In what ways can you tell that you are staying at a Banyan Tree in Korea rather than one of your other properties in China or Thailand?
|The Banyan Tree Club & Spa in Seoul, South Korea.
Thumiger: The main difference would be the convenient, prime city location of Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul that differentiates it from other Banyan Tree in destinations like Phuket, Lijiang and Bali.
HNN: How is the Korean market different from other Banyan Tree markets?
Thumiger: Seoul is a cosmopolitan gateway city while many of our current Banyan Tree destinations are in relatively remote locations like the Maldives, Ras Al Khaimah and Shangri-la, where we offer beach, desert and mountain experiences respectively. Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul offers an experience that is akin to a resort oasis, but in the city. In South Korea, while there are many top hotels and resorts, we are confident that our innovative hotel, club and spa concept offers something lasting and attractive to both residents and visitors alike.
HNN: What are your primary feeder countries?
Thumiger: We expect strong demand from China, Japan and other short- and medium-haul destinations.
HNN: Are there any plans to open more Banyan Trees in South Korea?
Thumiger: We are open to exploring other suitable opportunities in South Korea with like-minded partners who share our vision and commitment in delivering the signature Banyan Tree experience for our guests.