Passion for heritage

This couple enjoys travelling, visiting heritage buildings and share a preference for unique and personable hotel stays. "So it eventually became a dream of ours to do something of our own and create experiences for other travellers," says Angeline Yong.

The couple got married in 2010, and by 2012, they had bought two hotels. The first one, Lotus Villa, was an existing boutique hotel in Luang Prabang, Cambodia in August 2012. "Let's say that we opened ourselves up to opportunities, and this one came along. But at the same time, we were cautious, and it made sense to look into a hotel that was already operational, as we didn't have the know-how or time to run it. We weren't going to give up our day jobs yet in Singapore!" quips Dr Yong, 33, who's a dermatologist. Her husband David Chan, in his 40s, helps run a family business, not related to the hotel industry.

"We only knew that we liked travelling and staying at unique hotels!" quips Mr Chan. So buying a hotel which had been established for five years seemed like a good conservative move, as they wanted the existing staff to continue working, and got the previous owner to slowly ease them into the business.

The couple quickly shed their initial apprehension though, on a second visit to Penang where they started looking at heritage properties seriously. From there, things moved fast, and by the end of the 2012, they bought a boutique hotel converted from a shophouse and a mews which occupied three lots of land in George Town, just on the fringe of the World Heritage Unesco Site within the city. "This one was still under construction at that time but we just fell in love with it - so we made an offer," recalls Dr Yong.

Noordin Mews was a different ballgame as it wasn't operational yet and the couple had to do their own hiring of staff and management.

"At that time, we looked at perhaps buying it and leasing it back to the seller, an experienced hotelier. Though that didn't happen, he did agree to help us with the set-up," she says.

Since purchasing the Penang property, which is running at capacity year-round, the duo have since streamlined their hotel group's branding. "Both these hotels are in Unesco World Heritage Sites. So if we wanted to grow our acquisitions, we'd make sure they're unique hotels in heritage sites," points out Dr Yong. "The yardstick is always: 'Is this a place that we would stay ourselves and would it be a positive experience?'"

Mr Chan, who also likes vintage cars, used to own a conservation shophouse in Singapore years ago, but sold it because of the high maintenance cost.

"We'd very much like to own a shophouse in Singapore, for example, but it's just not viable for us to run a boutique hotel business here," Dr Yong says.

While their investments in the hotel industry have to make financial sense, they didn't invest for capital gains but because of a dream and a passion they had, points out Dr Yong. "We weren't thinking about property investments purely for financial reasons. We're not 'flippers' and we're doing this for very personal reasons," she says.

"We love heritage buildings, and we wanted to run a hotel as well. We also didn't know a single person in Singapore who'd invested in hotels overseas, which was why our first investment was an existing business," relates Dr Yong.

So while their purchases have to have financial returns, the passion is for heritage, and the dream to make the world a more interesting place for travellers.

For details, please go to www.lotusvillalaos.com for Lotus Villa and www.noordinmews.com for Noordin Mews


This article was first published on July 26, 2014.
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