Thai tycoon: Africa is the next big emerging market

Connie Ann Hui Tan | Special to
Meet the man behind hotel giant Minor International

For William Heinecke, chairman and CEO of Minor International, the game plan for business expansion has always been straightforward: find a market gap and fill it.

This time the 66-year old hospitality tycoon is turning his focus on Africa.

"I look at Africa as the emerging Asia, it's like what Asia was 30 years ago. So if an entrepreneur were to ask me where should he go now, frankly Bangkok is so competitive, unless you've got huge capital resources, and you're very good, you better be careful, because you can get burnt badly in Thailand. But in Africa, where many of the brands are not present, at least in our fields, there's limited competition," he told Martin Soong, during CNBC's Entrepreneur Asia: Power Players interview.

Heinecke's hotels are now available in many African states including Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Nambia, Lesotho and Mozambique.

Besides hotels and resorts, the group also has lodges and camps in iconic African sites to provide game viewing opportunities.

CEO and chairman of the Minor Group Bill Heinecke
Peter Charlesworth | LightRocket | Getty Images

Come a long way

The billionaire entrepreneur has certainly come a long way since starting his business five decades ago.

Today, Minor International is one of the largest listed hotel and food companies in Thailand, with market cap of $4.4 billion, managing brands such as Anantara, Marriott, Four Seasons, St Regis, Swensen's, The Coffee Club, Burger King and Sizzler.

As at the end of FY2014, the group has a total of 126 hotels and serviced suites, 1,708 restaurant outlets and 55 spas in 35 countries.

Heinecke is also the co-owner of MJets, which provides private jet chartering services.

Forbes estimates Heinecke's net worth to be around $1.47 billion, making him the 12th richest person in Thailand.

Read MoreFor 2015, Asia hotels are your best holiday bargains

Fewer hurdles, more entrepreneurs

"I believe there's an inherent entrepreneurial skill in everybody, it's just a question of developing that and bringing it out," he said.

But the government also plays a critical role to encourage entrepreneurship, said Heinecke. The best thing they can do is reduce the red tape.

"In many countries; India, Malaysia, Indonesia, even Thailand, when they cut the red tape, they tend to cut it lengthwise, so we have twice as much red tape today as we used to have," he lamented.

Like many other free market advocates, Heinecke said the less legislative hurdles and regulations the better.

"Competition is really the best way. We need open markets to really hone the skills of all entrepreneurs. If they can't do well with competition, they shouldn't be there," he concluded.

— For more on William Heinecke's interview, tune in to Entrepreneur Asia: Power Players on CNBC. The first airing will be on May 7, at 5:30pm sin/hk, with repeats over the weekend.