Here is a story written by Steve T for TANNetwork.tv, a website connected with ASTV Manager, one of Thailand's leading media groups. The subject is Joseph Beck, resident manager of the Banyan Tree Bangkok.
Banyan Tree Bangkok: Personal Touch Given Pride of PlaceBlurb: Steve Thompson heads down Sathon Road to catch up with Joseph Beck,resident manager at Banyan Tree Bangkok, who offers his opinions on the BanyanTrees unique style and the hospitality sector in general.TANNetwork.tvs Steve Thompson recently met up with Joseph Beck, residentmanager at Banyan Tree Bangkok, for a chat about the luxury resort and life in thehospitality sector in general.Thai-Asean News Network (TAN): Firstly, could you tell our readers a bit about yourbackground and perhaps some of your experiences of working in the region.Joseph Beck (JB): Sure, well I’m English and I’ve been an expatriate now for almost 15years. I began my career (in 1996) in Beijing, working with the Shangri-La as a traineemanager, which was my first real job outside of the UK after graduating from university. Iguess I was bitten by the international hospitality bug, so I moved to quite a number ofdifferent countries.TAN: Where did you head to next?JB: Next it was Macau for two years (in 1997), which was really the ‘big boom’, bringing it tothe level its at now. Then I went to Abu Dhabi with Sheraton for two years, where I wasbased at a highly original golf resort, and from there to the Mandarin Oriental in KualaLumpur (KL) for just over a year-and-a-half.Next, I decided to take a short sabbatical following a family bereavement before heading forthe Caribbean where I spent two years in St Lucia at a private hotel – a beautiful place. Andthen I got the opportunity to work for Banyan Tree for the first time.TAN: Bangkok was you first assignment with Banyan Tree?JB: No, actually I began my career with Banyan Tree in Bintan (Indonesia), which is about 45minutes from Singapore.As soon as I heard the name Banyan Tree, I thought ‘wow’, as I had always wanted to workfor this company. So I went to Bintan and started as a director of food and beverage andthen progressed to executive assistant manager. Next I moved to Hainan (China) for twoyears to open a property there, then transferred to Bangkok to become resident manager.TAN: What does your current job entail?JB: For the property here I run the daily operations of the hotel and report to BernoldSchroeder, who is the GM (and vice-president).TAN: Could you please tell us about the hotels recent expansion?JB: Yes, we originally had an inventory of 215 rooms and half the building was given over to
office space - we had various embassies inside there and various office rentals. It wasdecided then that there was potential - there was still a market to have larger rooms.The existing inventory was about 48 square meters, so we decided to add more club roomsand also some one and two bedroom suites, which we refer to as The Residence. Theserooms are quite a bit larger – 68 sq m up to 143 sq m – so I think in terms of the market, itgives guests with families there with more space, especially the one and two bedroom suites,which are fantastic - they have huge living room, bedrooms with their own en-suitebathrooms and great views.It’s also more modern and more chic, in terms of design. It is, I think, a very worthwhileaddition to the inventory of rooms.TAN: How did the recent political upheavals affect this development?JB: Well, unfortunately, we had just launched the expansion and it had been going really welllate last year and in the first few months of this year and then the political turmoil emerged.This knocked everyone back a lot. We now look at the 227 rooms on the inventory and thinkhow are we going to sell this now, so that’s the real challenge now – pushing sales.TAN: So these are residences that people buy but that remain on the hotels inventory andare put to use by the hotel when the owners are not residing in them?JB: Yes, they are one and two-bedroom suites (24 units overall) and basically we put themup for sale. Weve sold 10 units so far. Its lower down (the building) and there are just eightrooms per floor. We have a sales team and in all the hotels that we own – Phuket, theMaldives, Bintan – they do a scheme where people can buy an actual property (within thehotel). The owners stay in their residence for a certain amount of time every year, and get areturn on investment from the hotel as we take it into our inventory and sell it as hotel roomaccommodation.TAN: Thanks very much for clarifying that point. Could you tell us about Banyan TreeBangkoks F&B offerings?JB: Sure. F&B is an important part of the business and it accounts for about 60% of ourrevenue. The guests utilizing our F&B, I would say the majority are from outside (non-stayingguests) and from other hotels. But there are a lot of foreigners and expatriates, too, who visitour outlets. “F&B is an important part of the business and it accounts for about 60% of our revenue.”We have a very strong Thai market and loyal Thai followers, especially for Vertigo (a rooftopbar and restaurant). It also seems that anyone who visits the hotel with a copy of Fodor orGuide of Bangkok in their hand is looking for the Moon Bar or Vertigo. It seems to be one ofthose spots – one that people promote by saying, you have to go to Vertigo or you have togo to the Moon Bar, which is in the same area.
Now its a little bit quieter due to the political situation, as we wait for international tourism tocome back again, but prior to the upheaval, almost every night we were doing over 200guests in the restaurant and 600 for the bar.TAN: Wow! And these guests are mainly foreigners?JB: These are mainly expatriates visiting the bar or people staying in other hotels - the FourSeasons, Mandarin Oriental and so on. People tend to say its an experience that you reallyshould try.The views up there are fantastic and so people head up there for a sunset cocktail and thensit down and have dinner and watch the sky changing, the lights coming on across the city.Its just a really special environment up there, a great place to have dinner.TAN: Could you give us an insight in terms of the importance training plays within theBanyan Tree?JB: If theres one thing we really focus on, its training. We have our own in-house trainingteam and we have a corporate training department, which basically sets the guidelines andsets the courses for each hotel and sets the standard for Banyan Tree hotel properties. Andwe focus, I would say, a huge amount of time on training. We also push our internal teams topush training within their own departments, as well as our core training from the trainingdepartment.TAN: And what do you look for in terms of candidates?JB: When it comes to people who have never worked in a hotel before, its certainly not acase of well, were not interested in you then. If someone comes in front of me who isgreen [inexperienced] and theyve never worked a hotel before in their life, Im also veryhappy.If they have the right personality and they come to me and I can see that they have a naturalsmile and theyre open, a little talkative and can communicate with guests in terms ofpossessing English-language skills, we have no issues because we know we can train them.Sometimes you will take someone from another hotel, they may have already been trained ina certain style, and sometimes its hard to realign somebodys thinking into another brand. Soits always easier if someone has no experience – to take them from scratch, build them upand watch them grow is really quite good. But, again, if the person comes in with a greatpersonality, which is the main thing, and the right attitude for service orientation, then wehave no issues.TAN: Finally, could you share with us your personal business role models or provide someinsights into your own philosophy regarding business in the hospitality sector?JB: I have to say that Im the sort of person who has always read quite a lot. Ever sinceuniversity Ive read a lot and I read a lot of generic management books covering different
industries.I think one book that was particularly interesting was by Jack Welch, who was CEO of GeneralElectric (GE) in the US. I read about his style and how he dealt with a very difficultenvironment at GE. When he took over the reins, there were quite a few issues. It showedhow he went about his whole style of management and how he streamlined the company tomake it more profitable. I guess when you read those kinds of texts, it really makes youthink, since hotels possess some similarities. Were another form of big organization, whichhas a lot of fixed costs and were constantly trying to look for new ways to become moreproductive with our teams so that we can try to reduce the fixed costs and become moreprofitable.TAN: Without reducing the quality?JB: Exactly, and its always good to look at other industries as a benchmark, not just otherhoteliers all the time.As an individual, I would probably pick Richard Branson, who I think of in terms of being anentrepreneur with a big personality – hes also a very courageous person in business – hetakes risks, hell say okay, lets go for it and see if it works. Ive read quite a few of hisbooks, also to get ideas in terms of the innovation style in which he works.Hotels try to be innovative in our products, but sometimes I think were a bit stuck in ourways in line with traditional hoteliers and I think we have to try and break the mold from timeto time and try and do things a little bit differently. So its always good to read about thingsoutside of the hotel business, look at other industries and see what theyre doing and see ifwe can bring in those ideas, whether its from manufacturing, engineering, banking orcommerce. Could we implement something similar that would work equally as well in ahotel? is the thinking.Okay, in hotels we have standards – weve always done x,y,z for 20 years – what are wegoing to do for the next 20 years? I think we need to find more efficient ways of runninghotels, especially now.TAN: Does this relate to cutting fixed costs?I think if you think about the last global crisis, it has taught a lot of hotels, hey, you canthave this huge, fixed labor force. You need to know how to be flexible in your teams and tryto ensure that if a dip comes along, youre not stuck with these high costs. You have to find away of becoming more flexible with regard to these costs.I guess were now always looking for new ideas and inspiration from other areas. Our VP(Bernold Schroeder) highlights the kind of books we ought to be reading – every day youshould be reading a newspaper, some trade magazines, you should be reading magazinesoutside your area. I know my team will always say theyre too busy, but I really think itsworthwhile to read since you get so many new ideas.TAN: Finally, is there a most important factor when it comes to hotel management?
JB: The most important factor is people – I wrote that down here!As much as some hotels try to automate, when it comes to five star service hotels, the guestswant to see a person, they dont want to see a machine that they put their credit card in.They want to interact with someone. Therefore, I think its important that the people weemploy can interact with the guests, that theyre not afraid of people.If some issue arises, they should be able to deal with it quickly and effectively. You neverknow who is coming to the door in a hotel! There isnt one single guest who is going to bethe same as an other. You need to be able to quickly read the person – is it a businessmanwho is in a real hurry, who doesnt want to mess around, he just wants to get his room key,or people who are on holiday and want some general information before they check in, so themember of staff will need to be able to quickly get a map out and show them some areaswith interesting attractions.So its very much people and being able to read people. And hiring the right people to takecare of the people coming into the hotel.So, in short, the most important word in the hospitality sector is people.TAN: Thank you very much for taking some time out to join us today.JB: Youre welcome.