It was the final week of 2004, five days prior to the grand opening of a new hotel in Sri Lanka, when a catastrophic tsunami ripped through the Indian Ocean, wiping out properties, killing hundreds of thousands of people, and setting businesses back decades.
When Eddy See, CEO of Banyan Tree, answered a panicked call from the project manager of the hotel opening, he knew immediately that this would be a brand-defining moment. There was nothing he could do to stop the imminent damage barreling toward the coast, but nonetheless, he sprang into action.
Along with the rest of the leadership team, See hopped on a flight to Thailand, where Banyan Tree had five properties, all of which were critically threatened by the tsunami and its aftereffects. Once they arrived in the boardroom to start taking action, another call came through, warning of a possible second wave. Through the moments of fear and panic, See remained a steadfast leader, working diligently to get people out of danger zones and figure out how to move forward better equipped for the future.
Every step of the way, it has been about people, See says. He thinks about how Banyan Tree is serving its guests and helping its staff find success and fulfillment, and about how local people are impacted by tourism in countries around the world. With people at the center of operations, decisions become more clear, business booms, and longevity is secured.
Through nearly two decades as a leader of Banyan Tree Group, See has helped the organization overcome obstacles, expand its market reach, and improve its customer offerings. Through it all, his personal and professional commitment to serving people has never wavered.
FROM THEN ’TIL NOW
After his childhood in Malaysia, See moved to New Zealand for high school and college. He studied accounting and went on to work at world-renowned accounting firm Ernst & Young.
There, he worked with some of the firm’s major hospitality clients and found that he was interested in the field. So much so that, eventually, he made the switch. He had been struggling with the traditional “behind the desk” role of an accountant for some time. Aware that his career was missing that “people” component, he joined a hospitality group in Singapore.
See wanted to be out talking to people, make ,big business decisions, and be a catalyst for growth, and hospitality gave him room to flex the professional muscles that had been dormant. He was able to take part in the hospitality explosion in Singapore in the early 2000s, learning valuable skills along the way that would be critical for his future professional endeavors.
Some 20 years ago, when he joined the Banyan Tree team as CFO, the group had less than 10 properties and was still trying to establish itself in the industry. As a new brand, it owned about 85% of its properties and managed about 15% of them. Under See’s leadership Banyan Tree has grown to about 50 properties and is expected to double its footprint over the next four years.
Operating a hospitality group that manages and owns properties all over the globe comes with its fair share of challenges. Natural disasters, political events, and local economic challenges can make it difficult to apply a “one-size-fits-all” approach. For Banyan Group, customization has been a differentiating factor in an industry where it can be hard to stand out.
When opening a new hotel or getting a new property ready, Banyan Tree works closely with local people to understand environmental conditions, cater to cultural differences, and hire the right people who can deliver a targeted customer experience. When a guest is flying across the world to stay in Thailand, they want to feel like they are in Thailand, learning about its culture, eating its food, and getting to know its people. The Banyan Tree Group focuses on curating a memorable experience that will remain in each guest’s memory long after they leave the property.
Taking risks and making bold decisions is not new to See. A recent property in Bali was meant to center the guest experience around the beautiful natural environment. To achieve this goal, the group’s leadership decided to rid the hotel of walls, ceilings, and anything else that stood between guests and the surroundings.
While this may sound insane to some, it’s important to See that Banyan Group continuously wows its guests with ultimate travel experiences like this. Of course, the property still provides the luxurious beds, bathrooms, pools, and spas that guests expect, but it leaves them with an immersive experience that they’ll never forget.
In today’s post-pandemic landscape, Banyan Tree isn’t alone in trying to map the right path forward. See spends his days strategizing how to move through this new reality, working with leaders throughout the organization to brainstorm new business approaches and reinvigorate the industry overall.
THE BANYAN TREE CONSTANT: SERVICE EXCELLENCE
Regardless of property design choices, price points, or locations in general, there’s one thing that guests have come to know and love in every Banyan Tree property: impeccable service. See credits the high standards of Asian service for this core component of the organization. Banyan Tree is known around the world for hitting the mark every time when it comes to service.
With a Banyan Tree Academy that trains staff throughout the organization, the hospitality group ensures a high level of service within every hotel. Years ago, staff would fly all over the world for this training, but now, with tools like Zoom, it is even more accessible.
Even the highest levels of the organization are focused on service. When See gets a call from a potential partner, he prides himself on making time for those calls, pausing to connect and understand every new brand, and forging personal relationships with other leaders in the industry. As Banyan Tree grows, one of See’s major commitments is to maintain a level of service that most major hotel groups cannot match.
As Banyan Tree gets bigger, there is an unwavering commitment to the customer experience. There are only 24 hours in the day, so when partnerships exceed 100, it might get difficult to offer the quality service they are used to, but See always adapts and finds a way to keep people at the center.
Banyan Tree is experiencing fast growth and See is ready to lead the organization through this era of rapid expansion, coming out stronger on the other side. Getting creative to break into some of the most competitive hospitality industries in the world—the U.S. and Europe—See’s strategy is to build recognition and loyalty through Banyan Tree’s unique brand.
As Banyan Group establishes dominance in Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean, spots like the U.S. and Europe get more accessible. Although those markets are saturated with major brand names, See is confident that Banyan Group will set itself apart through service, unique experiences, and smart business strategies.
His career has been one of calculated risks, but by keeping people at the center of every decision, he has found success in every venture.
In hospitality, people are the natural focus, but many hospitality groups lose sight of what really matters. No matter how many ceiling-less hotels the Banyan Group stands up, See will be a central figure in ensuring action matches strategy and people come first in every endeavor. In time, the whole world will see how these differentiating factors and a revolutionary leader, Eddy See, set Banyan Group apart from its competitors.