Today’s developers need to be able to adapt to global economic forces. Yet the very nature of development means investing in an uncertain future. Christophe Vielle knows all about change; he operates and asset manages properties all over the world with change built into their DNA. To that end, he has shaped Gaw Capital Partners Hospitality (GCPH) from a three-person firm in 2008 into a key Asian player. It aims to grow its G brand, with upcoming openings in Singapore, Yangon, Beijing and Seoul, as well as collaborations and new brands in Chicago and Perth. This summer, it is opening Roosevelt Macau, a lifestyle-driven casino resort featuring old school Hollywood glamour. Not bad for a guy from Angers in western France who left home at the age of 16 to pursue his dreams.
“GCPH is flexible,” explains Vielle. “We work with owners to look at what’s happening in their market. We advise how the business can be turned around. To me, G stands for gap — and how to fill that gap. In every city, we try to come up with a distinct identity for the property. Sometimes it’s a long-stay residence; sometimes it’s a hotel; sometimes it’s both. In every property, though, we adopt a strong design approach, with strong F&B offerings.”
Vielle ended up in Bangkok somewhat by accident. “I was 24 years old and wanted to go to the States,” he recalls. “At that time, the American dollar was strong against the franc. Instead, I went to Hong Kong to earn some money, so that I can continue onto Australia. I ended up staying to work for Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts, and then moved to Taiwan after a year. I learned Mandarin and married a Chinese lady. I have been based in Bangkok since 1992, though my real office is on a plane, flying around from one property and one deal to another.”
As the hospitality arm of Hong Kong-based Gaw Capital Partners, headed by Goodwin Gaw, it currently operates 19 properties and asset manages four others. One of the ones it operates is Bay Bridge, an urban resort in west Tsuen Wan. The Hang Lung development had dated accommodations; not only did GCPH renovate the entire property, it repositioned part of the serviced apartment as student housing two years ago — catering to a niche in the market that others are now scrambling to fulfil.
“After running Bay Bridge for about 18 months, we saw that it had 85 percent occupancy and with four distinct markets: individuals, groups, students and people on layover from the nearby airport,” notes Vielle. “We thought that we should fit out the property in a way that would appeal to each of these markets. To appeal to students, backpackers and summer budget travellers, we created shared accommodations of four beds to a room, each with its own desk, storage and bed.
We came up with fun details, such as a blackboard on the ceilings and a large Smeg fridge in every room. The 48 rooms can house 180 students.” Dubbed Campus, the shared accommodation has its own dedicated lounge called The Link. Campus appeals to those who would typically seek hostels, and add an energetic vibe to the serviced apartment offerings found in the rest of Bay Bridge.
Similarly for Residence G in Tsim Sha Tsui, the 400 and 800 square foot units are roomy enough for guests to have meetings in-room. Yet after its opening in 2015, Vielle found that the property was more profitable as a hotel. “We built our properties with flexibility, though if we have a hotel in mind, the rooms tend to be smaller than long-stay ones,” he notes. “Scarlett, the restaurant on the ground floor of Residence G, has become a nice place for both guests and the community to meet people and have dinner. We just launched Residence G in Shenzhen: 170 one- and two-bedroom apartments in Nansha.”
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