Lebua Hotels & Resorts is seeking a public listing in either Bangkok or Singapore to fund new concepts and expansion outside its home base in Thailand.
Having conquered the skies with his “vertical destination” shout from the rooftops, CEO Deepak Ohri is coming down to earth with new initiatives in 2020 that include floating river clubs and container hotels in Asia.
The hotel company will most likely become public in a year or two, said Ohri, without providing any details on what it plans to raise in capital.
The current Lebua portfolio is small but hefty, built on the foundation of the towering 247-meter tall Lebua hotel in Bangkok.
Ohri transformed the lusterless serviced apartment complex into a luxury hotel in 2006, capping it by marketing its golden rooftop dome as “the world’s first vertical destination.” The Dome at Lebua today has four restaurants, two of which are Michelin starred, and a string of specialty bar concepts, all offering unrivaled views of the Chao Phraya River.
That, and audacious stunts such as throwing the world’s most expensive dinner in 2007 costing one million baht per guest ($25,000 at the time) made Lebua a global brand overnight, thanks to world media coverage.
Inviting people to dine and bar hop from floor to floor instead of door to door now brings in an average food and beverage revenue of $80,000 per day, Ohri told Skift. Eighty percent of guests at The Dome are tourists.
“We’re going for a listing. We’ve been working quite a lot on this, sorting out the accounting, legal, et cetera. At the moment we’re thinking to list either in Bangkok or Singapore, most likely Singapore,” he said.
The rest of the portfolio comprises two luxury boutique hotels in India, a 41-room heritage property Lebua Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, and a 44-room Lebua Corbett, a jungle resort bordering the Jim Corbett National Park about four to five hours’ drive from New Delhi.
The company also manages the Lake Okareka Lodge by Lebua in Rotorua, New Zealand, a lake house with three suites.
Two more hotels in India will open next year, in Naini Tal, a hill station in the state of Uttarakhand, and popular beach destination Goa.
Ohri said the listing will fund expansion into emerging Indochina markets Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, for which Thailand “will always stay as the hub because of the geographical location.” Moreover, it wants to own and operate joint venture projects, instead of going asset-light with management contracts.
For a brand like Lebua which is food and beverage-driven, the management contracts model does not work, he said. “It is full of compromise, so the brand loses its value or its fundamentals. We tell the owner that F&B will do well. Most of them are from real estate background — they don’t think so. They’d rather lease the space and [earn the rent]. Some owners like to spend a lot of money on rooms because it is their trophy asset, but how many guests actually stay in the room?”
Still, it is easy to see why owners would rather lease than run restaurants and bars, which is risky business fraught with high overheads, fast-changing trends and turbo-charged competition. Besides, can developing Indochina destinations afford the kind of F&B prices Ohri charges in Bangkok, where a glass of Coca-Cola at his Distil Bar on the 64th floor costs $20?
“If people are upset that we sell the most expensive glass of Coke in the world, let them be. Because I don’t want to sell Coke. I also don’t want to sell beer — we limit the sale to no more than 10 beers a day. Before we open anything, we always know what we want. In Bangkok, we bring exclusivity in our curation of wines, champagnes, whiskies, cocktails; let them say it’s overpriced. I also say Rolls Royce is overpriced. I want but I can’t; sorry that’s a reality of life.
“We will be offering different concepts to suit the CMLV [Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam] markets. Imagine a boat with a day club in Halong Bay. Boutique hotels with around 80 rooms in special locations. We’ll be choosing our locations carefully. And everything we do will be done with sustainable building materials,” said Ohri. “There’s a lot to be done in CMLV.”
Instead of beach clubs, which are now a dime a dozen in Asian destinations such as Bali, Lebua is launching its first river day club in Bangkok in September 2020.
Adding more color to the Chao Phraya River where long-tail water taxis and cross-river teak boats ply, Lebua’s day club will be a barge 51 meters long and 13.5 meters wide (see artist impression) with facilities such as a pool, dance floor in a glass enclosure with live deejay, two restaurants, cabanas, day beds and private salons.
Embarkation and disembarkation points have not been confirmed, but the barge can accommodate 200 guests at any one time.
Ohri figures the river day club will add another tourist attraction to the city and extend visitors’ length of stay. Guests will have the unique chance to watch Bangkok’s river sights float by while dipping in the pool, dancing away, or wining and dining. Half-day or full-day packages will be offered. Lebua hotel guests will have to pay for the package just like any other tourist for the experience.
“A normal hotel’s length of stay is always in line with the city’s, but an F&B hotel could add 0.3 days,” said Ohri. “The current average length of stay in Bangkok is 1.8 to 1.9 days. Ours is 2.1 to 2.2 days. We want to increase that to 2.3 to 2.4 days.”
“We want to create luxury boutique hotels with unused containers. Ours will be small, around 20 to 30 rooms, with a restaurant and a bar. These hotels will be sustainable with their own wastewater treatment, drinking water, solar panels, and so on,” said Ohri.
“They are environmental friendly and can be built at a fraction of the time, around six to eight months.”
Lebua is doing feasibility studies for a container hotel in Leh, the capital and largest town of Ladakh. Ohri also sees its potential in nature and adventure destinations in Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. “People want to go on an adventure but there aren’t luxury accommodations in some places. We want to meet those needs,” he said.
“Lebua is all about experience, adventure, heritage, fun, celebration. There is no one Lebua. Each is different,” added Ohri.