Precious few hotels are also a museum, but as I crossed the six-lane road to Bangkok Publishing Residence, a building that doesn’t look anything like a hotel, I was about to enter one of those few. There was no big sign and grand entrance – this place is a well-kept secret from intruders. In fact, I was only let inside because I had an appointment with the owner, Panida Tosnaitada.
“My initial key was to be private, mysterious, intellectual, and at the same time to have creativity,” said Panida by way of introduction. “And for it to be mysterious is one thing, because people are actually not going to be looking and they are not going to find us because we only have eight rooms.”
The original idea was to make this sixty-year-old building a real museum, but Panida is both an artist and a businesswoman, and she had to find a way to make the venture sustainable – and that’s how Bangkok Publishing Residence was born as a hotel and museum.
“I really wanted to keep this because when it was originally built sixty years ago, this was where my family started off publishing Bangkok Weekly. From there they moved on and expanded everything, but then they decided that they would be closing down. They were destroying everything away from the factory and I just felt that I’ve been here since I was born, running around the factory, hearing the printing machinery running 24 hours. I grew up with it and to see all of it dying out was just so sad, so I decided that I wanted to keep it so that other people can remember, not just in Bangkok, but in publishing as a whole because today’s publications are dying out, and companies are shutting down and letting go of people. A lot of my friends have been affected, so it’s quite personal. That was the initial idea, to have the museum to keep all of that.”
The next challenge was that museums don’t make a lot of money, and sustaining the collection demanded the survival of the property. The answer was to open as a hotel, but with no background in hospitality management and no helping hand from any consultancy firms, Panida had little choice but to rely on herself, and learn from her mistakes, as she readily admits.
“Maybe it is an advantage as I can go out looking for books and find out how many different people are doing things. I can choose a book by looking at the back cover and choosing my own way rather than doing everything according to how I was taught at school – which would have been the case if I’d graduated in business or finance,” she explained.
Bangkok Publishing Residence has since been welcoming travelers from all corners of the world, so I asked Panida what kind of guests she’d had in mind when she started out.
“I think of my mother when I design service standards – the kind of guests who are the most demanding, detail-orientated, and hard to please. Perhaps the worst type of guest that I could have imagined, but I guess it’s easier to be dealing with these types than the ones who are bringing girls in throughout the night, or vomiting everywhere because they were drinking too much. I survived all the trips with my mom, so now I know exactly what this type of traveler is looking for.”
I giggled at her answer because just like her mother, I’m exactly that kind of traveler, but one thing I do know about this type of traveler is that if we are happy with something we tend to stick around. To be sure that even Panida’s mom would approve, the first month of Bangkok Publishing Residence saw Panida’s most demanding and bitchiest friends coming to stay, on the condition that they would leave frank comments about their experience as feedback.
“In my first year, I had no marketing budget at all, which is funny for someone who is opening a business as you’re supposed to have marketing. My principle is that if I’m selling my product, I would rather put my money into the actual product and let the product sell itself, rather than put it into marketing where other people come in, take the money, and then the product fails. I would rather go into it not expecting anything, and having people coming looking at the building from the outside thinking it’s a shitty-looking building and then getting inside and saying ‘Wow! It’s so different from what we saw on the outside.’”
Being the only luxury hotel around the Rattanakosin area, Panida said she wished there were more hotels of a similar type. “Sometimes, when we are fully booked, we have nowhere else to send our guests to,” she lamented.
I asked if she feared competitors, and she said there have already been attempts made to copy her work.
“The rest of the world can do what they like and I will do what I like. If they see what I do and like it and want to copy it, I’m more than happy for them to do that. That’s a kind of certification that I have done something right. We have actually had Chinese architecture companies come into our hotel and copy the design in their own work. I’ve actually seen them open AutoCAD in front of me and take measurements, making the architectural diagrams based on the property. If I have done something that good, to the point that you fly people from your company in China over to copy what I’ve done, then it means that I have done something right.”
I parted company with Panida with a hug because, like her hotel, she is beautiful and warm, and anything that is beautiful and warm deserves a hug.