Ahead of opening a debut property in Saigon, the company’s CEO tells us more about the DNA of the new hospitality brand and his ambitious roadmap for growth.
What was it that drew you to Southeast Asia straight after your college graduation in Canada?
First, I worked in my local real estate market where early success really boosted my confidence. I thought, “I can really succeed in this industry.” Then, like a lot of career developments, the rest happened by chance. A friend was going to Vietnam. I decided to go too. And all this was back in 2006.
As a young and hungry real estate agent, I felt that Vietnam was full of potential.
I was on the way back to the airport, at the end of the trip, when I saw a sign about real estate services. I got home and contacted them – back then it was by letter! I got a one-line response urging me to get on a plane if I wanted a job. And a year later I did and fell in love with the place.
As a hospitality entrepreneur, what makes Vietnam such an exciting place to be right now?
Vietnam right now is exploding. Culturally and economically. From Hanoi, where I’m based, to Saigon, Vietnam’s eclectic southern city, and all points in between, the energy and opportunity is mesmerizing.
From the hospitality industry side, there’s a gap in the market. Something like 83 percent of the hotel market is “unbranded”. There’s all these small mom-and-pop kinds of places, small with 25 to 90 rooms. There’s a chance to consolidate that demand with a product that speaks to and attracts both locals and foreign visitors post-Covid.
What are a few major lessons from your time developing branded residences with high-end hotel chains such as Four Seasons and Six Senses?
Personally, to work hard and hustle. Because of that I managed to sell lots of condos on a project in Danang. I joined at the bottom; Indochina Capital recruited me and I worked my way up from the sales floor through the construction and development side and then onto the investment team. Now I’m the second in command at ICC and CEO of Wink Hotels.
The Four Seasons and Six Senses experience taught me a lot about luxury hotels. I also connected with designers AW2, based out of Paris, who are now part of the Wink project. And the main takeaway I’m employing today is to give the same level and love of detail that I witnessed at those amazing luxury hotels to the three- to four-star market which everyone can access.
How did you and your partners come up with the name and concept for Wink Hotels?
We played around with a few names, but everything seemed to fall into place when we came up with the name Wink with our brand partners, QUO. Wink has this feeling of being in-the-know, a little cheeky and flirtatious.
So, the hotels themselves will be sleek, chic, and vibrant to reflect the name. Among a lot of cool stuff, we’ll have a self-order kitchen, a cool bar that serves a great cold-brew coffee by day, in Saigon’s hip downtown Dakao Ward, self-check-in stations, mobile phone as room card, a great sleep experience and power shower, lots of local collaborations, and insider info for guests, and a coworking space by [local brand] Toong instead of a dusty old business center.
The vibrant colors and fun furnishings came from AW2. They reference street colors and dynamic local life — a good example is our street food carts that have been given a modern twist.
Wink Hotels bills itself as the first locally born hospitality brand of an international standard. How do you hope to express and capture the spirit of 21st-century Vietnam in each property?
We took elements of old and new, mixed them up and made a brand unlike any that currently exist in Vietnam. So, we’re Vietnamese in our DNA.
Wink Hotels hopes to be more innovative than other hotels too; to offer modernity and efficiency in our style and services because we get the modern traveler’s needs and built the Wink brand based on those needs: instant check-in, cool location, hangout spaces and bed and room to recharge in at the end of the day.
Some of my favorite elements are the bar, sustainably-packaged food cart Grab & Go items, and a locally inspired coffee program. You can order a delicious cocktail full of Vietnamese flavor or a craft beer, or if it’s too early for that a really good cup of locally grown coffee.
Are there specific demographics of traveler you are hoping to target? For instance, young professionals?
Good question. We want to welcome everyone; everyone should be able to enjoy the Wink Hotels experience. Primally, to begin, this would be upwardly mobile Vietnamese attracted by our services and style … and price point. Of course, you might visit Wink and feel the buzz of the place and guess we have our sights set on the dynamic younger generation here. And our brand definitely speaks to them and their fast-paced lives.
What details can you share about Wink Hotel Saigon Centre, which is opening in March?
It’s located in District 1, the CBD, but in a hip ward. So, we’re surrounded by boutique shops and spas, craft cocktail bars, fusion restaurants, and retro-chic coffeehouses. This part of Saigon sparks something special in everyone including me. We also have easy access to the airport and the road out to District 2 and beach destinations like Vung Tau and Ho Tram.
As it’s the first one, it will be an intro to the Wink guest experience driven by our local Guides, our cool young front-of-house team. Wink aims to deliver genuine and casual customer service and a stellar guest experience. The space-smart rooms have Catherine Denoual Maison bedding, eco-friendly water bottles, refillable amenities, and the rest is available in the vending machines on each floor.
We also have a STAY24 program. It guarantees a full 24-hour guest experience regardless of check-in time, because that feels a lot fairer to us.
There are also some cool elements like the artwork collaboration with Vietnamese contemporary artist Nguyen The Son. You’ll see it above the self-check-in station. This photo work features buildings around the hotel rendered in 3D. The rooms have a drawing by Richie Fawcett [a British bartender and sketch artist] on the back of every blind too.
We’ve read about your goal to open 20 hotels under the brand. What’s next after your first property in Ho Chi Minh City?
The 237-room Wink Hotel Saigon Centre in Ho Chi Minh City will be followed by the 243-room Wink Hotel Danang Centre and another in Danang as part of a mixed-use complex along the Han River. We plan to expand to at least 20 locations in the next five to seven years in major Vietnamese cities such as Can Tho, Hanoi, Hai Phong, Vung Tau etc.
Where do you hope to see Wink Hotels five years from now?
The timeline is as bold and ambitious as the brand. After those we also want to look at opening Wink Hotels across the region. I feel strongly that the brand speaks to an emerging generation of new travelers, here and regionally, who will appreciate Wink Hotels’ vibrant approach to affordable luxury.