Renaissance Man: In Conversation with Srettha Thavisin of Sansiri

Renaissance Man: In Conversation with Srettha Thavisin of Sansiri

Following the successful opening of two hotels by The Standard in Thailand – and with more properties on the cards for the region and globally – Sansiri’s Srettha Thavisin reveals plans to bring another US-based hospitality brand, Bunkhouse, to Asia.

When The Standard, Hua Hin opened in December last year, it brought a level of cool never seen before in the popular seaside resort. Similarly, the opening last month of The Standard, Bangkok Mahanakhon caused quite a stir in the Thai capital. If Srettha Thavisin – Director, CEO, President, Chairman of Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, and Chairman of the Executive Committee of Sansiri – can have it his way, history will repeat itself when the group’s other hospitality brand, Bunkhouse, makes its debut.

With a reputation as one of Thailand’s leading luxury real estate developers, Sansiri made headlines in 2017 when the company – as part of its ‘Everyday Visionaries’ growth map – made an investment of USD 58 million into Standard International, the parent company behind Standard Hotels and Bunkhouse Group, with offices in New York, London and Austin. A subsequent further investment ultimately secured a 62 percent and controlling stake for Sansiri in the company. The move of entering the hotel industry was set to revolutionise old-school, traditional industries such as hospitality and real estate, and aimed at diversifying Sansiri’s portfolio.

Renaissance Man: In Conversation with Srettha Thavisin of Sansiri

With a fast-growing portfolio of 16 hotel and F&B properties (with more to come), Standard International is on the forefront of immersive experience creation at its hotels. The Hua Hin and Bangkok properties have certainly proved that.

“The reaction has exceeded everyone’s expectations,” Srettha confirms. “When we opened The Standard in Hua Hin, the feedback we had was that it is something very new to this seaside destination. With the hotel in King Power Mahanakhon, such an architecturally iconic building, we are working with an owner who has vision and fantastic taste, plus they allowed us to be who we want to be. Above all, we wanted to make them proud – not only in terms of financial returns, but also with regard to a demand for rooms, tables, fashion shoots… creating an asset that people talk about. That was very important for us.”

With The Standard on a fast track to success and making indelible impressions in the hearts and minds of travellers, our conversation shifts to Bunkhouse, the Austin, Texas-based hospitality management company with currently 10 hotels, one event space and a coffee shop around various locations in the USA and Mexico. Bunkhouse has a reputation for building memorable experiences that offer more than just a good night’s sleep and a great cup of coffee – fuelled by a passion for design, tireless attention to detail, and a deeply rooted cultural connection to its locations.

Srettha explains: “Bunkhouse is not a copy-and-paste kind of hotel. Each of the properties is unique. Bunkhouse focuses on art, music, and culture – offering a very different experience that’s really connected to the location. Another reason why I would like to bring this hotel brad to Thailand is because, in general, the length of tourists’ stays in Thailand is quite short, compared to European destinations, where there’s a lot to see and do. I believe Thailand will benefit from encouraging tourists to stay longer, especially by also exploring secondary locations like Sukhothai, Si Racha, Ayutthaya, Ranong, Nan, Phitsanulok, Buriram, and the likes.”

Renaissance Man: In Conversation with Srettha Thavisin of Sansiri

And that’s where Bunkhouse comes in. “Destinations like these have a lot of historical and cultural significance – unseen attractions, festivals, monuments, and temples. But they really lack cool lifestyle focused hotels,” Srettha says. “With Bunkhouse’s strong focus on art, music, and culture, it can offer an experience that’s really connected to the location. And it doesn’t need to be a big property with 100s of rooms – it can be 20 or 30 rooms which will be more appropriate for smaller destinations.”

According to him, Sansiri is already in negotiations for the first Bunkhouse property in Thailand, and an announcement can be expected before the end of the year. Providing it’s a conversion and not purposebuilt, the first Bunkhouse in Thailand could open by the end of next year. “A team from Bunkhouse in the US will also be visiting Thailand soon, to have a look at potential conversions, but also to explore local crafts like ceramics and silk, so that they can be aware of what is available out here.”

In addition to these relatively unexplored destinations in Thailand, Srettha and his team are also eyeing similar locales in the region that are rich in culture, like Danang in Vietnam, Bali, and Langkawi.

He admits that the pandemic has been a big learning curve, and if there’s one lesson the luxury hospitality sector is taking away from it all it’s that luxury travel has become very experience-driven. “Yes, luxury materials like marble are still important, but the experience is everything!”

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