Keeping the Boat Steady

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New GM of Novotel Bangkok on Siam Square says his current job role is different: more to help develop skills and work out what makes the hotel so successful, and looking at what new he can bring to the table without rocking the boat

By Laurence Civil

David got his first taste of the hospitality industry working as a busboy while still in high school: “I was just given 10 minutes instruction on how to set up a table and clear-in,” says David. “I loved the job, and at the end of the night, the waiters shared their tips with me.”

While Europe may have the best hospitality schools, the language requirements put it out of the reach of most American students no matter how talented they are. “Cornell is the most prestigious hospitality school in the United States,” he says, “but Las Vegas — with the benefits of the casino community — had the most modern facility, which made it a desirable place to be. So I enrolled in hotel administration at the University of Nevada (UNLV).

“While there I was lucky to do a Culinary Summer Program at Lausanne: three days a week of study and four days of travel to document our experiences. It was a wonderful experience, a chance to see the traditional side of hospitality and to broaden my horizons.”

“The year that I graduated from UNLV, Four Seasons Hotels visited just three universities, hiring only nine students nationwide,” he says, “Luckily I was among the nine. They hired me in housekeeping at the Clift, a renowned, classic hotel in San Francisco; and then moved me to Newport Beach, which was opening. Both gave me a great foundation, stressing an eye for detail and sense of urgency.”

New York was the city calling David. His next move, described as a gamble, took him to the Big Apple to work with Ian Strager of the infamous Studio 54 fame. Strager opened a series of very chic hideaways for exclusive clients; he changed hospitality, pioneering in “lobby socializing” and introducing the concept of “cheap chic” — affordable luxury in a stylish sophisticated environment. He then went to Lancaster Hotels, a small collection of boutique hotels with a strong F&B reputation. Here, he had a more traditional role for another five years.

“New York has played an important role in my life not just as a hotelier,” David continues, “but also in spending my free time helping out in the kitchen of my good friend, ‘Iron Chef America’ Mario Batali, who started with a 34-seat restaurant in the West Village and is now well-established in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

“It was then that I learned the difference between a cook and a chef: inspiration. I was proud to be at the opening of Osteria Mozza at Marina Bay Sands, which was recently awarded 35th place in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.”

David’s first posting in Asia was as resident manager of Mandarin Oriental Manila. It came to an end with 9/11, which caused the world to stop traveling for a couple of years. After postings in Mexico and a brief period at the opening of the largest hotel in China, he joined Accor in Shanghai (at the Sofitel) – at an exciting period when the brand was re-positioning upward and defining its core values.

“Thailand was high on my list for my next move,” he says. “Bangkok is the hospitality capital of Asia, inspired by the reputation of The Oriental. I was delighted to be posted here for the opening of Novotel Bangkok Impact. We were lucky to host a wide variety of local and regional conferences and exhibitons but what is needed (for all of Bangkok) is more international conferences. But that business wasn’t instant; those conferences are booked a year or two in advance. Now Thailand has settled into a period of stability. We can get that business. But who gets it is going to be tested with so many new hotels in the market.”

By his own admission a city boy, David says it was a great opportunity for him to move from the city’s newest Novotel to its oldest and most established Novotel. “We do have good occupancy but compared with other Asian cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, we are underpriced for the great value we offer.”

“At Novotel Bangkok Impact, my role as general manager was to teach hospitality skills to new entrants into the industry,” he says. “But here at Novotel Bangkok on Siam Square I have joined a great team, with a high proportion of the staff having 15 or 20 years service, and enjoying a low staff turnover. Here, the job role is different: more to help develop skills and work out what makes this hotel so successful, and looking at what new I can bring to the table without rocking the boat.”

Because of their location, 80-85 percent of guests at Novotel Bangkok on Siam Square were leisure guests. David says he would like to have a larger share of corporate guests.

In the meantime, efforts to make the hotel even better continues, emphasizing the importance of being responsible to the environment. The hotel now leases 130sqm of previously unused roof space EnerGaia to grow more than two tons of Spirulina, a nutritious vegetarian protein utilizing ambient urban carbon dioxide.

“This is part of being an environmentally responsible operator and to show that economic and sustainable goals can work hand in hand,” he says. “We are experimenting on how to use it in healthy recipes, including smoothies.”

Any Bangkok wish list? “For lower wine taxes: to improve the overall guest dining experience; and for taxi drivers who always use their meter and are not allowed to decline a fare. 

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