Bangkok’s Luxurious Mall and Movie Culture

The majority of our company visits and meetings were reserved for Bangkok, so we had a busy schedule throughout the week (with some time reserved for fun activities including a day trip and a muaythai boxing match). On Monday night we heard from the Managing Director of CLSA Securities Limited, Mr. Prinn Panitchpakdi, who provided us with a brief overview of Thailand and SEA (Southeast Asia). We also heard from the founder and partner of 500 Startups, Mr. Krating Poonpol. Mr. Poonpol presented on the tech/startup ecosystem in Thailand. A graduate of Stanford Business School and ex-Product Marketing Manager of Google Earth, Mr. Poonpol has had much success in building up the Thai startup landscape. 500 Startups is a $12M micro fund for Thailand that invests in the country’s most promising startups.

The next day we woke up early and prepared for four company visits. Our first visit was to Major Cineplex. Major Cineplex operates as a lifestyle entertainment company with numerous business segments including cinema, advertising and media, bowling, karaoke, ice skating rinks, rental services, and movie content and production businesses. The company’s cinema business seeks to operate not just theaters, but as lifestyle living spaces. Its vision is “to be the world’s best cinema and total lifestyle entertainment complex.” With over 140 locations and 800 screens in Thailand (it also has locations in Cambodia and Laos), Cineplex is the market leader in cinema.

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The entrance to the theater.

Many of Major Cineplex’s theaters are located inside Thai malls. We visited one of Cineplex’s premier theaters, located inside Central Embassy (a major mall in Bangkok). The impressive theater appears to operate and look more like a hotel than a theater – its lobby and common areas are spectacular, and its concierge services are five star. Many of its theater rooms feature reclining beds with individual mini fridges instead of typical chairs and cupholders.

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Some theaters even have actual beds that recline and massage. The bed pods are complete with mini fridges and concierge service. The prices range from $20 to $60+ per person.
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In addition to premium popcorn flavors (corn is imported from the US), you can enjoy a pair of slippers during the movie.

We heard from the Chief Marketing Officer of Major Cineplex, Mr. Narute Jiensnong. Mr. Jiensnong provided us with an overview of Major Cineplex’s operations, marketing, and finances. In terms of revenue, 60% comes from ticket sales, 20% from concessions, and the remaining 20% from sponsorship and ads. 50% of the revenue goes to movie producers, 25% to rent, and the last 25% to cover salaries and SG&A. Most of the profit comes from concessions (this is similar to the US).

Unlike in the US where movie theaters are struggling to fills eats, Major Cineplex has seen an increase in ticket sales ever year. Mr. Jiensnong explained this phenomenon in an interesting way – he said that (and I’m slightly paraphrasing) Netflix is like frozen food; everyone in Thailand has frozen foods at home, but restaurants are still doing really well. Similarly, movie theaters are doing well despite the influx of online streaming options like Netflix.

Thailand, and Bangkok specifically, is a unique case study. The success of movie theaters and malls can be explained in several ways – the extremely humid climate makes well air-conditioned places very attractive; the influence of Buddhism in Thai business culture results in an emphasis on hospitality and good service; Bangkok is the economy of Thailand, and suburbia, unlike in America where many malls and theaters were built, doesn’t really exist here; the luxuriousness of the malls and theaters makes you want to continue to visit; the malls have virtually everything all in one location, from theaters to hair salons to restaurants to bars. All these factors have contributed to the development and success of these massive entertainment and lifestyle centers in Bangkok.

In my next post, I will talk more about this phenomenon and share with you the remaining company visits of our trip. Stay tuned for more!

Touchdown in Bangkok and straight to see the Buddhas

After a relaxing and adventurous weekend in Koh Samui, where we kayaked, swam, and enjoyed a catamaran cruise, our group flew to Bangkok on Monday. Bangkok is one of the busiest cities in the world, with a population of over 8 million. Like New York City, Bangkok has a massive number of tourists that travel to the city each year.

Last year Bangkok played host to over 20 million visitors – this garnered the city the title of “most popular city for international tourists” by Mastercard.

Upon arriving in Bangkok, our group made our way into the city center. We then boarded our bus for the week and met our city guide, Mr. Anon. We spent the afternoon touring several historical sites. Our first stop was Wat Phra Kaew, commonly known in English as the Emerald Buddha. It is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple, or wat, in Thailand. The Emerald Buddha is a potent religio-poliitical symbol and the palladium (protective image) of Thai society. It is located in Phra Nakhon District, the historic center of Bangkok. We were amazed at the sheer number of temples in the historic center, all of which were very much intact and stunning in color and beauty.

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We traveled by “tuk tuk” (pictured above) from lunch to the historic city center.

According to legend, the Emerald Buddha image originated in India where the sage Nagasena prophesized that the Buddha would bring “prosperity and preeminence to each country in which it resides.” The Emerald Buddha in the Wat Phra Kaew is therefore deeply revered and venerated in Thailand as the protector of the country. It was enshrined in Bangkok at the Wat Phra Kaew temple in 1782, which marked the beginning of the Chakri Dynasty of Thailand, whose current sovereign is Vajiralongkorn, King Rama X. The only persons allowed to touch the statue are the Thai King and the Crown Prince. Out of respect for the Emerald Buddha, pictures are not allowed inside.

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Our group at the historic city center. Many of us bought “elephant pants” (thin, breathable cotton pants with intricate elephant designs on them) from local vendors to wear to the temples. 

We also visited the “Reclining Buddha,” which is the second largest Buddha statue in Thailand, measuring 46 meters in length. The enormous statue is painted gold and housed in a temple also located in the historic center of Bangkok.

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The “Reclining Buddha”

Chazen Thailand Kicks Off with Long Weekend in Koh Samui

I’m writing this post at 30,000 feet in the air as our group flies on Bangkok Airways from a remote island to Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand. We’ve spent the last three days in Koh Samui, an island off the eastern coast of Thailand. Koh Samui is probably most well-known for its honeymoon villas, half/full moon parties, and breathtaking views. After flying in from various destinations around the world on Friday, we convened at our hotel, Central Villas Samui, and officially kicked off our trip.

During our first night together, we stayed at the hotel resort and enjoyed a delicious group dinner, got to know each other better, and attempted to fight off impending jetlag. We learned that many members of our trip are traveling to Asia for the first time (including myself). Many of us also have varying interests for attending this trip – learning about real estate development in Thailand, experiencing the culture of Thailand, and getting to know other CBS students in an exciting and foreign place. But the resounding commonality among all of us was clear – we are all eager to see and learn about business development, economic trends, and the culture of Thailand through the eyes of Thai natives and fellow students. Our three trip leaders, Monrat, Arcan, and Theerayoth, are from Thailand and were gracious enough to plan this Chazen trip and invite us to experience their country with them.

After a restful first night of sleep, we woke up to a sunny and warm morning and prepared for our first company visit to Six Senses Samui. Six Senses is a global luxury resort, spa, and hotel chain. Founded in 1995 in Koh Samui, the company’s mission is “to help people reconnect with themselves, others and the world around them.” Headquartered in Bangkok, Six Senses was purchased in 2012 by Pegasus Capital, a private equity firm, and has since expanded rapidly – it currently operates 11 resorts and 31 spas in 20 different countries.

The company has sought to curate exceptional experiences for customers centered around sustainability, wellness, and education. Six Senses operates on the premise that clients are looking for an exceptional experience and not just a typical hotel stay. It therefore selects remote and exotic destinations and builds stunning, world class facilities in a sustainable way. Each of its facilities uses eco-friendly chemicals, locally sourced foods and beverages, and minimal packaging. It has created integrated wellness and sustainability programs at each of its locations.

The rooms and villas are exceptionally designed. During our site tour, we visited one of the executive suite villas – the villa included a private infinity pool and massive outdoor shower. The price tag? Over $1,000 a night (USD). I guess I have something else to save up for!

The on-site chefs prepare delicious low-sugar, low-gluten, low-soy, and low-lactose meals. We had the privilege of dining at the Six Senses Koh Samui restaurant, where we enjoyed probably one of the best meals I have ever had – it was an entirely vegetarian four course meal that included inventive Thai recipes.

Along with the villa tour and lunch, we toured the Six Senses on-site farm. The farm is very robust and impressive – the resort grows its own produce and raises chickens, ducks, and goats. Keeping with its sustainability corporate value, Six Senses operates major recycling, compost, and desalination programs. It recycles, composts, and reuses pretty much everything. Moreover, guests can take official walking tours through the farm to learn about the Six Senses sustainability programs and efforts in the “Earth Lab.”

Along with sustainability, Six Senses offers personalized wellness programs. The programs curate exceptional experiences for guests that include high-tech science, ancient healing traditions, alternative therapies, and holistic spa treatments. As their website boasts, “we don’t follow fads. Instead, we focus on giving you the tools to create lifestyle change so you leave us feeling better physically, emotionally, and spiritually.” There are four official wellness programs –  Sleep and Resilience, Trim and Fit, Cleanse and Detox, and Full Potential. Our group toured the spa at Koh Samui and did a meditation and relaxation class – I think the class helped cure some of our jetlag!

It’s Almost Time for Thailand!

It’s hard to believe we are just one day away from the start of our week-long trip to Thailand through the Chazen Institute. Our group of 24, including Professor Brian Lancaster and our three student leaders, will be convening tomorrow afternoon in Koh Samui to begin our study tour. My name is Austin Shaw and I am especially excited to be kicking off my second and final year at Columbia Business School as a member of this Thailand trip (fun fact, it’s my first time visiting Asia!). For the next week I will be the official social media blogger for our trip – I hope you’ll join me in following along! You can read about our trip on this blog and also follow us daily on the Columbia Chazen Instagram account @columbiachazen.

Our trip starts in Koh Samui, where we will be for the weekend. We will then fly to Bangkok on Monday morning and spend the rest of our trip in the capital city of Thailand.

Before our trip begins, I want to pose two major topics and questions that I hope to shed light on during the trip.

How are Thai retail, real estate, and hospitality corporations shaping economic and consumer trends, especially in regard to Thailand’s booming shopping mall culture?

During our trip I hope to learn more about how Thai real estate firms are working hand-in-hand with retail and hospitality companies to influence economic and consumer trends. For example, while the US has seen a dramatic decline in mall culture and occupancy rates, Thailand has witnessed the opposite effect in the last several years. According to Forbes, US mall vacancy rates today are at the highest level since 2012. In contrast, Bangkok’s retail occupancy rate is at an all-time high and is expected to stay above 97% (according to Retail in Asia Publication). Why and how is Thailand’s shopping mall culture so hot? Is e-commerce prevalent in Thailand and how is it affecting the retail industry? We will be seeking to answer these questions and more during our study tour, specifically during our visits to major retail and real estate development corporations next week in Bangkok (Central Retail Corporation, Central JD, Sansiri, and Central Pattana).

How do politics and religion influence everyday Thai culture and the economy?

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. For ten years between 2006 and 2016, Thailand’s political state saw major shakeups that have definitely influenced the economy today. In 2006, a bloodless coup occurred and the government was overthrown. Two years later, the Constitutional Court dissolved the governing parties based on electoral fraud. In 2014, another coup befell and the military took over and installed a general as prime minister. Since then, Thailand has been classified as a de facto military dictatorship. The king is the head of state and the military, and corruption is still an issue. Throughout the week we will learn more about the state of politics in Thailand and how it shapes the economy.

Thai culture is deeply influenced by religion. Nearly all Thai people that practice a religion are Buddhist. The belief system of Buddhism plays a significant role in Thai society and culture. At a high level, I have read that religion’s impact can be seen in the Thai people’s prioritization of respect, self-control, hospitality, and non-confrontation. I am curious to learn more during the week about how religion influences business as well.

Look out for my next blog post over the weekend!