To feature as Hotelier of the Month, a General Manager must already boast a substantial list of accomplishments, but the very best tend to be great communicators with something worthwhile to say to each and every listener. Klaus Christandl readily confesses to a penchant for talking to people and for sharing ideas with people, and he certainly made an impression on Hotelintel.co when we met at The St. Regis Bangkok, where he was recently appointed GM.
Klaus, an Austrian, has thirty years’ experience in the industry, starting out with Mandarin Oriental before switching allegiances to Starwood Hotels and Resorts – now Marriott – after his first decade. He has acquired wisdom and insights through positions in the Middle East, Europe, and Southeast Asia, and comes to his latest posting in Bangkok from The St. Regis Singapore.
What’s the most challenging aspect of running this hotel?
I think running this hotel doesn’t present any unique challenges that I haven’t faced before, but for the industry the biggest problem is finding talent to provide the luxury services we want to offer. The industry doesn’t have the best reputation because of the flexible work hours – long and demanding work hours – and the perception that pay is not the same as other industries.
But I want to go a little deeper there – pay is not only what you have in your wallet. Pay has a lot to do with the exposure you get and the connections you make, and no other industry offers a combination of all these factors in one opportunity. You might make more money in other industries but what you take from hospitality is second to none. It can open a lot of doors and opportunities for anyone who is passionate and keen, maybe even to venture into other industries afterwards.
So how do you actually retain talent?
Retention happens when you have talent. First you have to find and attract them, and finding them is more challenging today than retaining them in my book. In many of my previous destinations we had extensive engagement with universities and tourism schools in order to reach talent approximately a year before graduation, to motivate them to try hospitality. My stories have hit home with a lot of young people, and they think that’s something they also want to experience.
From all this interaction we’ve gained a lot more interest from young talent to join us for internships, or trials, and that’s the first step; once you have young talent on board you need to look at their holistic development – not just looking at their professional development – but as individuals, we need to focus on making them better people, way beyond the technical side of the hotel operation. That’s the most important thing to highlight – the opportunity you have to enrich the lives of others.
In a millennial-heavy work environment, the traditional hotel industry has to rethink. We’ve done a few things; for example, it was unheard of for luxury hotels to show engagement on social media, but now if you don’t show a presence on social media you lose out. Similarly, on the talent base, careers used to follow fixed parameters while today is about multi-skilling, rotating people through various experiences and departments so they can find where their passion really lies and work on growth and career advancement
How do you promote a luxury brand like this? What kind of tools are useful?
All modern communication tools have value but some are more impactful than others. In some destinations, anything we did that involved a competition would be successful, but in other destinations – not so much. It really depends on the target markets, and availability of channels. In some parts of Asia some channels are not open. Every social media channel has a reason for its existence and can add value.
For us, we ensure that wherever we are present there must be engagement opportunities. We must show that we want to connect. There are various options we are exploring but we have to capture that in real time. That is crucial, so we have a dedicated team to monitor 24 hours to engage with guests who have reached out and liked us.
What does luxury mean to you?
Time. You will only get one word from me. I believe that passionately. Time is the most luxurious good in today’s world, because nobody has enough of it. Whatever we can do to give time back to you will differentiate us and make us more successful.
It starts from the first contact; the easier and quicker it is to make contact with us will determine whether you are sold on meeting us. Then it runs through the arrival process, the stay, and the post-stay process. We have to make it simple and lean – and then you have time to relax, time to shop, time to read, time to meet someone for a little bit longer. These time elements are the most critical part of luxury.
What books are you reading at the moment?
That is my major weakness. I read a lot, but not books. We corrected that with my children, and they read all the time, but I’ve never taken a lot of time to read books because for me, interaction with people is more valuable than anything else. I try to spend most of my waking hours connecting with people, face to face, because that runs deeper than any other communication tool. That gives me the most satisfaction and the most impact.
How do you adapt to changing trends in hospitality?
I am very lucky that I have two grown-up children in their twenties, and they can provide a perfect vetting ground for feedback and ideas. Sometimes they say, “Dad, don’t do that! It’s too long. Nobody will ever look at that. It’s too formal.” The young people in my family have taught me to adjust my style and that has been very helpful.