Global Interview Project | Christian de Ruty, Managing Partner of Openasia Group
Openasia Group is an investment firm with seven core businesses, active in niche sectors at the forefront of Vietnamese economic progress, including Hotels & Tourism. Headquartered in Hanoi, Openasia Group has offices in Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, France and employs around 1,500 people. With the aim of delivering unique services to a quality foreign and local clientele, Openasia Hospitality develops and manages properties with a distinctive concept of wellness and entertainment which are inspired by a mix of Vietnamese and Western cultures. Today it is my pleasure to report here my discussion with Chistian de Ruty, Managing Partner of Openasia Group.
Geoffrey Ravoire: Can you tell us how Openasia started and how hospitality became a major segment for you?
Christian de Ruty: Set up in Hanoi in 1994, Openasia was initially owned by Lazard, a leading investment bank. In the late 90’s, Lazard withdrew from Vietnam and sold the company to its three managers. Since 1999, the three of us have led Openasia into highly diversified ventures such as luxury retail, mineral water, luxury craft, car dealership, etc… It is only in 2010 that we engaged in hospitality with the acquisition of a hot spring resort and two boutique hotels in Huê, the ancient capital of Vietnam. More recently, we developed a high-end gastronomic restaurant and lounge in Hanoi (with a menu signed by Alain Dutournier, 2-Michelin stars) called Press-Club and also acquired Emeraude, a 37-cabin cruising boat touring in the famous Halong Bay.
GR: Alba Hotels, the Press Club, and the Emeraude belong to one group. Can you tell us about the strategy and the operations: are they completely separate from one brand to the next? Or are brands working together?
CdR: At Openasia, we create synergies for all our subsidiaries. In particular, Sales and Marketing teams are combined for all subsidiaries, including Hospitality. We have an internal cross-sale incentive for employees selling products from other sister companies. In the market, clients do not see a link between the Press-Club, Alba Hotels and Resort or the Emeraude. However, since many clients use these different facilities, they know they belong to the same owners whom they consider as a label of quality. So, we can say the brands work together.
GR: What are your strongest markets? Does it vary by brand or is there a pattern?
CdR: At Openasia, we have a subliminal strategy: all our companies are focusing on the same clientele, the high-income earners. Because this segment is growing, our revenues are growing. All our developments, acquisitions and start-ups are designed to offer new services to these high-end consumers whom we learn to know on a personal level.
GR: How do you ensure that your staff receives impeccable training to deliver an enjoyable experience to guests? What are the initiatives, goals, rewards that you set for your service employees?
CdR: Our staff comes from very different backgrounds but all have to learn how to interact with high-end customers. First, we recruit highly experienced staff, in particular, our Managers. As part of their mission, these Managers will provide training to all personnel, including those from sister companies. We also bring in experienced foreigners, as consultants or temporary employees, to perfect the training of the staff. Finally, identified talents move temporarily to other companies where they can receive additional training. It is also important to motivate the people to stay in the Group. In fact, the employee turn-over at Openasia is very low thanks to not only an attractive remuneration but also a strong family atmosphere: light hierarchy, easy access to managers and partners, regular team building activities, etc.
GR: What changes do you witness in Vietnam right now that will have an impact on your brands? How do you address these changes?
CdR: Recently, Vietnamese people have become preoccupied, if not obsessed, with health. They are now looking for organic foods, balanced diets, fitness programs, detox retreats, meditation, etc. At all our properties we are pioneering new concepts from abroad that aim at providing better fitness to the mind and the body. At our hotels and restaurant, we have introduced organic menus and hired consultants to develop sophisticated spa services and meditation retreats, as well as introduced fitness programs into all our subsidiaries.
GR: According to you, what is your sector looking for in young graduates?
CdR: In Vietnam, 75% of the population is under 35. This young population has had little opportunities to travel because of the history of the country. In tourism, serving foreign customers is proving difficult for a population that has not had much experience abroad. In the travel industry, young graduates mastering a foreign language, with a service focus and a good ability to deal with foreigners, are very much sought after. In some cases, foreigners will be recruited for that particular exposure to the world that can be difficult to find in young Vietnamese employees or managers.