1. What is your personal and professional background?
I have been an International hotelier travelling around the world for around 10 years. I am from Australia, finishing hospitality in Australia in the 80’s then I just worked in hotels. My first time in a General Manager position was back in 1993, still very young but experienced. Living in Australia and working with the Radisson Hotels and then from Australia I worked in Shanghai China then to the Middle East. I worked with another company called Okwood in Manila, there is an Okwood in Bangkok and then to my first job with Hilton. I enjoyed the Middle East a lot, I enjoyed Bahrain, Oman in Muscat and certainly Hua Hin is such a lovely location.
2. The hotel changed ownership recently, who are the new owners and what are the plans?
The new owners are called the Saha Unions Public Company. This is the first hotel in Thailand that they have purchased to widen their business interests and in real estate hospitality. I took over in the middle of June. With the new ownership we are discussing plans for renovations and to upgrade the hotel. But at this stage just general idea nothing is concrete so far. We are hoping that maybe in the next quarter there will be some more plans and updates. We already have completed some renovations in the rooms.
We have also renovated the lobby and moved the Sky Bar over to the other side; it will be an indoor and outdoor bar and really quite unique. We thought it was a little bit restricted having only outdoor areas and now that the rainy season is coming we can also sit inside bar; it’s multipurpose. The lounge used to be upstairs and now it on the first floor so the public can use the upstairs all day. I am very happy with these changes.
3. Compared to the other places you have worked in, how do you find Hua Hin as a tourist destination?
It’s a great beach side resort town. I’ve been here for over three months and I enjoy it very much. The potential for Hua Hin is really unlimited. It would be good if we can see infrastructure growing a little bit and have some more tourists’ attractions like the theme park down the road. Shopping centres are also getting involved. Last weekend we were full and I didn’t go far, looking outside was crazy.
4. Do you feel that the political situation in Thailand will have an impact on the coming high season?
When the initial changes were announced we definitely saw an impact into June and at the beginning of July but we are starting to see more positive signs now. So for us we are still very confident of a good high season. Many of our regular guests stay virtually every year and are booking again to come back. We are pretty confident of a good season. The signs show that we are starting to get back to normal. We just have to hope that international governments will start to relax and see the bigger view. I think this is starting to happen, so we are pretty comfortable.
5. What can you tell us about Chinese Tourism in Thailand?
We think this is a big potential for us, we see a little bit of Chinese business, but we are definitely start to get a feeling that enquiries for next year will be very strong. Hilton is a big brand known in China so attracting Chinese tourism to the Hilton in Thailand is a bit easier for us. Our restaurants cater for the Chinese taste, including breakfast. We want to build this up and are planning for Chinese menus to be placed in every room. So yes we are very comfortable about Chinese business.
6. What do you believe are the main attractions in Hua Hin?
Golf definitely the number one, for men. Couples enjoy the beach, the markets, the seafood restaurants and just the relaxed environment that Hua Hin has, that’s what people like.
7. How do you promote good teamwork amongst the staff?
We have a combination of old management and new management, so the newer team is working with the old staff to understand the history of the hotel. We also have some new management staff that moved from the Hilton in Bangkok. We are now integrating each other’s experiences. Integration is going really well; we still stick to the principles about how to run a hotel, good service, high energy and enthusiasm. There are many returning guests; we have guests who have been coming here for 15 years from Europe who often stay for 4-6 weeks.
The goal is for the old staff to recognise them and the new staff to try to enhance their experiences. There have been a few new managers over the last 6 months. Teamwork is very important. To engage and get the same message we basically communicate once or twice a day in formal meetings with the staff to discuss issues and hotel matters. Every topic that’s important is raised amongst the team with continual communication both verbally and by email; there are no secrets. We have an online system for guests’ feedback so the management team has access to that feedback and checks it all the time. Continual communication is very important for us. The management staff walks around the hotel and is not just office bound.
8. What is your favorite place is Hua Hin so far?
I love the beach and I walk there most days and I enjoy many restaurants. At the Hilton I enjoy our 17th floor, La Grappa is a very high quality restaurant and for a casual pub meal we go to Buffalo. We have many places at the hotel so I cannot mention them all. We would like to wish Rick an enjoyable stay in Hua Hin, the Hilton is in good hands.