A History Of Banyan Tree, The Hotel Behind The Viral RM460 Burger

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

This got us interested in Banyan Tree’s beginnings as a hotel chain, and we discovered that it had a rather rich history.

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

The prison humiliated him & Changed his life

“You realize in isolation who you are and who you are not,” he said in an interview with BBC News.

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

Ho’s controversy over his job as an economic editor sent him to jail for 2 months, which he described in the BBC News interview as a sobering experience.

“I realized that I was not a Nelson Mandela. I was never going to be. The causes I could have been jailed for were not the causes that I could really relate to, ”he told BBC News.

This time spent alone is what pushes him to propose to his wife. When they were finally released, the couple settled on an island off the coast of Hong Kong.

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

View from Phuket Villa of Banyan Tree / Image credit: Banyan Tree

While vacationing at Bang Tao Bay, located on the west coast of Phuket in the Andaman Sea, the couple stumbled across land and thought it would make a great location for a resort.

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

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

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

But this was not his first business venture.

He almost drove the family business out of business

Ho’s transition 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 sue the Wah Chang group of companies.

After joining Wah Chang, Ho made a business decision that nearly bankrupted the company, he shared in an interview with IPE.

Wanting to make his mark on the company, he had built an aerial platform to take advantage of China’s potential oil reserves in the South China Sea.

He had virtually no engineering training, but he finished it anyway and made a deal to sell the rig to the Ministry of Drilling.

Unfortunately, the timing was horrible, because by the time they finished the global offshore platform market collapsed.

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

Ho resigned after the adventure, but his father would not allow him to resign. He had to stay and recoup the losses.

Ho then distinguished himself as a businessman and made the cover of Fortune International magazine in 1990.

The first banyan tree was a resort without a waterfront

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

Building a hotel on the land in Phuket proved difficult as it lacked a waterfront.

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

In the BBC News interview, 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 in 1995. That same year it expanded to the Maldives, followed by another expansion to Bintan, Indonesia.

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

The company currently operates 4 brands under its name: Banyan Tree and Angsana, and the newly created Cassia and Dhawa.

Which brings us to …

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

The hotel occupies the top seven floors of the Banyan Tree Signatures Kuala Lumpur pavilion, which is the residential building in conjunction with the Pavilion KL shopping center and Banyan Tree, the global hotel brand.

In the bedroom of Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur / Image credit: Banyan Tree

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

It’s not usually a common name in the news, by now most internet users in contact would have heard of it.

Demand for an RM460 burger eventually grew so great that last night Banyan Tree revealed it had created one.

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

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

Featured Image Credit: Banyan Tree

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Jothi Venkat

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