Entrepreneur

Forget The Viral RM460 Drama, Banyan Tree Group’s Founder History Is Much More Inspiring

Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur has been trending on social media since October 7, all thanks to a story that you can read about here.

This led to us becoming curious about Banyan Tree’s start as a hotel chain, and we found out that it has a rather rich history.

For one, the founder of Banyan Tree Holdings, Ho Kwon Ping, is a Singaporean national who was once a prisoner.

Prison Humbled Him & Changed His Life

“You realise in solitary confinement who you are and who you are not,” he said in an interview with BBC News

Once a student at Stanford University in California (though later expelled for protesting the Vietnam War), he began working as a journalist in 1977 for the Far Eastern Economic Review. 

Ho’s controversy surrounding his work as economics editor sent him to jail for 2 months, which he described in the BBC News interview as a sobering experience.

“I realised I was not a Nelson Mandela. I was not ever going to be. The causes for which I might have been imprisoned were not the causes that I really could identify with,” he told BBC News.

This time spent in solitary was what pushed him to propose to his wife. When he was finally released, the couple settled down in a Hong Kong offshore island.

Living in a small fishing village called Banyan Tree Bay, which is where the company got its name, he said in the same interview that it was an idyllic period of time for both of them. 

View from Banyan Tree’s Phuket villa / Image Credit: Banyan Tree

On a holiday in Bang Tao Bay, located on the western coast of Phuket in the Andaman Sea, the couple stumbled across a plot of land and thought it would make an ideal location for a resort.

Without much research, Ho and his wife, Claire Chiang, purchased the land.

However, they later discovered that it was an abandoned tin mine and too toxic to support vegetation or any developments. 

After embarking on a regeneration programme, they reintroduced indigenous plants and built 7,000 trees for what would be the first Banyan Tree Resort in Phuket we know of today.

But this was not his first business venture.

He Nearly Drove The Family Business To Bankruptcy

Ho’s shift into the business world came several years later when he decided to join the family business after his father suffered a stroke in 1981. 

As the eldest son, it was his duty to carry on the Wah Chang group of companies.

After joining Wah Chang, Ho made a business decision that almost reduced the company to bankruptcy, he shared in an interview with IPE.

Wanting to make his mark on the company, he had built a jack-up rig to take advantage of China’s potential oil reserves in the South China Sea.

He had virtually no engineering background, but he completed it anyway and had a handshake deal to sell the rig to the Ministry of Drilling.

Unfortunately, the timing was horrendous, because just as they finished, the global market for offshore rigs collapsed.

And instead of oil, China found gas in the South China Sea.

Ho quit following the venture, but his father didn’t allow him to resign. He had to stay on and recoup the losses.

Ho then went on to distinguish himself as a businessman and made the cover of Fortune International magazine in 1990.

The First Banyan Tree Was A Resort With No Beachfront

The first Banyan Tree Resort & Hotel in Phuket / Image Credit: Banyan Tree

Building a hotel on the plot of land in Phuket proved difficult, as it lacked a beachfront.

In an attempt to attract guests, Ho and his wife decided to build villas instead of rooms, each with its own attached swimming pool.

In the interview with BBC News, he described the decision, “Necessity really is the mother of all creativity and we are a living example of that.” 

The Banyan Tree Resort & Hotel in Phuket opened its doors in 1995. That same year, it expanded to the Maldives, followed by another expansion in Bintan, Indonesia. 

Banyan Tree Holdings Limited now boasts a chain of 48 resorts and hotels, 64 spas, 74 retail galleries and three championship golf courses in 28 countries.

The firm currently helms 4 brands under its name: Banyan Tree and Angsana, and the newly established Cassia and Dhawa.

Which Leads Us To…

Malaysia’s first Banyan Tree Resorts & Hotels was opened on January 15, 2018 in “Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle”, which describes the city’s shopping, entertainment and commercial hubs. 

The hotel occupies the top seven floors of Banyan Tree Signatures Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, which is the residential building in collaboration with Pavilion KL’s shopping mall and Banyan Tree, the global hospitality brand.

Inside Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur’s room / Image Credit: Banyan Tree

Located on the 58th floor is Horizon Grill, home to the famous RM460 (actually RM88) Angus burger that started the memes.

Not usually a common name in the news, now most in-touch netizens would have heard of it.

The demand for an actual RM460 burger eventually grew so great that last night, Banyan Tree revealed that it had actually created one.

Ho Kwon Ping certainly made his mark in the hotel industry with Banyan Tree, and the hotel’s sudden virality has made its history all the more memorable.

  • You can learn more about Banyan Tree here.
  • You can read more about other Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Banyan Tree

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