Last week I sat down with Christian Humbert, the youthful and ever-attentive General Manager of Le Meridien Bangkok, one of Starwood’s many excellent properties in Bangkok, to get his opinion and take the temperature of tourism in Thailand. The setting could not have been better – the lobby bar over a cup of excellent Thai coffee.
Humbert, hailing from Germany, has been with Starwood for over ten years and has been involved in the openings of several of Asia’s most distinguished properties such as the St. Regis in Beijing, The W retreat in Koh Samui, and The W Bangkok to name a few. Prior to that, his earlier experiences were with The Steigenberger Group in Germany. With this vast experience in the hospitality industry, I valued his thoughts on Thailand.
“Of course, there was a drop in room occupancy during the demonstrations and military coup last year in Bangkok,” according to Humbert, “But as soon as the general public realized that for the most part it didn’t affect the tourists, people started to trickle back, and room occupancy in the city started to rebound. When the military took over and order was restored, Bangkok was back in business.”
“What is affecting our room rates these days is a glut of new hotels opening practically every month. Bangkok has one of the lowest average room rates in Asia and has not been able, despite the increase in tourism, to unshackle itself from that syndrome. Every hotel chain in the world is represented in Bangkok.
“We differentiate ourselves by providing six-star service in a five-star property. The Thai personnel, who dominate the hotel industry here, unlike other countries that use imported labor, excel in their approach to service. Smiling and genuinely warm, they perform the same tasks that are done worldwide, but do it from the heart. It is a pleasure to work in this country,” mused Humbert.
While the Thai economy seems to be experiencing some minor hiccups with respect to its growth and exports, the tourism sector is strong. According to the website, “Focus Economics,” the Thai economy gained momentum in Q1 on the back of a recovery in fixed investment; the latest indicators point to a deceleration of economic activity in Q2. In May, manufacturing output contracted for the third consecutive month, and the consumer confidence index plummeted to the lowest level in a year in June.
“My hotel, Le Meridien, is not the newest kid on the block, but we have taken pains to offer the best service available,” Humbert added.
Having experienced the service first hand, I could surely agree with Humbert – being an old Asia hand myself, I have enjoyed the high level of service throughout Southeast Asia, and always come back full circle to Thailand which is still unbeatable.