In the Hot Seat Minor Hotels' Michael Marshall By Danny King / March 07, 2017 Share 1 -- Minor Hotels is preparing to debut its Anantara and Avani resort and hotel brands in Europe this spring when it converts two Portugal properties from the Tivoli Hotels brand it acquired last year. The Bangkok-based company is on an expansion binge, having broadened its global presence by more than 50% within the past two years, to more than 150 properties, including the addition of resorts in Oman and Sri Lanka in late 2016. Chief commercial officer Michael Marshall spoke with senior editor Danny King. Q: What's spurred your expansion strategy? Michael Marshall A: We go into countries where often [other companies] aren't there. Maybe the destinations are challenging. When we started in Sri Lanka, the [civil] war was still going on there, but we saw potential for the future. The key is to get local knowledge, so we work out real estate joint ventures with local partners so that we can operate on the ground with knowledge and experience. Going into Africa is a huge learning curve, even with a partner, but there's a huge potential upside when you get it right, especially if you're one of the first new movers. Africa we see as the new Asia.Q: Where's your customer base? A: If you go back five years, we used to get a big core market from Europe, specifically the U.K. and Germany. During the last few years, though, China has grown incredibly. Now our fastest growing [market] is from the U.S. because you've got a strong dollar, and with the Middle Eastern airlines expanding, there are more long-haul routes from the U.S. into Asia.Q: How is Minor Hotels differentiating itself in terms of service?A: We started Anantara 15 years ago, and we were one of the originals to do what we call "real experiences," because we're located in so many unbelievable and interesting locations. So we were able to keep those experiences unique and real with a connection with the local community. I see this growing even more, alongside more personalization. This year we're rolling out a new [customer relationship management] platform that will deliver a view of our guests, so if they stay at a Tivoli, we'll know what their preferences are. It's about sending those kinds of ideas to people who will be really interested, instead of blasting everybody with 10 best offers of the week.Q: Any concerns about industry consolidation and competing against ever-larger hotel companies like Marriott and AccorHotels? A: There are still opportunities in taking a more niche approach, so we think many of the owners of hotels that are being swallowed up will have concerns about what kind of support and delivery they're getting. So we think there will be plenty of opportunities for us [to reflag under Minor Hotels' brands]. Q: Any plans to enter the U.S.?A: We see Anantara and Tivoli as the first opportunities for us but nothing we can talk about yet. We tried a couple of years ago and came close in New York. We look at key gateway markets. We still need a lot more awareness [of the company] here.Q: Do you think that president Trump's potential immigration policies might restrict international travel to your properties?A: I don't think so. With the destinations we have and the type of travelers we're targeting, people are still going to travel. Obviously, coming into the U.S. could be delayed, but when I came in last week I didn't have that experience, and my passport is full of stamps from the Middle East and Africa. But I guess if it escalates and people get stuck at the airports, those delays could put people off. You never know what executive announcement will come up next.Q: While many larger hotel companies are going "asset-light," you own much of your real estate. Why?A: More than 50% of the properties are owned by us, though the equity split can vary. Doing that gives us an advantage because we put the money in. That's where we can be different and be nimble and flexible and still deliver good returns.