SO Sofitel Bangkok is currently in the process of celebrating its 5th anniversary – that’s five years of leading the way in ‘playful luxury’ as the first property to open under the SO Sofitel brand, and Bangkok’s first urban design hotel. Hotelintel.co paid a recent visit to learn more about one particular aspect of the hotel’s success to date.
SO Sofitel, with designs by Christian Lacroix, has earned itself a stellar reputation among guests from the LGBT segment, but according to Director of Business Development, Juthamas Carranco, this hasn’t necessarily occurred by strategic design, but has rather been the result of SO Sofitel’s unique style and design.
“I’ve never said this is an LGBT hotel – for marketing we have no actual wording to focus on LGBT, so instead it’s in the way we do things here, the design, look and feel, plus our staff and service. We are ‘playful luxury’, and LGBT is one of our segments.”
It seems that this discrete approach is paying dividends, not least because other hotels which have directly targeted this LGBT segment have failed – perhaps because the claim of being ‘gay-friendly’ is less well received in reality than the practice of being guest-friendly to everyone.
“It’s partly location, because we’re near Silom,” added Club Signature Manager, Paul – or ‘So Paul’ as the hotel prefers to name staff, “but it’s also about style, because they’re not going to other properties.”
“LGBT guests love our top suite, SO VIP,” explained Juthamas. “It’s not just a place to stay – you can also party, and we also offer butler service. We don’t have any exact statistics on LGBT visitors, but we do know that among that segment gay travelers are the standout group. They know that we welcome them even though we don’t promote it that way. It’s mainly reputation, word of mouth, and who we are.”
“We don’t approach gay media, but instead they come to us, so people find out about us that way. Then there are travel agents who focus on the LGBT market, and they know their customers are satisfied here. We also work with the Tourism Authority of Thailand in New York, and that helps to support this segment.”
While LGBT guests have become very important for SO Sofitel Bangkok, they visit for the same luxurious style, design, and service which attracts the hotel’s other clientele – the corporate travelers, honeymoon couples, families, and so on. So what makes SO Sofitel so special? The answer may be the staff.
“We don’t impose any restrictions on our staff, as long as they are stylish. Staff can truly be themselves as long as they meet the expectations of representing a stylish luxury brand, so we encourage staff to be creative,” said Juthamas. “When staff feel comfortable with themselves then guests feel comfortable.”
As for the SO VIP services which the LGBT segment finds so appealing, Paul explained that guests “would ask you to go shopping, do their nails, or show them around. Money isn’t a problem. If they like you, they will spend. Some guests even offer to fly me to pick them up and check in.”
Internationally, the welcome provided by the SO Sofitel Bangkok to LGBT travelers hasn’t gone unnoticed, with the hotel’s services gaining recognition from ILGA – an international association promoting the rights and interests of the LGBT community. Events such as the hotel’s famous pool parties have also raised SO Sofitel’s profile, but if there is one clear lesson to be learned it may be this:
If you provide an environment in which guests feel comfortable, they will recommend your services and keep coming back. When you truly are your brand, as SO Sofitel is, you don’t need to rely on marketing to convince customers.