Mark van Ogtrop,
Managing Director, Golden Tulip,
It’s like coming full circle, so to speak, Mark van Ogtrop’s career journey in hospitality management, and if circle – considered the most perfect shape – symbolizes anything further in his life, it’s probably being in the right location at the right time, career-wise and otherwise.
How so? van Ogtrop, senior vice president of the Golden Tulip Hospitality Group and managing director of the Golden Tulip regional office in Bangkok, is presiding over the development of the group’s interests in the region at a very exciting time when the region is facing great challenges to meet its great potential. Perfect location? He is based in Thailand, a country he considers home, doing what he loves most in a place he loves so much.
“We’re riding on the wave of Asia, at the right time,” van Ogtrop told Lookeast in an exclusive interview at his Bangkok office. His hotel management and marketing company – part of a bigger group Golden Tulip founded 25 years ago by KLM Airlines but now owned by Starwood Capital operating 1200 hotels in country worldwide with the Louvre Group – covers the Asean region mainly “very aggressively growing” its brand categories.
Golden Tulip is fairly recent in Asia, but since it opened its Bangkok office in 2007 have become a major player in hotel developments in the region. The company’s main focus was to develop Thailand, as a market first, although when they first came here the timing was not fortunate as Thailand underwent a series of crises. That put a break in the Thailand development plan but they went on in Indonesia, where van Ogtrop was very bullish about the potential for growth, and Malaysia. Next in line, he says, once the three countries are established, would be Myanmar and Singapore.
Since last year however, there was a noticeable increase in the Golden Tulip activities again a reflection that Thailand is back on track in their plans. “Indeed development in Thailand has really taken off only lat year,” van Ogtrop admitted. “Our first hotel was Golden Tulip Mangosteen in Phuket, then we followed it with the rebranding of Golden Tulip Sovereign and Golden Tulip Mandison Suites in Bangkok. Just this year, we open Golden Tulip Samudra Hua Hin – and three projects are under negotiation in Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Phuket.”
He also said that they have a current rebranding project in the old historic part of Bangkok of which he is very excited about, because, in this area where mostly guesthouses operate, “we see a good opportunity to position an international property.”
He was extremely proud of the last hotel they opened the 100-room Golden Tulip Samudra in Hua Hin, which he says is “now a now very important property in a very good location. It’s really a great product, stunning rooms, very modern – and we’re very excited about it.”
What probably differentiates Golden Tulip from other international hotel chains entering Thailand and the region is that they are not going into the luxury hotel segment, they are going into mid-tier properties. “It is clear that the hotel industry in the big cities of Asia are getting saturate, and growth is mainly in the secondary cities and budget brands,” he points out. “And budget brands are not in Thailand yet. It is an interesting segment in Thailand not serviced yet. We have a strong business plan for a budget-premier class in Thailand although we have not yet executed them.
“The interesting thing in going in the mid-tier market,” he adds, “is that we can easily go from economy to three-star or four-star. And there’s lots of secondary cities we can enter, which gives us more growth potential.” Of course not all Golden Tulip brands are mid-tier.
Golden Tulip Southeast Asia aims to establish Golden Tulip Hotels, Inns & Resorts as a leading hotel chain in the region, while introducing the four brands of the chain: 5 stars Royal Tulip, 4 stars Golden Tulip and Golden Tulip Resort and the economy business 3 stars brand Tulip Inn. The office further aims to develop the necessary infrastructure to provide maximum support to investors and owners. Golden Tulip Southeast Asia aims to achieve a sizeable portfolio by both converting existing hotels into Royal Tulips, Golden Tulips and Tulip Inns as well as developing new hotels.
In establishing a strong position in the region through the development of management agreements for existing and new hotels, van Ogtrop finds it interesting how they are able to assist owners and developers in defining their product for them. “Again, because we’re not standardized, we can get the right type of development at the right time for the destination,” he reiterates, “and target distinct markets too. Our current Bangkok properties target different set of market segment.”
As a brand operator, Golden Tulip also tends to be different from a working relationship point-of-view, van Ogtrop says. “We look work more closely together with owners and developers into creating the project. We adapt ourselves and remain open to the way business is being done locally. I mean you cannot come with your European standards and force them here. You need to need to understand the local market and adapt yourself to the local market.”
In all these, the tagline is “International Standards, Local Flavors”—which allows their 3-4 star properties to avoid standardization. “International standards mean that when a guest arrive in our property, they can expect the quality of products they expect but we want our hotels to have distinct flavor. For example, we have a property in Ubud, Indonesia that is so unique because what we have done there we can do elsewhere. It’s a howl different way of approaching a project. It’s fascinating. Physically we have to come up with a concept tailor-made for the destination that will not work somewhere else.”
“It’s an important tagline we use,” van Ogtrop says, “ and one that reflects our core values: personal, familiar, flexible – which are really make up the brand’s DNA. The tagline makes us more versatile not only in the ambience in our services but also the way we position our properties.”
As far as Thailand development goes, van Ogtrop says he would be happy to have 10 as originally planned, “although in Indonesia we can develop more.” Indonesia is one of the two countries he thinks are the stars in terms of percentage growth. “Boom is already happening in Indonesia, and the next is Myanmar. We still have to find a right footing in Myanmar but definitely those two countries have the most potential.”
And Thailand? “Thailand is a very mature destination, very well developed,” he says. “Despite the emerging new destinations, I think Thailand is still the darling of the Far East in terms of appeal to travelers. It is very popular and we should not underestimate that. Growth has not stopped yet, and whatever happens, the “darling factor” that makes this country attractive will not go away. Thailand will still be on top of the list for many people, especially the emerging new breed of Asian travelers.”
“For example, the growing league of Asian travelers – when they think of traveling would they want to go for a week?” he elaborates. “Possibilities are limited; choices not that much. You think Asia is very big, but among the obvious choices – Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangkok – the latter is still much favored. Thailand will still be very strong. As you can see I am a fan of Thailand. I’m not afraid of oversupply.”
That’s probably part of the reason why Golden Tulip chose Bangkok for its regional office? “Part of its yes,” and part of it personal,” he says. “Strategically, I think Thailand is a better place to develop hotels. I don’t think I can grow our portfolio in Singapore. Having our office here is not a difficult choice, I’m happy we decided to set up office here.
Where does he see Golden Tulip a few years from now? “We can become the mid-tier leading group here in Asia, for a simple reason: there’s not much competition in mid-tier, even in Bangkok. We’re in a niche. Thus our opportunity to become market leader is not over-exaggerated, it’s not dreamland. Our original target number of properties has been delayed because of the crises but the milestones and development plans have not changed; we’re going to get there.”
Mark van Ogtrop, who brings along more than 30 years of experience in the hotel business, says he had it decided (to become a hotelier) when he was 12. “I started in the service industry with my brother and I immediately know I would go to hotel school, which I did,” he says. “I also earlier on decided I wanted to go overseas, and very quickly convinced that I want to go to Asia because I saw how luxury in Asia surpasses any place thus far. “Thus, while he started with Golden Tulip in Europe in the 80s before expanding his experience working in three continents, he spent over 10 years in Asia: working with The Peninsula Group in Hong Kong and Dusit Hotels & Resorts in Thailand, which he describes as a fantastic group, a great experience, a great learning curve.”
Prior to his present position and returning to Thailand, van Ogtrop was area manager for Dorint Hotels in Europe. “After that stint, I said, that’s it It’s back to Thailand. My family is here, and I’m not going anywhere. This is where I am and I am not going to go elsewhere,” he concludes. “For me this is not just an expat job. I’m her, I’m also partner in business and don’t see myself as a fly-in/fly-out expat. I’m here as a permanent resident and wish that I will remain that way.”