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BTN Spotlight: Alex Willats, Dusit Thani Bangkok

BTN Spotlight: Alex Willats, Dusit Thani Bangkok

Thailand is set for double-digt growth in international arrives this year as the land of smiles positions itself as Asia’s hub of Sport Tourism. BTN talks to Alex Willats, the new Resident Manager of the capital’s iconic Dusit Thani Bangkok.

BTN: How would you describe the Dusit Thani experience?
AW: At Dusit Thani Bangkok, amid the hustle of daily Bangkok traffic, each visitor enters with a sense of arrival as they ascend the sweeping drive and majestic building, atop with spire that has been a feature of the Bangkok skyline for the last 40 years. Each guest experiences a sense of calm as you enter the open lobby and are greeted with genuine warmth and traditional Thai hospitality. Dusit Thani Bangkok was built on the pillar of Thai heritage, culture and elements of this are evident throughout the hotel with a willingness and genuine need to care for our guests.

BTN: What do you hope to achieve in your new role as Resident Manager?
AW: Whilst I have been in similar roles both in the Middle East and UK each new hotel offers new opportunities and challenges. At Dusit Thani Bangkok I would hope to offer a fresh approach to our service concepts, enhancing the products and services we offer by harnessing the Thai heritage aspect and marrying these with a modern and contemporary style. When you join a hotel that has a historical edge in a city such as Bangkok it is important to build on those experiences that have stood the test of time.

BTN: Which are your key markets?
AW: Currently our major feeder markets in terms of geographical are Japan, SE Asia, US and northern European countries such as UK and Germany.

For Dusit International as a company we are now exploring markets in which to take the Thai service and Dusit culture to other parts of the world. With a foothold in the Middle East and planned expansion further west into Europe the company will undertake an expansion programme over the next five years.

BTN: Which aspects of the hotel are you most proud of?
AW: Personally first and foremost the traditional Thai style of service that our staff offer to our guests and visitors. The Dusit Thani Bangkok remains an icon in the capital’s history and throughout the last 40 years has played host to members of visiting royalty, dignitaries and celebrities. Often established hotels have a tendency to fade, however Dusit Thani Bangkok has managed to reinvent and update areas of the property whilst weaving these with the tradition and heritage that is very Dusit, very Thai. For me the centrepiece of the hotel is the waterfall, complete with tropical gardens that creates a tranquillity and calm throughout this area. The suites individually designed to reflect periods of design in Thailand’s history and use many natural indigenous products are named after cities within the country.

BTN: Which territories offer you the most exciting growth potential?
AW: As Bangkok and Thailand remains an affordable destination we hope to see the Asian market as an area for continual development. China we believe is one that offers growth potential and that would offer inbound travel opportunities as well as India and the Middle East. We also believe that as new destinations and travel routes open and the growth of marketing of Thailand as a top tourist and business destination grows, we will see countries such as South Africa, United States and Eastern Europe increase in terms of visitor numbers.

BTN: Sport Tourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel and tourism industry. Do you have any plans to tap into this market?
AW: Thailand is fast becoming the hub for golfers in South East Asia. Its affordability, choice and variety makes it a popular destination for corporate events and those on holiday wishing to experience some of the courses on offer. Dusit Thani Bangkok is fortunate that we have a golf driving range at the property with golf professional and courses are within easy reach of the city limits. In addition, Dusit International has properties in popular golf resorts of Hua Hin, Pattaya and Phuket as well as the North of Thailand which is becoming ever popular.

BTN: What do you look for when forming marketing partnerships?
AW: We look for long term partners that we can grow and develop strategies with and that offer a mutual benefit to both parties. It is important for Dusit Thani Bangkok that those partners share the same values and beliefs to ensure that we maximise those opportunities available to us.

BTN: How has the global downturn affected you, and what are your strategies to deal with it?
AW: Bangkok as a city has felt the impact of the global financial crisis and at Dusit Thani we have also seen this reflected in our occupancy figures. What has impressed me is the speed at which the city has recovered and we are now seeing signs of confidence both in the leisure travel and more commercial aspects of the business. Price affordability has of course been an area of concern, however we have combated this by continuing to offer quality service and value added benefits to maintain our price integrity. In addition, we have started to explore opportunities with South Korea and South Africa as potential feeder destinations which we had not previously done.

(Award-winning French cuisine at D’Sens)

BTN: How did you get started in hospitality?
AW: Whilst growing up overseas living in Africa, the Middle East and Indonesia, I was fortunate to experience many international hotels and this is where my initial interest in the industry was first formed.

After receiving my Bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management from The National Centre for Hotel Management, I joined InterContinental Hotels on a fast track Management Development programme where I worked in Conference & Banqueting and Housekeeping before deciding to follow a path in Front Office and Rooms Division.

Since then I have worked for Millennium Hotels, Nikko, Rocco Forte Collection, The Ritz London and Claridge’s before embarking on an international career which has taken me to Bahrain in the Middle East and now most recently Bangkok.

(All day dining at The Pavillion)

BTN: What advice would you give to anyone embarking now on a career in hospitality?
AW: I would suggest that anyone thinking of considering a career in the hotel industry to go and experience it for yourself first hand. I personally found the best way is to undertake work experience in more than one hotel to understand the different styles of operation. Most hotels/companies are prepared to offer work experience to those interested or thinking about working in the industry and it gives you a chance to see if it meets your expectations before fully committing oneself.

I myself did this over a summer holiday in two properties in London and found it invaluable in helping me make the decision to go on and study hotel management and subsequently join the hospitality industry. The hotel industry remains a challenging career choice and whilst conditions and benefits have improved it is not suited to everyone. For those prepared to work hard and apply themselves the rewards are there and on par with many other industries and with opportunities to travel it remains a dynamic, challenging and rewarding career choice.

(MyBar - one of Bangkok’s hippest hang-outs)

BTN: How would you describe your management style?
AW: I have an approachable and adaptable management style, I like to manage by walkabout which is something taught to me at an early stage of my career and I continue to do in order that I see both staff and guests in the hotel public areas. I believe that visibility of management is important in this industry as it is important to be accessible and support your staff and meet the needs of your guests.

BTN: What would be your dream hotel of the future?
AW: For me, I would like to be able to marry together the traditional values of those iconic hotels that have stood the test of time with the continual improvements, convenience and benefits of modern technology whilst maintaining a high service aspect. Ultimately we all want good service and in my opinion the human touch cannot be replaced by technology alone.

Bangkok will be playing host to the World Travel Awards 2011 Asia & Australasia Ceremony 29 September and World Sport Destination Expo 27-30 September 2011.