Mulpha eyes off major hotel purchases

Greg Shaw, Ardent Leisure CEO. Picture: Sam Mooy

Malaysian-backed tourism property investor and developer Mulpha Australia has again emerged as a key player in hotels as former Ardent ­Leisure chief Greg Shaw hits his straps at the helm of the group.

Mulpha is among the final contenders to buy the Hilton Melbourne South Wharf Hotel that is being sold by US hospitality property giant Host Hotels & Resorts and developer Plenary Group for $300 million.

The pair have brought together their stakes in the asset — the US group owns 75% and the local player 25% — as a package, allowing a buyer to take full control. JLL Hotels & Hospitality Group managing director, investment sales, Australasia, Mark Durran is handling the sale but declined to comment.

Buying the 364-room hotel, part of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre precinct and the South Wharf development, would bolster Mulpha’s hospitality portfolio.

The company is perhaps best known for icons like Sanctuary Cove, the luxury Hayman Island and the Intercontinental Hotel ­Sydney, but is updating its approach.

Observers are not expecting Mulpha to chase full ownership, rather the network of investors linked to Mulpha International executive chairman Seng Huang Lee are likely to provide support.

I think the mandate within Mulpha is wide and we’ll be looking at a variety of investments, which could include stakes in listed vehicles

Shaw won’t comment on the deal, though it would be in keeping with his roots in the hotel industry, rather he emphasises Mulpha’s capacity for fresh plays in new areas, including in listed markets.

Mulpha is the top shareholder in retirement heavyweight Aveo Group and taking such stakes appeals to Shaw, given his experience in growing listed enterprises and opportunities being thrown by market volatility.

Mulpha is known for hotels including the Intercontinental Hotel Sydney.

Mulpha is known for hotels including the Intercontinental Hotel Sydney.

“I think the mandate within Mulpha is wide and we’ll be looking at a variety of investments, which could include stakes in listed vehicles,” Shaw says.

“Mulpha is already a major shareholder in Aveo, but we’re also interested in direct investments ourselves and co-investments with private equity.”

The focus is now less on working with Mulpha’s balance sheet and more on putting the company’s skills to work.

“What’s interesting is that Mulpha brings a range of operational and development and hotel capability together with a connection to the Asian and Chinese markets,” Shaw says.

“We’re seen as a very attractive partner to add value on a range of different levels.”

We’re actively looking at the whole training and education market

A focus is now on “opportunistic” plays and Shaw has the backing of his well-connected executive chairman.

“We’ve known each other for some period of time,” he says. “Mulpha is a very unique opportunity and it offers a very attractive opportunity … I think it was a good fit for both parties.”

He reels off further opportunities in Mulpha’s hospitality school, vocational training and even the company’s winery in NSW’s Hunter Valley.

Mulpha is among the final contenders to buy the Hilton Melbourne South Wharf Hotel.

Mulpha is among the final contenders to buy the Hilton Melbourne South Wharf Hotel.

“We’ve got some smaller assets that could really be seed assets for much larger platforms,” he says.

Mulpha operates a Sydney hotel school and recently opened one in Melbourne.

“There is potentially a larger roll out,” he says, noting that Mulpha is a registered training provider.

“We’re actively looking at the whole training and education market.”

After his controversial exit from Ardent, he is rapidly getting across a new range of industries, that rank among the hottest for listed markets.

“This role provides a much broader scope for me and a very wide mandate to look across the listed, unlisted and private equity segments and really apply a lot of the skills where I have demonstrated consistent success,” Shaw says.

This article originally appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au/property.