With more than 40 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, Sanya Saengboon started working in this field at the age of just 17. Educated and trained at the Bristol Kempinski, Berlin, he has worked in various hotels including the Hyatt Regency Riyadh, the Hyatt Central Plaza, Bangkok (Sofitel Central), the Grand Hyatt New York, the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Hotel, Hawaii, and the Dusit Thani, Bangkok. Today, he plays a crucial role as Managing Director and General Manager of the Al Meroz Hotel, Bangkok. This leading 4-star halal hotel, the first in Bangkok, is well-known to both local Thais and the Thai Muslim society, as well as Overseas Incentive Houses, Embassies of Islamic countries, and AEC holiday makers who are looking for a unique experience amidst the buzzing city activity of Bangkok.

What’s the most challenging aspect of running the Al Meroz, the leading halal hotel?

The most challenging aspect is how to communicate and let the Muslim travelers, whether locals or from overseas, know that there is a hotel that caters for all their needs and requirements while they are in Bangkok, as well as to have all our non-Muslim staff know how to look after them while ensuring that non-Muslim visitors can also enjoy the excellent facilities that the hotel has to offer.

What's unique about the Al Meroz Hotel?

Our unique point is that we are the first halal hotel in Thailand with full facilities in Arabic. We have a Thai-designed concept, including the prayer room for hotel guests and qibla signs in the rooms, and the overall look of the building from the interior to the external design certainly gives the impression of being somewhere in the Middle East.

What are the misconceptions about halal hotels?

When it comes to the word ‘halal’, once again communication is the important factor. Too many people misunderstand that the hotel is only for Muslims, while in fact, the meaning of halal, as a simple word, is ‘approved, permissible, and clean’. That means that the food, drinks, speech, and dress are all deemed to be appropriate for Muslim guests, while anything prepared with pork and alcohol is not permitted. Nowadays, many products available in the supermarket have halal symbols on the packaging to show that they are safe to be consumed by Muslims.

The future looks brighter for Muslim travelers; we have strong support from travel agents, from corporate business with branches in Thailand and neighboring countries, as well as from the government sector. Halal tourism trends in the market are stronger than before, and there will be the smaller, medium-sized, and larger halal hotels and restaurants under development in the major tourism provinces in Thailand. In our case, we are adding up to another 230 rooms at the Almas Hotel by Al Meroz which is due to be opened sometime in the second quarter of 2020.

You have been a hotelier for a very long time. What career advice would you give to young hoteliers?

My personal advice is to go into the industry and learn – get as much experience as you can in every department possible. Hotel schools or universities can give you a lot, but the total experience can only be gained by actually getting into the industry on the ground. If you’re interested in F&B or marketing and sales, then it’s important to be on the ball in terms of the digital world. Remember that the hospitality business is a people business so in speaking with people, languages will always be another of the major keys to success.