Dato’ Mark Yeoh, Executive Director, YTL Hotels and Resorts
Executive Director, YTL Hotels and Resorts, Dato’ Mark Yeoh talks to SPACE’s Can Faik about the future of the YTL brand…
YTL Hotels owns and manages a prestigious collection of award-winning resorts, hotels, boutique experiences and Spa Villages with a hospitality footprint across Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Japan, Australia, France and the United Kingdom. The group also co-owns the Eastern & Oriental Express luxury train.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working for YTL Hotels?
I graduated King’s College in 1988 and was enjoying a very short stint as a lawyer although hospitality has always been a passion of mine. In 1990 the opportunity presented itself when the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism kicked off its first Visit Malaysia Year and I returned home to work with YTL Group who had decided to set up a hospitality division, further extending our continued support for government initiatives.
What is your position within YTL Hotels?
Executive Director of YTL Hotels & Resorts
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
The most rewarding part of my job is the pride that YTL is still such a strong family company. Given the recent death of my father, we are more determined than ever to do his legacy justice by growing the YTL name. I love working in the hospitality division as no two days are the same – we are always looking at new and innovative ways to make our existing properties better, and to expand into markets and destinations where we are lesser known. YTL has such a renowned reputation across Malaysia, and it’s exciting to be growing that worldwide.
I am a huge fan of culture and history, and our most recent projects in the UK really allow me to use my knowledge and passion to inject that YTL personality into our UK projects. As my colleagues will testify to, I will always choose the more challenging project that has a fascinating story behind it, over the straightforward easy sell – it’s what makes me love the hospitality industry.
What are the complexities of meeting the demands of shareholders, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?
Working in hospitality is a careful balancing act, but I think what makes things tick is always delivering that personal touch, making people feel special and individual – that’s what’s so important to us as a family company. Whether it be shareholders, managers, new starters, or guests, I like to ensure that everyone understands the very core of the YTL Hotels ethos, so that they can fully get behind us as a brand. My management team both in KL, the UK, and at each hotel work together seamlessly to balance the needs of shareholders with the desires of guests and the importance of brand visibility, and giving that responsibility and ownership to people always means that they will do the best job they can in supporting the growth of the brand.
What are YTL Hotels unique selling points?
One of YTL Hotels’ key traits that sets us apart from other global hotel brands is our focus on the individuality and uniqueness of each and every property. Of course, we have our brand pillars that run through each hotel, and recognised offerings such as Spa Village. However, from Pangkor Laut Resort in Malaysia to The Gainsborough Bath Spa and Niseko Village in Japan, each of the jewels in our crown serve a different purpose and are encouraged to make their own mark and create their own story. The crafted experiences such as Chef’s Kitchen and Private Cruises, catered to every type of guest, are something that demonstrate each resort’s expertise in its location and culture. Our guests really appreciate this when it comes to creating their dream trip, because they know that each hotel is allowed to create their own bespoke offering, rather than regurgitating the same experience in a different destination, which is in turn passed onto the guest.
What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?
Flexibility and the ability to deal with the totally irrational in a rational way are two key traits necessary when you work in this industry. I have worked on hotel openings that have been delayed not by months, but sometimes by years, and projects that have looked impossible due to logistical issues. But these things have always worked out in the long run, and I think in order to stay motivated, you need to have that resilience and an ability to see the bigger, more long-term picture, with your eye on the end goal at all times. That will allow you to surpass any of those obstacles, and build your success and happiness at the same time.
Tell me about the soon to open Monkey Island here in Berkshire, and what we can expect from the historic property?
Monkey Island Estate is going to be the perfect spot for guests retiring for a peaceful countryside weekend with amazing food and amazing landscape all around them. Bray is a place that I have loved for years, and when I saw that purchasing the island was a possibility, I jumped at it. The island has a fascinating 800 year history, and has been home to monks, Royals, writers, soldiers, you name it. Even in the modern day, so many people have their own memories and stories of Monkey Island, and it’s a huge task for us to be making our own mark here. We’ve kept the historic design of the two listed buildings, which are going to provide a boutique hotel, and a lovely Brasserie on the river and event space, for both overnight guests and drop-in diners. The gardens and river will be a huge focus, with bicycles, fishing, archery, and so much more taking place on the island – it’s going to be a true weekend retreat for guests to get away from it all, and we can’t wait for it to open this summer. Back when we were in the purchasing process, my father Tan Sri Dato Seri Dr Yeoh Tiong Lay really encouraged us to move forward with this, so the opening is going to be a true dedication to his legacy and memory.
What other exciting projects do you have in the pipeline?
The UK is a big focus for us at the moment – we are very well established across Asia, and with the recent opening of the Ritz Carlton, Koh Samui, we are cementing our presence there even further. As well as Monkey Island Estate, The Academy in Bloomsbury is undergoing major refurbishments, to upgrade it into our luxury portfolio as one of our flagship London properties. Along with The Gainsborough Bath Spa, The Glasshouse in Edinburgh, and Threadneedles in London, our UK portfolio is continuously building, and I’m excited to see where that takes us.
Japan is going to be more of a focus for us in coming years, with the Ritz Reserve, EDITION, and W in Niseko all in the pipeline, along with another JW Marriott and EDITION Hotel in KL.
How do trends differ – if at all – between hotels in Asia and Europe?
Of course cultural differences dictate the hospitality industry from one continent to the next in some senses, but the thing that remains the same across hotels globally, and the most important thing in my eyes, is the guest expectation and how this is executed. Values of five-star hospitality are replicated in the UK, Europe, Asia, and beyond, and hotel brands need to be mindful to offer the same experience across all of their properties, no matter what the location. This is something we pride ourselves on at YTL Hotels.
In terms of consumer-led trends, we find the fascination with Europe and the UK is still a strong travel inspiration in Asia, and our guests love to see those British traditions and historical touchpoints replicated in our Asia hotels – such as is found in Cameron Highlands Resort. This makes our UK expansion doubly exciting, as the Asian market can’t wait to explore these properties, and immerse themselves in British history at its root.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
We’re lucky here at YTL to have a great design team led by Chief Architect Baldip Singh of SPYTL and designer Zaidan Tahir in addition to Anthony Champalimaud, the son of Champalimaud, an award-winning New York based design company, and along with his mother and company founder Alexandra Champalimaud, Anthony keeps us abreast of all interior trends and advances. Champalimaud has great synergy with YTL as their design is very much focused on fusing tradition with contemporary pops, and imparting on guests a laidback luxury atmosphere – something that works perfectly with both our historical listed properties, and our more modern, slick new-builds.
We’ve found that what our guests want from interiors is a warm and welcoming atmosphere, that reminds them where in the world they are. Therefore, we always incorporate local interest into our interiors wherever possible, from the Roman inspired Bath House at The Gainsborough to the monkey paintings at Monkey Island, our interiors reflect their locations in subtle ways to immerse the guest in their chosen destination.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
Design is up there as one of the most important elements of launching a new hotel, and Anthony joins us at all planning meetings – his opinion is greatly valued. We have so many teams working across our projects, from operations to accounts to marketing, sometimes the one thread that links these together is design. There have been ideas that seem like they’d work out perfectly, and Anthony has come in with his design eye and explained how this may not be feasible, always offering an alternative for how we can get around this and enhance the original idea. Design is about so much more than a creative eye, you need to think logically and scientifically too, and the Champalimaud team are invaluable to us in this sense.
What would be your dream hotel project?
Monkey Island has been my dream hotel project for so many years, that now it is finally happening and the opening is tangible, it’s hard to set my sights on a new one just yet. Come back to me in a year and I’ll most likely have my sights set on another, completely different project! Anything that is steeped in history and culture satisfies my passions and dreams for the future of YTL.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
Yachting in the Mediterranean
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
My family is my business and my business is my family, which means that we are all understanding of the nature of this job, and most of the time, we enjoy discussing our projects and work – we’re proud, and it strengthens are bond to work together to create such exciting and meaningful experiences and properties. When work becomes the personal, striking that balance becomes a lot less of a worry.