When Teardrop Hotels set up their first hotel – The Wallawwa in Kotugoda – it was the first boutique property located close to the Bandaranaike International Airport. 11 years on, with an investment of 8 million USD on six properties and a restaurant, Teardrop is positioning itself as one of the most-sought after boutique properties collections in the island.
Sitting at Monsoon – Teardrop’s venture into the restaurant business – a stylish restaurant nestled on the culinary avenue of Park Street in Colombo 02, Henry Fitch, the Managing Director of Teardrop, says most of the projects had been stumbled upon quite unexpectedly. “Out of all our hotels, only Fort Bazaar had been in the pipeline since 2005.”
The Teardrop collection includes: Fort Bazaar in Galle Fort; Camellia Hills in the verdant, rolling hills of Dickoya; Kumu Beach on the western coast of Balapitiya; Goatfell in Kandepola, minutes away from the island’s Little England; and Nine Skies in Ella; with the seventh property – Pekoe House in Kandy – set to open next year.
The Wallawwa, opened in 2008. This 18-bedroom hotel has 50 staff.
Teardrop was set up in 2005 by Michael Davies and Charlie Austin – who had known each other from their cricketing days at Bryanston School in England. While on holiday in Sri Lanka, Davies came across an old Dutch villa in Galle Fort and decided to purchase it on a whim. Catching up with his old cricket buddy, Austin, who had just migrated to Sri Lanka to set up Red Dot Tours – a bespoke travel company – they realised that there was a need for a boutique collection to cater to high-end clientele. Conversations led to the dream of setting up a small hotel model that could provide personalised service targeting the tastes and demands of the discerning client.
Davies, with his background in commercial property developing, and Austin, with his insights in the travel industry, were joined by Henry Fitch, a fellow Bryanston cricketer who brought his experience in hospitality and marketing. Their fourth partner, Viraj Premasinghe, pooled in his strong legal background to further cement the group. The chance encounter with a property, brought together the combined expertise and knowledge of four individuals who wanted to make headway in Sri Lanka’s boutique sector.
A Series of Fortunate Events
Teardrop Hotels currently has 7 properties and plans to continue expanding.
After the planning permission for Fort Bazaar was delayed, luck shone through when the group was introduced to The Wallawwa, a heritage home 15 minutes from the airport. Once the villa was refurbishment, Teardrop opened its first boutique hotel with 12 bedrooms in 2008. Thereafter, Teardrop secured the necessary documentation to start on Fort Bazaar and focused on commencing work on their three Tea Country bungalows. Their plans were sidetracked briefly when the group was presented with the opportunity to work on Camellia Hills and Kumu Beach. Of their seven hotels – five fall under long leases with the exception of The Wallawwa and Kumu Beach. The former is freehold, while the latter is their first asset-light venture where the group has been contracted to provide a management service.
Like many expats who have made Sri Lanka their home after falling in love with the island on holiday, Fitch first arrived in the country in 2001. He joined Teardrop in 2007, two years after the company started. He feels that the company directors’ joint knowledge of the tourism industry has helped them in their expansion process. The group is keen on increasing their current inventory of 60 to 66 rooms by next year. In three years, they plan to increase it to 88 keys.They are also looking at the asset-light direction of providing management services and are keeping their sights open for the next spectacular location.
“The demand for the location, the relationship with the owner, the characteristics of the building, and its ability to connect with the discerning, luxury travellers in an interesting way and the relationship with the owner” are some of the key factors that take precedence when Teardrop considers taking on new projects.
Fort Bazaar, opened in 2016 is located in the historic Galle Fort
Traditional architecture complemented with contemporary interior is the overarching style that connects the six existing hotels under the brand. Fitch says that this was a conscious decision made by the group to separate themselves from the boutique hotels and chains that had tapped into the market of colonial charm. Although the interiors at each of the Teardrop properties stand independent of the others, similarities are evident and is appreciated by their clientele for its familiarity.
In addition to providing stylish accommodation with luxurious amenities, personalised service, and delicious food, each hotel has its own unique selling point, from spectacular views of the unspoiled verdant tea country to being at a coveted historical location such as the Galle Fort.
Fitch spends much of his time travelling between the five hotels and says that each of the more recent properties came with its own set of challenges. “Notoriously narrow and windy road networks in the Tea Country, and the long distance,” are just some of the aspects Teardrop consciously considered and decided to navigate in order to provide a unique experience to their niche clientele.
The Kumu Beach hotel, opened in 2017 has an enviable location on the Balapitiya beachfront.
Charging an average daily rate of 300 USD (which varies during the low and peak seasons), the year-round occupancy rate throughout all Teardrop properties is around 65 per cent on average. Honeymooners, families and retirees from the United Kingdom, USA, Australia, Western Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Middle East are their main clientele. Teardrop wants to be identified as one of the top boutique brands providing authentic Sri Lankan hospitality encompassing experiences in the local areas, with excellent food and service. Finding the right clientele for their brand is of utmost importance to the company and to this, partnerships with local DMCs (destination management companies), and travel companies play a vital rote.
Charlie Austin’s venture – Red Dot Tours – now operates as a brand under the destination management company The Fabulous Getaway, that caters to the travel needs of the mid- to high-end travellers. Despite having Austin’s insights of the tourism industry at hand, Fitch says that while they share ideas, they ensure that between them they “keep things clear, transparent, and that there’s no favouritism.” Fitch added that Teardrop works extremely closely with all the main destination management and travel companies in the country.They are big partners of the Teardrop business and FItch “actively makes it clear that they are not linked to a particular DMC.”
Camellia Hills, a 5-bedroom property opened in 2017, set in stunning countryside.
In 2016, the company made a decision to appoint Perowne International – a reputed UK public relations company experienced in international luxury hotels and travel to represent Teardrop Hotels. Perowne’s clients include the likes of Scott Dunn, Ampersand Travel, Taj Hotels, and Six Senses Hotels, Resorts & Spas – placing Teardrop on an international platform. Through this partnership and independent initiatives, Teardrop has received press coverage across globally acclaimed travel publications including Conde Nast Traveller.
In addition, the company is also represented by The Sri Lanka Collection based in the UK, to promote sales and marketing as well as facilitate dialogue and interaction between travel companies across the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. The Collection also represents nine other hotels in Sri Lanka such as Kahanda Kanda, Kandy House, and Water Garden, to name a few. Teardrop, along with other members of The Collection, have participated in several travel trade exhibitions such as WTM and ITB in the past year.
So where does Fitch see Teardrop properties positioned? He cites the likes of Manor House Concepts, Resplendent Ceylon, Uga Escapes, and Taru Villas as ‘friendly’ competitors. Fitch is quick to emphasise that each brand has its own unique style despite falling into the larger category of boutique hotels.
With over 5,000 followers on Instagram, Teardrop’s digital presence is of immense value to the company. They are looking at expanding their digital marketing reach. Fitch considers Instagram as a crucial factor for them and the company has hosted several social media influencers at their hotels. Even though both social media marketing and PR don’t always produce tangible results, he feels that the combination of these factors along with word of mouth and guest recommendations has had a significant impact on their numbers.
Nine Skies, one of the newest properties is in Ella. The 5-bedroom property has 17 staff.
Fitch’s easy-going demeanour has the ability to make anyone feel at ease, something that surely comes as an advantage when managing 250 employees. Of course, keeping the stakeholders happy is important, but the recognition of Teardrop being a being a good employer, is what defines success for him. Flexibility and providing on-going training plays a huge role in keeping the staff motivated. Teardrop Hotels’ CARE (Creating A Rewarding Experience) is a charitable foundation that encourages the staff to engage and give back to the local communities.
Talking about the company’s focus on sustainability, Fitch says that although it had been on the back of his mind for a while, the drive to pursue it was revived by a conversation he had with a fellow passenger while flying to the PURE conference in Marrakech last year. Teardrop plans to contribute a certain per cent from its overall profit into projects relating to sustainability in each of the locations and communities their hotels are located in.
With six properties across the island, another in the pipeline and with plans to branch out to asset-light ventures, Teardrop is gearing up to be a brand to reckon with in Sri Lanka’s niche boutique sector.
Goatfell also opened in 2018 and is located near to Kandepola.