Hawaii-based Outrigger focuses on expansion in Asia, Pacific

By Jeri Clausing
Outrigger Koh SamuiTo many travel veterans, the name Outrigger is synonymous with Hawaii, especially Waikiki.

But over the past few years, the island-grown hospitality company has been working aggressively to expand throughout the Pacific and Asia, and David Carey, president and CEO of Outrigger Enterprises Group, says the company hopes to step up that growth over the next decade.

"I think we will double our size in Asia in the next five to 10 years," Carey said. "I think we will grow as fast as we can grow, because the time is now."

Indeed, most hotel companies looking for immediate expansion opportunities are turning toward the booming economies of Asia. The biggest difference between Outrigger and many others, Carey said, is that Outrigger is focusing on beach and resort properties.

"We are primarily [concentrating] on warm-weather, beach-oriented leisure destinations where we have brand awareness and experience," he said.

Citing that expertise, owners of the luxury Destination Beach Resort & Spa in Koh Samui, Thailand, turned over management of the property to Outrigger on Feb. 1.

In a statement about the agreement, Pilaipan Chavalrut, representative of hotel owner Dungfun Co., said that Outrigger was "just right" for Koh Samui.

"Outrigger brings over 60 years of tropical beach resort experience to the island of Koh Samui," Chavalrut said. "We also chose Outrigger because of their excellent distribution channels and their commitment to creating a sense of place that matches perfectly with our resort. ... We look forward to a long and successful partnership with Outrigger."

The 81-key luxury villa and suite property, now called the Outrigger Koh Samui Resort and Spa, becomes Outrigger's third property in Asia: It has one other hotel in Thailand and a property in Bali.

Additionally, the company has an office in Phuket, Thailand, and has management contracts for a resort under development in Vietnam and another for a property on China's Hainan Island.

The Vietnam property, the Outrigger Vinh Hoi Bay Resort and Spa, will be part of the Vinh Hoi Bay Golf Resort being constructed with four other hotels along a secluded beach about 18 miles north of Quy Nhon in Binh Dinh province.

More opportunities

Carey said the company is close to announcing a second project in Vietnam.

"Vietnam is a few years away from maturing, but in 10 years that place is going to be very nice," Carey said.

Outrigger is also looking for more opportunities on Hainan Island, Carey said.

"They call it the Hawaii of China," he said. "Really, it's the only beach resort place in the entire country. ... It has beautiful [beaches] and is relatively undeveloped."

Outrigger's first property there will be a 500-room, five-star hotel in Qingshui Bay Resort, a multibillion-dollar, mixed-use development being built on 7.5 miles of prime beachfront property on the South China Sea. That development will have six luxury hotels.

Carey said the company has been asked to explore other opportunities in China, but to do that it would have to evaluate whether it wants to go beyond its beach resort focus.

Another area that has come up as a possible expansion market is Central America.

"We have talked about it," Carey said. "For us to do that, we would have to have some connection points. Asia is a little easier because we have done business with a lot of those folks."

Asked if the company ever looks toward the mainland U.S., he said, "We have talked about that. I think we would have to stick to places closer to our core niche, maybe Anaheim, San Diego."

The company, which also manages a number of condominium projects in Hawaii, has pondered ski resorts, as well, he said, "but those are just one-and-a-half-season markets."

Hawaiian beginnings
Still, even its expansion beyond Hawaii is a major shift for a company whose founder never wanted to go farther than Waikiki.

"If he couldn't walk to it, he didn't want to do it," Carey said of Roy Kelley, who with his wife started the company after moving to Hawaii in the late 1920s and renting rooms in the back of their house. (Kelley is the grandfather of Carey's wife.)

From there the couple grew the company, building properties on Waikiki Beach. The company began branching out to other Hawaiian islands in the 1980s and entered the condominium business in the late 1990s.

Today, Outrigger is one of the largest hotel and resort management companies in the Asia-Pacific and Oceania markets, with some 40 properties in the Hawaiian Islands, Australia, Fiji, Bali, Guam and Thailand.

Besides Asia, Carey said the company is also looking for new opportunities throughout the Pacific.

"We are always looking at Palau," he said. "We'd love to find the right opportunity in Tahiti. We were there for a while and would love to be back.

"My guys tell me the Cook Islands are nice. We had an inquiry from Vanuatu recently, and we periodically check New Caledonia.

"We've had people beg us to go to Samoa," he said, noting the problem there is lack of airlift.
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