People remember you by how you make them feel, and that’s definitely the case for me. Gavin Vongkusolkit according to Forbes, is a ‘new tycoon’. According to me, he’s one of the friendliest, warmest people I know and he’s still the same humble person that I met several years ago.
Gavin, owner of Glowfish Offices, Kuppa, Kuppa Deli, and Ad Lib says himself that he isn’t a hotelier; rather an entrepreneur that just happened to be born into the industry. I do think he’s always been a very good hotelier.
“My family and the Wattanavekin family started a retail and hotel development company together on the year I was born. Our very first projects were The Amarin Plaza and The Grand Hyatt Erawan hotel - the latter of which became the name of our company when we went public. The Erawan Group currently owns 56 hotels in Thailand and the Philippines. I joined the company Board of Directors in 2011.
Some of my fondest memories growing up had taken place at the Grand Hyatt Erawan. It was the earlier days of Hyatt International and they had many incredible personalities working closely with us owners, many have since became legends - GMs, Chefs, CEOs, F&B and Service business owners. Back then there were much fewer five star hotels around the world, travel was more romantic and rewarding, hospitality business was more personal and classy, and everybody knows everybody. I spent a lot of time as a child running around the Grand Hyatt Erawan, watching how people work. My mother is also an amazing host and we used to have parties at home all the time where we would invite friends - chefs, artists, performers, musicians, business people, bureaucrats, and of course, the best hoteliers. It was a very personal time, an exciting time, and some of that excitement likely rubbed off on me.” said Gavin
"What was the concept that led to the birth of your ‘Ad Lib’ hotel brand?" I asked
“It was to bring some of that personal touch back to hotels”
This 58 room hotel used to be his family home for 30 years before they decided to move away from central Bangkok.
“I had already a very clear image of what would become Ad Lib hotel in my mind. I wanted to recreate this feeling and excitement of being the host at our own home, and for guests to feel they are being looked after personally. Ad Lib means to be free, to improvise, to have it your own way - our tagline is “feel free” as in to make yourself at home”
Ad Lib is a unique property. When discussing what had contributed to its success, Gavin says: “You said it. Its unique! We can do better though. Ad Lib does get amazing occupancy and good rates. But this has a lot more to do with the power of a good product and concept. We did great with very innovative design and that had won us a few design awards including one from the World Architecture Festival. What we did not get right at the outset was hiring the right people and make sure we communicate with them the right culture. As a result we ended up with a service style that is different to how it was intended and, although was very good compared to industry standard, was not in alignment with the brand.”
Of course, in the end it all comes down to people, and Gavin continued to share a little about his ‘people’ strategy:
“We are spending a lot of time working on our people now and making sure we guide and give them the right tools to become the finest in the industry, and doing so in their own individual ways.”
Even though he doesn’t consider himself a ‘real hotelier’, you can tell from his passion and what he’s done with his properties, his brands and his people that he’s a natural.
“There are many things I can still learn in this regard” he continued. He believes that his being of an entrepreneur mindset has really helped him with the business.
“I think anything helps in running a hotel. A different perspective is always good for any business and an entrepreneur needs to always be a few steps ahead to make it. However, I do think the experience of owning and running independent restaurants has helped me the most. In Thailand F&B is a very competitive industry and we have to get it absolutely right. It has taught me to really pay attention to different types of consumers as well as market trends - both the things that changes and things that don’t. It also taught me about the management of people, particularly service people, and how important they are in the genuine communication of our culture and our concept. Our people should speak as much about our brand as the product.”
On the topic of the input and influence of the family - If there is one thing I learned about being an entrepreneur myself is we don’t usually listen to advice. So I asked if Gavin’s mother (Robin Lourvanij) ever advised him on how to run a hotel since she also owns one herself. The answer is “No”
“My mother knows her expertise very well and will only advise on what she knows. She is a phenomenal interior designer who has incredible understanding of how people interact and feel within a space. This she used to help put finishing touches on our hotel’s decor.”
If you have never been to Kuppa in Sukhumvit 16 or Ad Lib, you should. You will understand what good interior design can hugely impact on your emotion.
As for a future plans, we all can look forward to new openings by Gavin.
“We are looking at one right now but I cannot disclose much about it yet. We are also extending Ad Lib so that by the end of this year we will have a new spa and a new F&B concept. I am personally quite excited about these.”
I love getting good advice, so I wasn’t going to give up this opportunity to get some from someone of the likes of Gavin in regard to building a hotel. Who knows, one day I may have my WIMINTRA Manor hotel series scattered around the globe.
“For Bangkok, please don’t do it. There are too many hotels in this city already and we can all do with less competition.” he said.
“But if you were to do it, I would say, think about what value you can bring to your community, neighborhood or city. Don’t be another choice for travelers - be the reason people travel.”