Thai hotel group expands into Europe and South America

5_328562Minor International, a Thai hotel and food conglomerate founded by American-born entrepreneur William Heinecke, expanded into Europe and South America by successfully acquiring Tivoli Hotels and Resorts, Inc., last week, giving it 14 properties in Portugal and Brazil, as several Thai corporations continue to build their brands and presence in overseas markets.

Minor is riding a wave of Asian investment in European hotels, with global property consultant CB Richard Ellis noting that Asian money drove investments in hotels on the continent to a record high in 2015. Thai corporations in several sectors have been stepping up acquisitions overseas. In real estate, Singha Estate, the property arm of beverage firm Singha Corporation, joined with Fico Holding (UK) to purchase 26 Mercure hotels in the United Kingdom last October.

Minor Hotel executives said they would use Portugal as a base for further forays into the European market. Of the 14 properties contained in the acquisition, 12 are in Portugal. Minor has spent more than $500 million on a series of hotel purchases in recent years, including properties in Australia, Malaysia, Africa and Brazil. With the addition of the Tivoli hotels, Minor’s complete hotel portfolio totals 145 properties across 22 countries. The acquisition of Tivoli Hotels and Resorts was valued at $318 million, according to local press reports.

“Portugal is coming out of the financial crisis, and the euro is fairly weak,” said Dillip Rajakarier, chief executive of Minor Hotel Group. “We see a lot of Chinese tourists in Europe, and Portugal is one of the nicest tourist destinations there.”

Minor International is a hospitality company with total assets estimated at roughly $2 billion in 2013. The company has three divisions: hotels, fast food, and distribution of retails brands.

William Heinecke founded the firm in 1978 as an office cleaning service company and named it Minor because he was still legally a minor at the time. Heinecke was the son of a Voice of America correspondent stationed in Thailand and he chose to make Thailand his lifelong home.

He moved from office cleaning into advertising, heading the local office of Ogilvy & Mather before striking out on his own. His was best known for many years for introducing Western fast food to Thailand, opening the first Pizza Hut in the Kingdom. He later founded his own chain called The Pizza Company. Early observers were convinced he would fail, because the conventional wisdom was that Thais, and Asians in general, would not eat bread and cheese.

Heinecke was undaunted, saying he always believed that people were more similar than different, and his multi-billion dollar business empire has proved him right.