Liverpool is famous in Thailand for a number of reasons – Liverpool F.C., The Beatles, and Martin Hurley. Enough has been written already about the band and the football team – so it’s time for the Liverpool-born and educated General Manager of Lancaster Bangkok to take the spotlight.
Martin has over 30 years’ experience in hospitality after beginning his journey at an independent hotel in Liverpool where he started out as a trainee. He gradually picked up experience in different aspects of the industry, working in a number of roles including Front Office Manager, Head of Sales, Chef, Bar and Nightclub Manager, Brand Consultant, and finally as a General Manager.
After working for IHG, he moved to the K West Hotel and Spa in London. K West is a lifestyle hotel popular with music and entertainment clients and is part of the Landmark Lancaster hotel group, which has hotels in London and Bangkok. This paved the way for Martin to be transferred to his current position at Lancaster Bangkok, where he kindly agreed to talk to Hotelintel.co.
What’s the most challenging aspect of running your hotel?
The most challenging aspect of running a newly-opened independent hotel in Bangkok is to spread the word globally and let everybody know that we are a high-quality alternative to a chain property. We are a genuine 5-star – we use the UK AA standards to drive that – and in a city where 3-star hotels call themselves 5-star it can be hard to convince people until they see the property and experience the service.
What kind of opportunities do you see here in this location? What are your unique selling points?
Our location at the junction of Asok and Petchburi is a great base for any kind of stay, with fantastic transport links. The neighborhood is still authentic Thai with shop houses and street food, yet has the benefit of the new Singha Food Mall just across the street. We are right by the MRT station, which is ever expanding, and anyone looking for a truly local experience can take the canal boat to the Old City.
Our main USP is the Viva Jiva wellness floor featuring a 500 sqm fitness center and 24-hour gym, a two-level spa offering massage, facials and all-over pampering, herbal steam, Himalayan salt sauna, and ice fountains, along with a roof pool and bar. It’s a fantastic facility, more like a commercial fitness center than a hotel gym.
Coming from the UK, do you have to adjust your management style when working here in Thailand? You mentioned there are only two westerners in your hotel, how do you make that work? Any culture shock for you?
My management style has always been very developmental, democratic, and direct. I think I have toned down the ‘direct’ part since being here, there are definitely some situations where a UK style wouldn’t yield a positive result. There are only two expats at the hotel, myself and my Italian Director of Culinary, Michele Bravo. I have met some amazing local young talent coming up in the industry, it’s important that we develop these individuals and give them the opportunity to grow into senior management roles. I think the only culture shock for me was as I started to learn the language, I realized that most of the conversation amongst the team was about food “gin kaao”.
What does ‘Thai hospitality’ or ‘Asian hospitality’ mean compared to the rest of the world? Shouldn’t hospitality be just hospitality without any cultural or regional context attached to it?
If all hospitality was to Thai standards then I would agree. I think the Thai people should be proud of their natural ability to give great service. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been traveling for business around Europe, and I’ve been shocked at the low levels of service offered in hotels compared to what we enjoy in Thailand. I’m delighted that the team members who get the most guest recognition at Lancaster Bangkok are the bell team – the welcome starts at the front door.
What’s your favorite thing about your hotel?
I love the lobby. It’s a 12-storey atrium decorated with the ‘plat-a-pien’ art installation – over 2,000 hand-made and hand-fitted carvings in the style of traditional Thai weaving. The size and space of the atrium is something that you have to experience in person. I enjoy the club lounge also, it’s on the top floor of the hotel and gives 360° views of the city – you can see the future development projects and how the city continues to grow outwards.
What’s your advice for hoteliers coming to work in Thailand for the first time?
Enjoy every minute. For me it’s an amazing place to live and work, with incredible city and resort hotels. It’s a very competitive market, which leads you to up your game and get creative. There are good GM networks, so it’s easy to connect with your peers and understand the competition. Overall, enjoy working in one the world’s busiest and most exhilarating cities.