Punsa Roengpithya is the owner of Holiday Inn Express Soi Soonvijai, which he built from the ground up on land his family owns. Having worked in the engineering sector, his strong background in systematic thinking has helped in maximizing his hotel’s operational efficiency.
What made you decide to build a hotel?
My mother owns the piece of land the property is on. At one point, I had to decide what to do with the land, I did not want to sell it off, so hotel investment was a natural choice. Prior to building the hotel, I searched for a purpose. Since our location offers access to a unique cluster of hospitals, I wanted the hotel to serve the people who visit those hospitals - patients, their relatives, and medical personnel. After a year of operation, I realized the hotel had the potential to serve the community and the local people as well. We soon partnered with Khua Kling Pak Sod and have launched a restaurant at our property.
Does being an engineer help you manage your hotel better? How do you use your engineering background to help with managing your hotel?
It certainly helped in the design phase. I am used to systematic thinking and the MEP (Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing) side of the construction, so this helped me keep costs in check. Also, with the good, solid design of the hotel, the air conditioning cost is kept modest. In terms of operations, I am able to view them from a scientific standpoint. Operations to me are mostly numbers, using a systematic approach to these numbers helps maximize operations results. However, I believe that other non-engineering skills are equally important. Being able to deal with people day in day out, communicating with the staff and GM, and knowing how to lead are essential in this business.
What are the key points that led to your decision to go with the current brand for your hotel?
Well, we chose a brand that is different from products available in the area. We have Amari – 4-star standards with big, luxurious rooms – and a semi hotel complex. We wanted to offer something in between these two hotels, so we went with a 3.5 star hotel. Holiday Inn Express is a very strong brand that meets our requirements. Also, the heritage of IHG is commendable. It has British and European roots, which is something I am used to, therefore our relationship is very equitable.
When it comes to 'International Brand Standards', are there any 'international' standards that may not be as applicable in Asia?
I personally don’t think that it is that much of an issue. Most chains take a global view, with global travelers in mind. Customers are a lot more alike than you think. They all want a decent sleep, good facilities, excellent services, and, of course, a nice breakfast. These things are universal. I don’t think hotel brands are struggling that much in Asia, as most of them are designed to suit international travelers anyways.
How do you foresee the hospitality industry in the next 12 months?
The hospitality industry is at a crossroads at the moment. The world is no longer connected, and traveling has ramped down. But this is only a temporary change, it will revert back soon after testing and vaccines become commonly available. It would probably take around 18 months to revert back to normal. Of course, 18 months with low cash flow is suicidal for many businesses. Demand is obviously lower than before so businesses have to be more fluid. Hotels have two choices: not operating at all, or evolving their business models beyond being just hotels. At the moment, our hotel is converting some of our hotel rooms into service offices. This brings in more revenue as well as traffic within the property. We cannot be just room plus service, we need to be more in order to survive. Only those who are quick to evolve will survive this economic climate.
What is your advice for someone looking to invest in hotels?
You have to do it for the right reasons. Hotels take an average of 7 years to pay back. In terms of the finances, it is not very attractive to become a hotel owner. Most people believe that owning a hotel brings prestige, but it is a lot of hard work. People come and go in the industry all the time. GM turnovers are so high. You also always have to keep guest satisfaction in mind. If you don’t like service businesses, don’t invest. Even if you hire professional operational managers like IHG, it will not shield you from being in the people service. You need to have a heart for service, and need to have a higher purpose, like serving people or bettering guests’ experiences.