Interview: Staywell Hospitality chief Simon Wan

Simon Wan is planning to expand StayWell Hospitality to 100 properties worldwide. Many of those are likely to be based in the Middle East.

The overriding impression of Simon Wan, after spending an hour in his company, is that he’s passionate about what he does. By his own admission, he doesn’t know anything else but the hotel industry, and having twice built up successful hotel groups — only to sell them on at a massive profit — he’s now embarking on building a third group, StayWell Hospitality.

Founded in 2006 with five properties, Wan and his two partners — Richard Doyle (one of the original founders) and Bal Sohal (key shareholder) – have built the group to 34 hotels that generate an annual turnover of $54m (AUD $58m).

Not bad for someone who got into the industry by accident. He explains that his cousin managed to get him a job working room service for a hotel in his home city of Hong Kong, where he managed to upscale his lifestyle significantly through the money he earned on tips.

Soon he ditched his bachelor of commerce studies and started a two-year course at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, he enjoyed working in the hotel industry that much.

It led to a host of jobs all over the world, sharply working his way up the management ladder.

“My last paid job was with Accor; I worked as chief executive for North Asia, based in Beijing,” says Wan.

Forced to return to Australia with his wife, who was expecting their first child, he couldn’t find a suitable senior position in the hotel industry, and as a result he decided to start his own hotel group in 1997.

“I bought the Park Plaza and Park Inn franchise for Asia. They had about three hotels. Then Carlson obviously decided to expand into different brands. They had Radisson and bought Regent, and they saw that Park Inn Park Plaza is a good brand,” recalls Wan, who sold out of the business in 2000 for an unnamed amount.

Wan then bought the Pacific International Hotel Group, with 19 properties and soon added 51 percent of the Dutch hotel brand, Golden Tulip, which had 390 hotels in its group.

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