“What we have in Bangkok is something exceptional with the potential to redefine the urban resort experience in Asia.”
Lubosh Barta is no stranger to Asia and especially not to Thailand. He is a veteran hotelier who has recently returned to Bangkok to head up one of the most anticipated openings in the region - the return of Four Seasons Bangkok, but this time, bigger and more significant, located by the River of Kings, The Chao Phraya River.
Lubosh has a lifetime of experience in running luxury hotels including the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul; Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui; Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai; Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok (which is the current Anantara Siam hotel); Grand Hyatt Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Park Hyatt Canberra, Australia and the Grand Hyatt Melbourne, Australia.
He graduated with a Degree in Hotel Operations and Commercial Catering from Opava Hotel Management School in the Czech Republic and later earned his Certification in Hospitality Management at Cornell University.
What has changed since the last time you were with Four Seasons in Bangkok? And what have you learned from your previous posts in Bangkok?
From a hospitality perspective, when I was last in Bangkok, we would often say that there were too many hotels in Bangkok, yet – look where we are today. The scene in the city has developed and evolved from all perspectives – and I'm sure it will continue for years to come.
One of the biggest changes is obviously in the food and dining scene. While retaining the essences of Thailand; street food, casual, relatively inexpensive dining, the scene has really opened up and evolved. Since I was last here there are so many amazing restaurants of all different cuisines at a caliber that competes with some of the best in the world.
Additionally, the bar scene has evolved, with a selection of amazing cocktails from very talented mixologists.
Thailand is truly unique, and like all other countries, it operates in its own way. As we travel, the sense of hospitality, care and love in Thailand is clearly embedded in the DNA here and that's what makes the guests here feel so welcome. But what I have learned is that while obviously we have to adjust to all of the places where we operate, we cannot lose the focus of our core purpose, which does not change from country to country. We are here to bring that superior level of hospitality service to our guests each and every day.
What do you think makes FS Bangkok different from other properties in Bangkok?
We are really lucky to be in such a beautiful location, with a vast uncluttered riverfront, ample space and a connection to the Bangkok Creative District and community. From the moment you enter the hotel, it is clear the amount of thought and detail put into the design and space. Our interior designer, Jean-Michel Gathy, worked closely with the project team to ensure that we offered something that hasn't been seen in the city, a true urban resort.
There are abundant open spaces with lush greenery, beautiful water features, and amazing sight lines. The river, and its energy, flows throughout the hotel, with a one-of-a-kind commissioned art work piece that draws inspiration from the surroundings.
Then there is the connection to community. This hotel was built to be just as much, if not more, for the local Bangkok community, as it was for travelers. Each of our dining and drinking outlets are purposefully designed, positioned, and even priced, with the local community in mind. Additionally, as part of Bangkok's riverside Creative District, we set to highlight Thai artists through the over 400 square meter ART Space. We want to truly open up the hotel to the local community through art and have visitors who may never have thought to come to Four Seasons stopping by to enjoy the rotating exhibitions curated by MOCA Bangkok.
What does luxury mean to guests? Has it changed at all from your own experience? If so, how and why?
You know, if you asked this question a year ago we would be having a bit of a different conversation compared to what it is today ... and perhaps it will change again in the next 12-14 months. We live in times that are truly untested for us and the idea of luxury is gradually changing.
Today, where we are, the ability to connect with loved ones, the ability to travel, is in essence, luxury - which 14 months ago was not perhaps a concern.
To me, luxury is evolving to be less about material things and more about spaces and surroundings. Having the luxury of space, a space that is dedicated to more purposes than just a building. It's the art, the landscape, the magnitude of the space, the energy and feeling that comes with it. All the different elements that touch each of our senses, rather than just putting '5 Stars' on the door and calling it a day. We see it here, and depending on the circumstance around us, what guests are craving in luxury will continue to evolve and change.
F&B outlets are now drivers for hotels and there are a lot of choices out there. What is key to running a profitable outlet now?
Well if you could tell me who has the crystal ball and point me in their direction, I would love to see it. But to me everything has to be built with a purpose, a clear purpose, with a strong vision, design and details that support the back bone of excellent quality food and beverages. And to me, that is the foundation to it.
Sometimes people don't give enough time to the product and let it show the true potential from that vision. That applies to everything from a coffee shop, to a high-end restaurant. We need to take the time to understand our product and how the market is reacting to it. Nowadays with the magnitude of social media, we are able to test and learn like never before. We can test multiple images, new menu items, different tag lines or positioning, and within a few days – or even hours – you can see what is striking a cord with your target audience. What is getting people to click through and learn more, what gets people to book and / or increase table spend.
And within the hotel space, no one should be building a restaurant just for a hotel. It needs to be built for your local community. That has become even clearer during the last year, but should always be at the front of your mind. The local community can truly make or break the success of any restaurant.
What's your advice for someone who wants to become a successful hotelier?
The hospitality industry is an industry of passion, of love, and each and every day you get to see that it has a purpose that influences other people's lives. We get to see and be part of so many happy moments. If you see that and remember that, it makes everything so much more rewarding and just makes you feel good.
For advice, I'll go back to something I was told when I was just starting out as a hotelier. Everyone has the tendency to look at the next job. But instead you should focus on the job you are in, and try to be the best you can be in this specific job. If your focus is on that job and if you excel, then the promotion will come and you will continue to grow and evolve. That has been the case with me for every step of my career, and something I will always keep with me.
Visit Lubosh and his team at https://www.fourseasons.com/bangkok/