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Lifestyle Curators for Thailand + Southeast Asia

A Family Affair

  /  HOTELS   /  A Family Affair
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The rebranding of Sukosol Hotels in October marks a new era for the homegrown hotel chain, with the second generation of Sukosols joining stewardship with their mother

In October, Siam Hotels & Resorts will officially re-launch as Sukosol Hotels. The move, aimed at exploiting new optimism and opportunities on global tourism as well as to reinvigorate and move forward the brand that is considered one of Thailand’s most revered and most successful, is not only a story of a hotel business and its success, but also of a family – the Sukosol family, headed by the inimitable Kamala Sukosol – who owns the homegrown hotel group along with other business interests.

Kamala Sukosol, who is also Thailand’s reigning jazz queen, has been the guiding light in the creation of the successful hotel group, and her inspiration has – finally — brought all her kids together in a new beginning for the group. In the past she has singlehandedly built and operated the hotel group and made it a success in over three decades.

“There’s a bigger picture and larger story to it, actually,” shares Marisa, Kamala’s eldest daughter, who is executive vice-president of the hotel group. “The family business was started in 1939 by my grandfather, Kamol Sukosol – a well-known business tycoon – and my mother entered the hospitality business in 1973 with the opening of the Siam Bayshore, Pattaya. We have other businesses – retail, trading, properties, living, and entertainment – and hotel is a big part of it, but we have never really thought of it as a whole because it runs itself. But recently, we decided to consolidate because we know we have something special. We thought we need a stronger brand, and thus the corporate re-branding. For years, we have never really thought of investing much in brand building,” said Marisa. “But with the new developments, it only makes sense.”

The new name capitalizes on the family’s long-standing reputation in the tourism sector, proven track record, and innovation and commitment to the hotel business.

With the change to Sukosol Hotels comes a new name for their properties as well. The artistically beautiful flagship Siam City Hotel, which opened in 1990, becomes The Sukosol, Bangkok; the prestigious Siam Bayshore Resort & Spa, which was the group’s first hotel, becomes Siam Bayshore, Pattaya; and Siam Bayview Hotel, one of Pattaya’s preferred first-class hotel properties, will be known from hereon as The Bayview, Pattaya. Also included under the new umbrella are two new properties, The Siam – which opened in June, and Wave, Pattaya, which is opening in the last quarter of this year.

The corporate rebranding also reflects the siblings’ coming together again into the business. Indeed, it marks a new era of stewardship with the second generation of Sukosols joining their mother.

“My brother Sukie (Kamol), who started Thailand’s popular independent music company, Bakery Music, has entered the family business, and so has my younger brother Krissada (Noi), who’s been moonlighting as a rock star and film actor,” says Marisa. “Yes, everybody’s back in the business.” Along with her, sister Daranee — a former Wall Street investment banker — is the chief financial officer; Sukie is director of projects and development; and Noi, the creative director.

During the interview, Noi admits that he has always been thinking about how he can contribute to the family business. With The Siam – a luxury 39-room urban resort on the banks of Chao Phraya River, which he helped conceptualize with the renowned American designer, Bill Bensley — “I finally found my place in the family,” he says. Sukie on the other hand, has his hands full with a new project tentatively called “The Siam Plantation” in Kanchanaburi.

But unlike other Thai hotel chains, Sukosol Hotels’ expansion is cautious in its approach. Marisa explains, “We’re family owned; it’s a family business, which I think is one of our greatest strengths. A lot of what we do comes from dedication and love,” adding, “we want to concentrate on projects that are manageable for us, that we enjoy doing, and do them very well.”

Perhaps what differentiates Sukosol from other homegrown hotel chains is the owning family’s capacity to “mix it up.”

“We do serious business and make it more fun,” says Marisa. “For example, my Mom does a big concert annually. Our Red Cross concerts are like a tradition now. This is how we keep ourselves sane. We each have other interests in life. The hotel business is perfect for combining our varying passions.”

A hardworking family with many different passions, that’s what the Sukosols are. Their mother alone is an amazing woman of many talents and roles, although she likes to say that she’s an entertainer at heart. A businesswoman, a hotelier, an antiques collector, a recognized international philanthropist, among others, she’s a woman, who — quotes the song My Way — “I’ve lived a life that’s full.”

And as the Thai public already knows, the equally talented Sukosol children all try to do different things individually. Marisa, until recently, was very active in legit stage and plays; Noi, even now, may be shooting a film while working on his new project the Wave — a Miami-style boutique hotel – in Pattaya. And all of them come together at least once a year in their Mom’s charity concerts.

“Mom has taught us not to put all our eggs in a single basket,” Noi says. “Of course, this being a business – our projects have to be viable and profitable. But we have to enjoy doing them.” “We put a lot of love in what we do,” adds Marisa.

Marisa says their hotels have earned the respect of travel partners worldwide and have been able to remain competitive for 38 years because of their commitment to reinvestment and dedication to continuously improving their services and facilities.

Since 2009 and through this year, Sukosol Hotels will have invested over Bt2-billion in developing new properties and renovating existing ones.

“A lot of money we make goes back into the business,” says Marisa. “For example, The Siam Bayshore is like a new hotel, it’s so unique architecturally it has become an icon. The Bayview is also going to expand and you can see what we have been doing at The Sukosol, Bangkok in the last two years. When we work on something, it’s not just on the surface, we give our hearts and soul.”

Obviously the children took much after their very famous, hardworking, talented mother.

So how can Kamala do all that she has done, bring up all her kids together as she did, and still remain an energetic, dynamic woman at her age? “It’s just me,” she replies. “It’s just the way I am, the way I am made. I get bored if I don’t do anything.”

Kamala said she doesn’t usually try to plan anything. “I just try to find my way, from day to day. It’s much easier. I’m there when they need me, personal-wise or business-wise but I don’t force myself. But my philosophy is: put complete devotion in anything you do. Whatever you do, you have to do it well,” she says.

“You can say that, yes, my children have been following in my footsteps,” admits Kamala, but they were not forced. And I’m happy that they support each other, which is how it should be. Noi is the dreamer, the creative one; Daranee is straightforward, always to the point; Sukie, he’s the one with a strong character, always wants to do something different, and take ownership. Marisa and I, we’re the pragmatic ones,” says Kamala. “Marisa is the one who pulled the family together again.”

“Yes, we’re all very different from each but we’re each part of her,” Marisa and Noi agree, “We balance each other and we support each other. We all do different things, but at the end of the day we’re family. That’s what matters most.”

“And that’s the secret of my success — our success,” Kamala concludes.