Amari Hua Hin
When he was a little boy, Simon Dell, general manager (GM) of the newly opened Amari Hua Hin, dreamed of becoming an architect like his grandfather. But in high school, after taking an elective course in Technical Drawing, he figured early on that he may not become one. Then during a career advise program, he realized he enjoys the idea of being in the hotel business more.
“A career counselor inspired me and gave me the idea that this exciting and fast-paced lifestyle might be a good fit for me. It’s so diverse, no one day is the same, and I certainly never get bored,” says the half British, half Swiss GM of Amari group’s 13th property in Thailand. “It really appealed to me from Day One. I am the kind of person who likes to move around, get to know people, and I prefer to be out there gaining experience while also sharing my own knowledge in the world. I know a hotelier’s lifestyle does not suit everybody, but it certainly suits me.”
Born in the U.K., Dell grew up in Switzerland where he also graduated from the Institute Hotelier-Cesar Ritz (Hotel Administration) before getting a degree in Business and Hotel Administration from Johnson & Wales University, USA. After that he went back to Switzerland to join Swissotel as front office supervisor before moving to the U.K. and joined the Savoey group where he immersed himself into the Savoy style, culture and business before returning to Switzerland again to become deputy GM of a boutique hotel in Zurich, where he really sank his teeth learning “everything from making beds to negotiating group contracts.”
He says of the Savoy: “What a place. It was then, the most discreet place in world – the secret address in London where all the top stars stayed. I spent a great six months there, working in room service and also in their American cocktail bar. It really is where room service is at its finest; every floor has a room service waiter. It was old-school traditional hospitality, and when you have learned that, then you know what real hospitality is.”
Looking back at his experiences, Dell said “It was great experience to start at the top in a luxury property. You learn how to behave, how to dress, what to do, you acquire the flexibility to speak to all kinds of people, and deal with complex situations.
Even then, Dell said he wanted to go international. “During my career I have sought out all the opportunities I could to broaden my experience. The movement from one hotel and one country to another has all been deliberate to grow into the international GM I have now become. Of course in this role you need to have a good understanding of people, both your team members and guests. You have to know how to deal with international clientele.”
In 1998, Dell joined the pre-opening team of the 500-room InterContinental Tel Aviv as front office manager. “It was a big challenge,” he recalls, “and I spent a great three years there.” From there, InterContinental sent him back to Europe – in their flagship Berlin property – “where I kept learning and learning more about the important areas of business: revenue, sales, yield, etc.” From there, he moved to Raffles becoming rooms director of Le Montreux Palace, one of the most beautiful hotels in the world in the heart of Montreux.
Raffles sent him next to Moscow, to help open their property there as executive assistant manager (EAM). “There again I had to set up everything, with the pre-opening team: yield, revenue, sales, and the like,” he recalls. “It was a fantastic experience, really anything goes. It was a booming city then with a lot of business. At the time, there was a big discrepancy between the basic hotel product and luxury hotels so the rates for a few years, were the highest in Moscow, and even higher than London or Paris.” From there, he went to Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong as director of rooms. And five years ago, he brought the wealth of experience he accumulated in international hospitality management to Thailand.
Dell has been with the Amari group since 2008 when he started as EAM at Amari Orchid Pattaya, before he was appointed GM of Amari Vogue Krabi, a property in August 2009. He was with the Amari Hua Hin since last year but the hotel had a pre-opening only August. “Our pre-opening period lasted a long time” he says, “but that was because we wanted to get everything right.” At Amari Hua Hin, Dell takes overall responsibility for the smooth running of the newly opened hotel with primary focus on ensuring the property is able to fully deliver in terms of customer expectation, occupancy rate, and revenue generation.
How did he end up in Thailand? “To be honest I guess Hong Kong wasn’t the right part of Asia for me,” he says. “Even then, I had the feeling that I needed to be somewhere. I love Hong Kong and I return to it from time to time, but I wanted a more Asian experience.”
Thailand he said, more than met his expectations. “I have lived in beautiful places: the sophistication of Switzerland and UK, the hard buzz and excitement of Moscow and Tel Aviv, etc…but of all places I’ve been to, Thailand is a complete place for me. I felt a connection with Thailand and now I can’t imagine going anywhere else.
“Thailand manages to satisfy and excite me at the same time,” he continues. “It’s an amazing-looking country, with fun beautiful beaches and also the excitement of cool cities like Bangkok and Phuket. And of all the nations I’ve been to, the kindest people are here. That’s why Thailand is so popular. I’m sure many countries have beautiful beaches too, but it’s always the people who make the difference. The Thai people are second to none when it comes to hospitality, friendliness, and politeness – it makes my job a little bit easier.”
Like most foreign GM in Thailand, he says you can capitalize on the excellence of the Thai people in terms of hospitality, friendliness, and warmth. “Every hotel does it,” he says. “Every hotel does it,” he says. “And everybody who comes here leaves saying what a lovely bunch of people they are. It’s a fantastic mix not only for someone like me living here, but also for our guests. It’s very easy to slip into Thai culture, i’m a big fan of Thai food; I can eat spicy like a Thai now. I love Thailand.”
And he loves Amari Hua Hin. ““We are excited to bring the Amari brand to Hua Hin. It’s a beautiful 223-room resort that can’t be compared to any other hotel in terms of design: it is bold, light, airy — When you walk into our lobby, you instantly see the vibrant ocean blue colour and our vast 15m-ceiling.”
The resort is actually trying to break new ground in many concepts: from the arrival experience (with the so-called Amari Hosts and focus on kids so they can have fun) and F&B offerings (showcasing fresh, simple local food in very Thai setting of food sharing and eschewing the idea of expensive in-house restaurants) to sleep enjoyment (spacious rooms reflecting the locale and using technology only to enhance service) and MICE facilities (putting the zing in your meeting as one of the top three in Hua Hin in facilities). “I guess you could say we’re a blueprint for the future,” Dell says. “We are testing how our branding is coming out in the market, but one thing is for sure – if there is one thing Amari is about it ensuring that your stay is special and different.”