Abigail Tan: Living, breathing St Giles

By Jeff Weinstein on 2/25/2016

As a determined hotelier and granddaughter to the patriarch of one of Malaysia’s well-known real estate dynasties, Abigail Tan has the background, youthful self-motivation and backing needed to wage a hotly competitive battle in the challenging New York City hotel market, to finish complicated projects like the one on the books right now in London’s Blackfriars, to further develop a company culture and, at the same time, to source new deals to deliver on a goal to reach 20 owned and/or managed St Giles Hotels Group properties by 2020.

The London-based hotel company, which is part of the Tan family’s IGB Corp. that has almost US$5 billion worth of ongoing projects, recently opened its ninth hotel, The Tank Stream Hotel in Sydney, adding to its collection in the U.S., U.K., Malaysia and the Philippines (systemwide, IGB owns 19 hotels).

With an initial US$160 million allocated for expansion in North America, Europe and Africa, and the potential to inject as much as US$600 million more over the next five years, the 29-year-old Tan is excited about the opportunity to build a 3- to 5-star, centrally located brand in a business she truly loves. “All the hotels are independently managed, which gives the teams on site greater flexibility/adaptability to the environment, culture and to meet the requirements of guests traveling to those locations,” says Tan, who is also busy co-creating brand standards, training programs and marketing strategies.

“With our 20 by 2020 strategy, moving forward growth would probably be more on a 70% management, 30% acquisition basis." -- Abigail Tan

In 2010, St Giles entered the U.S. market with the US$78 million purchase of The Court and The Tuscany hotels operating under Starwood’s W brand in New York. Tan, one of nine cousins in the third generation of the Tan family, spent another US$14 million to renovate and reposition the assets as accessible, boutique hotels under the St Giles flag.

While she battles to drive business in New York, Tan is also spending a lot of her time completing a complicated mixed-use development project on a 1.81 acre site with a 350-room, 4-star hotel in London for north of US$200 million.

In between, she is shopping for new opportunities and cultivating relationships with potential owning partners. “With our 20 by 2020 strategy, moving forward growth would probably be more on a 70% management, 30% acquisition basis,” Tan says, adding that she is looking at an opportunity in Birmingham, England, as well as Bangkok.

In fact, for Asia there is a unique hotel team there called Cititel Hotel Management, which manages St Giles and other hotel properties for IGB.

Tan particularly cites Europe and Asia as the best growth markets for St Giles due to basing its headquarters in Europe and its years of experience and expertise in Asia. “In North America, we are looking at large hub cities for new projects and acquisitions,” she adds.

For now, Tan is enjoying the ride and the challenges. “Ever since I was young I loved going through the hotels, not the beach or anything else,” she says. “I would spend a lot of time at the front desk or go into the rafters to see what everyone was doing. I love how the operation can change on a daily basis and how it's almost like a living, breathing animal.”

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