Seng Huang Lee

Mulpha’s Australia Limited’s Executive Chairman SENG HUANG LEE is one of the region’s most astute property investors and the recent unveiling of Hayman Island’s AUD$80 million makeover, one that’s seen the property transformed into a One&Only resort, is a prime example of his focus in Australia’s hotel market. He sat down with HM at the gala re-opening of One&Only Hayman Island to talk about investments, refurbishments and much more.

Exclusive by James Wilkinson at One&Only Hayman Island

Seng Huang, congratulations on the ‘new’ One&Only Hayman Island. This is quite a journey for Mulpha and something very exciting.
Thanks James. We have owned the place for about 10 years and during that period we carefully crafted a master plan on where saw the vision of the future and this was interrupted briefly by the global financial crisis, but once that passed, we were basically ready to roll-out this plan. We started it obviously with the beach villas – with [designer] Kerry Hill coming in to do those and the residences – and now we have been able to execute that vision across the entire resort. and we are very happy with that.

You must have had 20-30 brands chasing you over those 10 years to try and put a name on this property. How did you start talking to One&Only and now executing what’s been a brilliant execution?
I have known Alan [Leibman] through YPO – he’s a fellow YPO [Young Presidents’ Organisation] – and at one of the functions we spoke and I didn’t know he was the CEO of Kerzner [International] and One&Only. And we started talking about an Atlantis at one of our other properties and one thing led to another and I’m obviously a big fan of the One&Only brand and I saw that brand very complimentary to what Hayman represents, which is this very unique proposition. We spoke to some large brands as well, but we found they took a little bit more of a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to their properties. You don’t get very many properties where the Chief Executive Officer himself flies in and gets very hands-on pre-opening, which is exactly the type of partner we were wanting.

What we now see at the One&Only Hayman Island… was this what you were envisaging ten years ago? Did you think this is what it was going to be?
Yes, we saw the resort had great bones and a fantastic reputation and a very loyal client base. It needed to re-define luxury and the concept of luxury in the 90s and ‘Noughties’ is very different from the current direction of luxury. Food portions are smaller, people are healthier, eating less, there are a lot more community activities and it’s more about the moments than the thread count on the bed sheets, so that whole direction of luxury has shifted and I think we had to implement that across Hayman and that’s what this master plan was all about.

What are your plans for InterContinental Sydney?
InterContinental Sydney is a very unique asset and a real gem in our portfolio. We are looking at re-investing further in that property and we have big plans for how to integrate that within the larger Macquarie Street precinct. Obviously we have the office tower next door as well. So, we love that property and the potential is only scratching the surface.

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James Wilkinson

Editor-In-Chief, Hotel Management