‘With 730 plus hotels in Bangkok, it’s great to know that people come to you rather than elsewhere in town,’ says GM Brown.
By Percy Roxas
Adrian Brown’s first job was as cabinet-maker. He was a qualified carpenter with a builder’s license, and would have been happy to remain so. But in the 80s, he got a part-time job as a bar man and loved his first taste of the hospitality industry so much that he decided to move across his entire career. Fast-forward 30 years, and he is now general manager (GM) of Chatrium Hotel Riverside Bangkok.
While he remains interested in building and constructing, he just loves the hospitality industry more. “In this industry, you work with happy people, and in a generally fun environment,” the Australian-born GM says.“It’s exciting. You are meeting a different person, you’re dealing with a different situation – every day — and I love that.” He makes full use of his passion for social interaction and fixing things at the hotel.
Since Brown joined Chatrium Riverside, the hotel has undergone a major transformation. “There seems to be so much happening at the Chatrium Riverside these days,” says one industry observer. “It has become more visible and always in the spotlight,” comments another. “The hotel is clearly out to make its mark,” observes still another.
To quote Brown: “From a business point of view, we’ve come a long way — from a property of two-and-a half years ago that no one knew, to what it is today. There were lots of reasons but even after two years of operations the hotel was as good as empty. When I got onboard three years ago, my first challenge was to change that; and I love challenges, as my history will show you.”
To cite one example: When Brown first became GM in Kuala Lumpur (1999), he was assigned to a poorly performing hotel. Bringing his “Mr. Fix-It” reputation there, he eventually reversed the financial fortunes of the property during his term. Today, at Chatrium, the owners are extremely happy with the hotel’s financial performance. “During peak periods we’ve been running with 90 percent occupancy. It’s absolutely fantastic,” Brown says. “Similarly, we made great leaps — from a product point-of-view.“
How did he do it? “I believe in great value for money,” he replies. “From the beginning, I had to quickly review the product and its potential markets, those sort of things. I had to get a better understanding of what I’m facing. Since this is my first time to work in Bangkok, I had to very quickly get an idea of all the different market segments, what potential markets are out there, and who we can trade with in the future.
“We need to understand wants, needs, and desires. We have to fine-tune and develop everything according to those needs and then take them out to the market. This has helped us grow while implementing various touches and addressing the required standards.”
The initial success has led to increased growth targets for the hotel. Now they expect well over 80 percent occupancy from business travelers this year, and are forecasting some 10-12 percent higher levels of business than projected at the beginning of the year. “During peak arrivals, we’ve been running full house for three months,” he adds. A key element in their success is the F&B department. “F&B is certainly a great tool to introduce guests to the hotel,” he says. “Being creative with our F&B is something. We’ve implemented lots of things. For example, in Pier 28 (restaurant) we launched a new world buffet concept. “When I first came to the hotel, this restaurant was all concrete; all cement. There were no canopies, no plants, just all hard — uninviting hard — stuff. We brought the live cooking stations outdoors. We built canopies, put lots of plants, brought in some entertainment, and created an engaging atmosphere. Of course, we didn’t forget the pricing point, which creates value for money, even with the product’s high quality.”
Brown cites some specifics, such as the World Buffet concept they launched at Pier 28 and the now much awaited wine dinners, which Brown says, has a unique concept. These and other F&B initiatives have helped immensely in positioning the hotel, especially among the local market. In fact, many guests who have been coming to the hotel since the beginning, for breakfast for example, often chide Brown these days: “You have spoiled my breakfast venue.” Of course, they are kidding and loved the changes.
And these are but a few. Plans are either afoot or are already being implemented in some aspect of operations to further improve the hotel services, and enhancing the elements of fun. Says Brown: “The idea of having fun is now cascading into our customers. Throughout our entire rebranding, we’re adding elements of more fun and more color, so you can expect more.” He promises more surprises, not only to long-term-plan on rooms and meeting facilities, but also in more fun activities involving staff and guests.
His hands-on management style deserves much credit for Chatrium’s amazing turnaround, but Brown gives a lot of credit to the entire hotel team for the success. “My philosophy is that I’m the least important in terms of daily operations and customer experience,” he explains. “If I were not here tomorrow breakfast would still be served, rubbish will still be cleared, etc. But if the waiting staff don’t’ turn up tomorrow, guests would get no service and we would have a dirty hotel. It is the staff who are the most important. I’m here to educate, guide, and develop everybody else’s skills and knowledge. And I love doing that.
“If I see a person or department struggling,” he continues, “I’ll be the first one to take my jacket off and help. I will be in the porters and bring luggage in. I’ll be out in the kitchen washing dishes. I’ll help clear the restaurant, Doing that helps me build rapport with my staff.” Indeed, it can be safely said that Brown’s open, fun management style has entrenched the hotel with “uncompromising 5-star level of service with touches of fun, warmth, and friendliness.”
With a management style that is extremely compatible with the Thai way, Brown likes people to work hard, but likes to have fun working as well. He has always been this way. “I’m very much like my father,” he admits. “He was an entertainer; always the life of the party, and so people-oriented. Although he passed away last year, he passed away without having one enemy on this earth. He was my role model. And I’ve embraced that from early childhood. This is how I’ve always been. This is how I’ll always be.”