"Every conversation starts with listening. I think it is important to be a good listener and show empathy even in challenging situations."
No stranger to the IHG family, James Sutcliffe has spent the last 3 years at the iconic InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort, having joined in 2018 as the opening Resort Manager. Now, James Sutcliffe has been appointed as the pre-
opening General Manager of InterContinental Khao Yai Resort, one of 2022’s most hotly anticipated launches.
What are the exciting new things that InterContinental Khao Yai Resort is offering?
Intercontinental Khao Yai Resort is not only situated on the border of Khao Yai National Park, but we are also narrating the history and culture of those who live on this piece of land. The resort will offer an unparalleled stay experience filled with opportunities for discovery. Situated at the gateway to the North-eastern region of Thailand, the InterContinental Khao Yai Resort experience was inspired by the golden age of train travel. Bill Bensley, the architect and designer of the resort, infused this into his design narrative throughout the property. We will be unveiling later in the year, 19 exclusive suites and villas that were transformed from heritage rail cars that were recovered from all around Thailand.
Beyond the rooms, InterContinental Khao Yai Resort focuses on experience-based dining. For example, Somying Kitchen, our contemporary farm-to-table a la carte restaurant that focuses on local sourcing and sustainable meats, where interaction with the chefs is also the order of the day. At Poirot Brasserie, an elegant French-inspired restaurant, and Papillon Bar, a cocktail bar with speakeasy elements offering classic French cocktails wines, and fine spirits, we play again on the theme of the golden age of first-class train travel with refined service and a sense of glamour. Elsewhere in the resort, we will also offer memorable gastronomic experiences – such as dining at the waterfall’s edge, or even on our off-property organic farm.
Being situated in close proximity to Khao Yai National Park, guests have fantastic opportunities to explore the beauty of the region’s natural landscape. For those preferring to stay within the resort, we have amazing programming available where guests can explore all 19-hectares of the resort, which is home to 30,000 trees, 5 lakes and a variety of wildlife. As our guests unwind, they can also elevate their wellness journey through signature treatments from Thai brand Siam Botanicals at our spa, using 100% natural and organic spa products, masterclasses by resident healers for spiritual wellness, and maintain their physical fitness with our instructors at Cross-Fit inspired gym.
The 'Luxury Experience' is different for everyone; What does Luxury mean to you?
At InterContinental Khao Yai Resort, luxury is more than just amenities, food and beverages offered. I would like to think that the “Luxury Experience” encapsulates the meaningfulness of the trip. From the first moment of their arrival, we introduce every guest to our version of the Khao Yai experience – where there is always a story to tell.
While vacations tend to make people think of famous cities and cultural experiences, they also provide the perfect adventure to enjoy Mother Nature and the great outdoors. In my opinion, nature adventure travel has a way of demonstrating just how much bigger and more marvelous our world is and it’s an evolving trend. Whether it is swimming along with manta rays at InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort (where I was prior to joining InterContinental Khao Yai Resort). or hiking through Khao Yai National Park, everything is possible in nature, and being able to find the right fit will elevate any nature travel experience.
To this end, our resort has taken the approach of making nature the new luxury experience for our guests through complimentary in-resort recreational activities. Every day, guests have the chance to go on programmes such as Walk Meditation, Botanical Garden Tour and Naturalist Tour, which are led by our resident specialists. Guests will have the opportunity to really get under the surface of the rich flora and fauna of the resort, which also characterises the bountiful region of Khao Yai. As an avid lover of nature myself, guests are welcome to join me on an early morning cycling session – what we call ‘Tour de Khao Yai’ at the resort – where I take everyone on a tour of my favourite spots within the area.
At the resort, we pay homage to Khao Yai’s heritage and history. It manifests not in nostalgia, but through our thoughtful and refined service and the way we honour and collaborate with the local community and artisans to bring the guest experience to life.
From the first step into the InterContinental Khao Yai Resort, our guests will be brought back to the golden age of train travel. All the little details, including the names of buildings, are derived from local knowledge of the train stations. Our InterContinental Concierge team will also share an array of adventure programmes or day itineraries to immerse guests in the history and culture of the destination, Khao Yai.
What are your thoughts on sustainability luxury?
At InterContinental Khao Yai Resort, we are committed to making a positive difference for our people, communities, and planet. Once guests step into our resort, they will find themselves in a truly natural sanctuary that also takes the environment in consideration and where we take steps to drive a positive change for the communities and our planet.
Guided by IHG’s purpose to provide True Hospitality for Good, InterContinental Khao Yai Resort is committed to shaping the future of responsible travel by supporting our people and making a positive difference to our local communities. Located only a short distance away from the resort, a hands-on visit to organic farms gives our guests the opportunity to learn about where food comes from, how it is grown and how animals live in the natural environment. A healthy breakfast catered to their preference can be served at the organic garden and at Somying Kitchen. By growing some of our own produce, we reduce our carbon footprint without having to ship produce across the country
Our resort is one of the first in Thailand to introduce European luxury brand Byredo, in a more sustainable full-size format as part of the immersive stay experience across InterContinental Hotels & Resorts. This is also part of IHG’s commitment to reduce plastic waste by removing bathroom miniatures used across our estate. In line with IHG’s Journey to Tomorrow commitments, amenities and products offered at our spa are 100% natural, from renowned local spa brand, Siam Botanicals.
What is the future of the hotel industry? What is one important lesson that the pandemic has taught you?
One thing that the pandemic has taught me in the hospitality industry is that there isn’t a concrete playbook to follow. My team and I learnt to be agile and flexible; we learnt to be more accepting of different ways of working and a stronger willingness to help each other when problems arise so that we can achieve our goals. I have also prioritized setting aside time to connect with my team via team-bonding sessions and workshops, and with the insights gathered at these sessions, to refine guests’ experiences once they start to travel again.
What do you like most about being a hotelier?
I love to see smiles on the faces of my team members and our guests. Working at InterContinental Khao Yai Resort has been like working with a family. With this team of driven, warm and service-oriented individuals, there’s never a dull moment as we strive for excellence with our guests. In addition to my years as a hotelier, the variety of the job, along with the diverse people that I meet and their personal stories continue to pique my curiosity and teaches me something new daily. I do feel as if I am constantly learning and being kept on my toes!
What's your advice for those who want to be successful in the industry?
Every conversation starts with listening. I think it is important to be a good listener and show empathy even in challenging situations. When working in the hospitality industry, you are surrounded by different people and different cultures who have different backgrounds and ways of viewing the world. This ability to empathize is a significant key to success – by really listening to what guests want, we can better understand them and craft an unforgettable personalized experience for them, resulting in a memorable stay that invites return.