Homegrown hotelier with global ambitions

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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - From owning a lone Hotel 81 in Geylang, Choo Chong Ngen is now a tycoon with 38 hotels in Singapore and controls 10% of the city state’s hotel inventory. Where will the self-made entrepreneur go and what will he buy next?

From having one Hotel 81 in Geylang back in 1993, Singaporean Choo Chong Ngen has since grown his portfolio of hotels to 38 properties in Singapore and owns another eight hotels in five other countries including Australia, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea.
With 6,500 hotel rooms in Singapore, the chairman of Worldwide Hotels now controls 10.2% of the total inventory of completed hotel rooms, which number 63,850 as at end- 2018, according to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).
Choo Chong Ngen, chairman of Worldwide Hotels, and his daughter, Carolyn Choo, who is the group’s managing director and CEO (Picture: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
As Choo’s hotel empire grew, so did his net worth, which increased 2.5 times from US$1.1 billion in March 2014 to US$2.8 billion ($3.9 billion) today, according to Forbes, which ranked him Singapore’s 10th richest man.
The inspiration to enter the no-frills, budget hotel business came while he was holidaying in Japan in the early 1990s. “I saw how a small hotel can still do well,” says the 66-year-old Choo in Mandarin. “At that time, there were not many professionally-managed budget hotels in Singapore.”

Homegrown brands

Choo may have started his Hotel 81 brand of hotels in the red-light district of Geylang. But he has since grown the portfolio of Hotel 81 to 28 hotels across the island. “We have many Hotel 81 outside Geylang,” he says. Most of them are in the city fringe, such as Balestier, Lavender and Bugis, with one each in Kovan and Changi.
The exterior of Hotel 81 Orchid in Geylang Lorong 8, one of 28 Hotel 81-branded properties in Singapore today (Picture: Worldwide Hotels)