InterContinental Baan Taling Ngan Samui GM takes the challenge of making the legendary resort better – and does it with a bang!
By Percy Roxas
‘Some legends just get better.’ That’s the tagline InterContinental Baan Taling Ngam Samui Resort unveiled when it celebrated its first anniversary recently. The 20-year-old property, which started out as a Mandarin Oriental and then became a Royal Le Meridien, came under the InterContimental umbrella last year thus not only assuring that the legend of Samui’s first luxury resort continues but also ushering it notches further into the new pantheon of today’s best resorts in the world.
Heading the team tasked with the job of ‘making the legend get better,’ is a 40-something French general manager (GM), who in his 20 years in the industry has worked in some of the most challenging places running some of the most successful hotels and resorts. His name: Arnaud Girodon. His achievements prior to InterContinental Baan Taling Ngam Samui include being the opening GM of Indigo Pearl Resort Phuket, a design 5-star resort that has reaped various top awards globally, both for its stunning design and its successful operations.
But Arnaud is not just out to duplicate his past successes at InterContinental Baan Taling Ngam Samui. He is out to surpass them by topping the previous achievements of the renowned resort legend. “I think every property has its own unique challenge,” says Arnaud who got onboard the Samui property in June 2011. “This one – which has more villas and so spread-out, definitely offers more challenges. The resort was built in 1993 so it is one of the oldest hotels on the island and has a reputation that has to be preserved.
“Our main challenge was to get this legendary status and make it better. That’s why we had the tagline, ‘Some legends just get better,’” he points out, adding. “I think we got that worked out pretty well. We have positioned the hotel in both the local and international segments.”
His personal profile tells us that Arnaud is no stranger to challenges. Born April 1, 1975 in a very tiny village in Southwest France, Arnaud’s passion for the hotel business started very early. As a 10-year-old walking in hotels in Paris, he found the world of luxury hotels very attractive. “So I went to school in Paris where I graduated with a bachelor degree in hotel management (Hotel & Catering University of St. Quentin en Yveline). Then I decided to improve my English and Spanish, and went to London when I was 18.”
He recalls fondly: “It’s the sense, the feeling of luxury amid the glamorous chaos got me into it and also because of the opportunity to experience many lines of business and learn many things. As a GM, your knowledge has to be extensive because you’re managing various areas: food and beverage, front office, marketing, engineering, etc… so it has to be a passion. And I’m so passionate about it.”
Arnaud started as a waiter in a London hotel and subsequently went up the ladder. Then he joined Accor, became an assistant restaurant manager at a Novotel in 1996, and made his way up to beverage manager in 1999. After two years in London, he moved to Dubai as assistant F&B manager for a beach hotel that doesn’t exist anymore (among other positions that further enriched his career experience). “And I had enough of the Middle East so I took the offer to work in Phuket in 2006,” he says. “The InterContinental group decided to open this amazing resort in Samui, so here I am.”
InterContinental Baan taling Ngam Samui opened in February last year, which is a very challenging time for a hotel opening. “But, we had 70-80 percent occupancy in July, and the same in August,” says Arnaud. “It was the fastest in my experience, faster than I have anticipated. I think the hotel has made a name for itself.”
Indeed, those visiting the resort today will not fail to sense the new energy and vibe of the property, even before they set foot on the lobby, which opens to the horizon and the big blue sea. There is the InterContinental spirit now written all over it. Actually, the only thing that’s totally new in the resort is the beach area. The main building was basically the same original structure but they major work was done on the interiors. They repainted the exteriors and brought in new decorations as well. They have also done entirely the pool systems and tiles. Of course some parts of the resort have to be built from scratch, and overall, facilities, services, and guest activities have been all beefed up as well. If you have been to other InterContinental hotels around the world, you know what we mean.
But beyond the major cosmetic makeovers, Arnaud made sure special attention is given to the human resources. “You have to care for the employees, some of whom have been here 15 to 20 years,” he says, “To make sure the human resources are right we did a lot of on-the-job training. We have to keep the InterContinental standards, and make sure all our guest will get the InterContinental experience that they expect.”
Arnaud also diversified the resort’s targets. From the traditional market, which was mainly European and Japan, they now put big focus on upper level Hong Kong, Singapore, and China. They have also widened the usual guest age profile, and the change in demographics proved effective: “We have increased our rates and enjoyed very high occupancy levels,” Arnaud says.
One year later, Arnaud is obviously very happy with the results. “I’m actually very excited because it is very rare in hotel openings that you get this amount of commercial deliveries, especially in terms of profitability,” he says. “ We’ve had a very successful first year. Our positioning has been tremendously successful. We are also happy with the way the team has satisfactorily evolved. They’re really great to see.”
He credits this success largely to the people who work at the resort. “Of course there’s the physical aspect including the architecture, location and the setting — we have the best sunset on the island and lovely beaches, by the way. But the major asset is definitely the people: my team. These are major assets of the property and they serve us well,” he reiterates.
Arnaud says he is proud to be GM of this magnificent hotel. He says: “I think this hotel has a soul, and that’s how we create beautiful experiences in our beautiful place. We believe that this resort enriches your holiday experience like no other in this paradise island called Samui.”