Claude Sauter is a career hospitality professional with a proven track record that’s spanned the most part of his life. He has also enjoyed a richly rewarding 24-year relationship with Phuket – and with Thailand as a whole. Having first arrived in the “Pearl of the Andaman” in 1997 as Resident Manager of Impiana Resort Patong, Claude went on to manage some of the island’s top hotels and resorts. He is also proficient in Thai which is one of six languages that he speaks including French, English, German, Italian and Spanish.
A graduate of Ecole Hôtelière de Genève, the prestigious Swiss Hotel school, and Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, Claude is clearly highly-qualified. But it is his time in Phuket that has defined his life and career. Following five successful years with Impiana, Claude achieved his first general manager’s role with Cape & Kantary Hotels, leading the famous Cape Panwa Hotel in southeast Phuket. He has since headed-up several major properties in Phuket and neighbouring Phang Nga province for international hotel groups including Wyndham and Marco Polo. Most recently, he was GM of The Surin Phuket for over six years, making it one of the island’s best performing hotels
What's it like to be able to welcome guests back again? What did you do to prepare and what challenges did you face?
It feels great to welcome international tourists back again here in Phuket. The past 18 months were very long for everyone in the hospitality industry. With the exception of the government sanctioned compulsory closure last year, The Slate remained open throughout the pandemic. During this past 18 month period, our owners kept more than 250 employees on board, as they knew that there would be a staff shortage once business started to pick up again. That meant that during that entire time, the property was able to be continuously well maintained and well looked after, and our team is more than ready to welcome guests now.
The challenge now is making sure that the entire property, including five bars and five restaurants, is fully operational by the 1st of December, 2021. Regardless of whether or not this is going to be a 'normal' high season, we can see the number of bookings increasing, especially over the festive season, so we need to be prepared. On some days we are seeing up to 70% occupancy.
The Slate is already a good property, how do you plan to make it even better? What are the things that Slate guests want?
Indeed, in terms of design, landscape and originality, The Slate is a very unique property. The plan we are working on now with the team, is improving the entire guest journey. From the moment, the guest first contacts us, up until departure date; we are looking at every touch point and how we can improve the customer's overall journey.
I believe that today's guests, especially after the pandemic, are more into unique experiences where they can connect with the community. People are not coming to Phuket just for the sea, sand and sun anymore. That's why here at The Slate, we craft experiences that bring Phuket's rich cultural experiences like the morning alms offerings to the monks at the local temple, or a rainforest nature trek, Phuket town Heritage Tour, Hiking Adventures and the like. In 2022, we will organize a series of cultural events that will celebrate music, art and food. We will invite guest Chefs, artists and musicians to celebrate their arts over a weekend here at The Slate. Stay tuned for the first Vibrations Event in February 2022.
The 'Luxury Experience' is different for everyone; What does Luxury mean to you?
For me luxury is not just about the product; for me it's more about the experience. It's about the story, it's about what the guest will take back home after leaving the place. It's the connection that they make with our team, the attention paid to them during their stay and the little pleasant surprises that they encounter there and there. Here at The Slate, I like to give a lot of freedom to our team so that they feel comfortable and will be able to anticipate our guest's needs - their 'desires', and will in turn be able to delight them in every possible way.
What is your biggest concern at the moment as the country is opening up and how do you anticipate addressing those concerns?
By nature, I am a very optimistic person and in moving forward I believe that things will only get better. We are learning to live with Covid and things are slowly returning to normal. My main concern is more about how we are going to treat our beautiful Phuket island in the coming 5-10 years. My wish is that we have better regulations regarding the development of the island. A real master plan for Phuket is desperately missing, where we would see proper public transport, not only for tourists, but for the locals to be able to commute to work. We need to tackle the numerous environmental issues that Phuket is facing and not just for PR purposes. We need to achieve real results for the longevity of this place. We need the right balance between economic development and protection of the environment.
What is the future of the hotel industry? What is one important lesson that the pandemic has taught you?
I think the future of the hotel industry is bright. People need to travel, they need to discover new places, and they need to connect with other people. I believe that the pandemic taught us to be very flexible, to be more innovative, and to be very reactive which is going to really help should a similar crisis happen again.
Visit Claude Sauter at The Slate