Interview: Andrew Wood, General Manager, Chao Phaya Park hotel, National President SKAL, Thailand
Andrew Wood: The Height of HospitalitySteve Thompson catches up with Andrew Wood, who not only serves as general manager ofthe Chao Phya Hotel on Rathcadapisek Road, but also contributes greatly to the well-being ofThai tourism and hospitality as president of SKAL International, Bangkok.Originally published in 2009 by ThaiAsiaToday.comSteve Thompson (ST): Firstly, Id like to ask you, what advice would you give to someoneconsidering a career in the tourism and hospitality sector?Andrew Wood (AW): My advice to anyone entering the hospitality industry, whether thatsthe accommodation sector or the travel sector, is that it is largely about serving customers,so, if you like people, you can really find a fantastic career in this industry.I’ve been involved since I was 13 and I’ve had a fantastic life in travel and tourism.It has all been in the hotel business – every day of my (working) life has been in hotels. I’mvery happy – I think I have a reasonably good lifestyle. I enjoy coming to work every day, andit’s been interesting to see the highs and lows of Thailand over the past 18 years.Advice? Yes, embrace it – come in with your eyes open. It’s hard work, you have to ‘earn yourstripes’ – you work from the bottom up, there’s no silver spoon.ST: Can you share any personal insights with our readers?AW: I always remember the first day at university (in Edinburgh, Scotland) – we were allenrolled in a degree course on hotel and catering management – and the lecturer said, “afteryou finish [your four-year degree program], what job will you want and expect to have andwhat salary?”Some of my fellow students who had never experienced the industry would say I want to be a
general manager earning 50,000 pounds [2.5 million baht]!.Id been involved since I was 13, as my family had friends in the hotel business in the LakeDistrict and I used to go and help during my school holidays. Anyway, it came to my turn and Isaid, “Id like to be a junior manager in a five-star hotel in London.”That was my answer and I think my advice is if you come into this industry, youve got to beprepared to work and if you like people, thats great, but if you dont like people, and yourenot service minded, then maybe this industrys not for you. You have to like people, you haveto like providing service. And if you find that in any way uncomfortable, then maybe youshould look at other specialized areas.ST: Could you explain a bit more about those options?AW: Well, the good thing about a hotel is that its almost like a laboratory of life. A hotel hasengineers, it has chefs, sales and marketing, public relations, EDP (Electronic DataProcessing), IT, management, human resources, security, and gardens – so a hotel is almostlike a ‘mini world’. So even if someone enters into the industry in food and beverage, which isvery service oriented, there are other specialist areas you can move into.Travel and tourism is here to stay, its an industry that will never go away. It changes in theway that fashions change. From large hotels to small boutique hotels, three star to five star, toresorts to upcountry properties, from DIY team-building kind of holidays to fully pampered firstclass service all the way. From hotels, to resorts to jungles, so theres a lot in it and Ithoroughly enjoy working in it.ST: Is Thailand a good place to train in this field or for someone in hotels, tourism andhospitality to develop their careers?AW: I think in terms of training, its probably better to do it in your home country, since youhave a lot to deal with. And if you deal with moving home, leaving your parents and living in aforeign country, as well as trying to learn a skill, and study – its hard. Unless you can maybe
take it in small bites. I always recommend that you go overseas for your first year(of your working life, following graduation) unless youve already got some experience of acountry already.ST: Can you mention any of the major institutions involved in training?AW: Rangsit University, Mahidol University, and all the technical colleges are involved inhospitality training. The industry needs thousands of graduates in hospitality, and there arentenough graduates coming out of further education to satisfy the demand for the growinghospitality industry in Thailand. Now of course were currently undergoing somewhat of arecession or downturn, but, if you look at a five-year plan, something like 5-10,000 graduatesare coming out of colleges of further education or hotel schools. With the universities, itsusually a four-year program culminating with a degree, whereas at the colleges its usually atwo-year course, coming out with a diploma. There are also a number of private institutionsthat are training hospitality students.ST: And do you recruit from those institutions?AW: Nobody is recruiting at the moment!ST: But under normal circumstances?AW: Well I think its important to point out that the industry is undergoing a crisis, which ispossibly the worst Ive seen during my time (working) in Thailand (18 years).Ive lived through coups, through SARS, a currency crisis, but since the closure of the airport– it actually started before (September 2008) – when the PAD (Peoples Alliance forDemocracy) first took on the government, which led to the closure of the airport, and that,coupled with the recession, and now we have to deal with swine flu, it is nasty for bothemployees and employers.Many companies are facing cutbacks, not only in costs, but in personnel, so recruitment is not
happening at the moment. Its very slow, so its going to be a difficult graduation this year.However, these things are always short-term and people often talk about things taking oneyear or two years to turn around, but in Thailand tourism seems to rebound after about sixmonths. Im certainly confident and expecting some improvements in terms of visitor arrivals.So do I recruit – well, the answer is yes, normally.ST: Could you give our readers an idea of what might help address the current situationregarding winning back some credibility for the tourism sector?AW: I think its very important to point out that the key tourism organizations, including theTAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand), need to appoint heads since its essential these bodieshave strong leadership.ST: Is there any chance that Thailand may be losing ground in terms of pricecompetitiveness?AW: The result of a recent poll, publicized on CNN, suggested that Thailand remains the bestvalue tourism destination in the world. If you look at hotel prices alone, that would be quiteapparent. I was in Europe (London and Paris) recently and you would pay 300-400 euros(14,276-19,034 baht) for something you would pay only 100 euros for in Thailand (in three-star accommodation). The prices of rooms in (Thailand’s) four-star accommodation sectoroffer particularly incredible value. Even when compared with Hong Kong and Singapore,Thailand offers extremely good value.ST: And what drives this keeps people coming back and what has driven Thailands tourismsector over the fairly sustained period of strong growth?AW: I think its down to fundamentals. Thailand has been enormously successful and whenyou ask most people about their experiences in Thailand it generally invokes smiles andhappy memories.
The fundamentals of Thailands tourism are huge. The friendly, smiling people, the first classfood, the world class hospitality, the facilities, hotels on the river, that have been voted thebest in the world, hotels in town that constantly win awards for being the best in theirparticular category, grade A destinations – you can go from jungle walks, or to WorldHeritage sites in the central plains, you can come to the metropolis and enjoy fantasticshopping, fantastic experiences, the Grand Palace, nightlife, or head up to more tranquilnational parks, or to the beach and resorts. When you look at Phang-na or Krabi or thesekinds of places, theyre just absolutely beautiful. So I think those fundamentals, and of coursethe Thai people are always perhaps the biggest draw card – so accommodating and sohappy.ST: Thank you very much indeed for sharing your time and opinions with us today.AW: Youre welcome.For further information about the Chaophya Park Hotel, visit http://wwwchaophyapark.com.For further information about SKAL Thailand and Young SKAL, visithttp://www.skalthailand.org.Striking a balance“I never feel comfortable if Im not working, but you quickly realize that you need to developan organization that can run effectively with or without you. I still feel its important tounderstand that. Some people understand it more than others, some people never leave thehotel, others may play golf too much!”Sport and leisure“I play tennis, maybe only once a week these days, although in the past I would try to playtwice a week.”
“I enjoy investing in property and recently refurbished my apartment. That was a 14 monthproject, which ended in December 2008.”“I enjoy exploring new restaurants. I like to dine out, and see what other people are doing inthe food and beverage context.”“I enjoy music and the theater.”“I have a boat and am now Captain Andrew. Ive always enjoyed the sea – Ive alwaysenjoyed sailing.”