DoubleTree by Hilton Sukhumvit GM almost feels that the DoubleTree brand was designed for Thailand.
“It´s a perfect match,” he says.
By Laurence Civil
Other hoteliers may brand-hop to advance their career. “But,” says Chris Ehmann, general manager (GM) of the newly opened DoubleTree by Hilton Sukhumvit, “Hilton gave me a lot of opportunities and it worked for me to stay with the brand.” The Canadian-born hotelier has been with the Hilton group for the past 12 years, starting in Bucharest, then in the Middle East, and most recently in Malaysia, before arriving in Thailand just over a year ago.
“Bangkok is a crazy hectic city,” he says, and he wonders how the people seem so relaxed. Yet, he finds similarities in the DoubleTree brand and the busy capital: “I almost feel that the DoubleTree brand was designed for Thailand. It´s a perfect match,” he says. He added, “Every place I have worked before had something great to offer but Bangkok is a fantastic city to work in.”
DoubleTree by Hilton is the fastest growing brand within Europe and Asia over the past five years. When DoubleTree by Hilton opened on Sukhumvit 26 in April 30 this year, it was the 100th Hilton in Asia-Pacific. Chris also works as cluster GM for its sister-hotel, Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok, which is already building up next door and scheduled to open mid-August.
He handles the challenge in two ways. “As a GM, it is my responsibility to manage the business and that means a certain amount of essential paperwork that has to be done.” But he admits to “spending more of my time walking around interacting with our guests rather than crunching numbers. After all that’s why I am in the hospitality industry.”
Evidently, for Ehmann, welcome is an attitude, which has to be shown in actions, not just in words. “As soon as a guest arrives into the hotel, we offer them one of our iconic cookies in a brown paper bag before we even ask their name,” he says. “It´s a welcome that radiates a feel of comfort. It’s not so much about the cookie, but rather what it represents. That feeling of coming home to a family environment after a tiring day. We bake cookies according to the same recipe worldwide. One of my tasks, when I took over as GM was to sign for the recipe of the DoubleTree cookie.”
He said being a cluster GM for DoubleTree and Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok – he regards both “full service hotels” — gives him the opportunity to give guests more options.
“Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok will have more rooms, restaurants, and banqueting facilities than DoubleTree. Our signature restaurant will be Scalini, an Italian-American restaurant with 20s-30s Prohibition Era concept that we are very excited about, and Mondo, a casual Mediterranean tapas/antipasto eatery with its own charcuterie meat and cheese tower, as well as a barista and whiskey bar. This is the primary dining area in the hotel.
“At DoubleTree, we have two dining options that are already proving popular with guests and locals, as they have their own distinct charm. Dee Lite is a casual all-day diner serving quick and tasty Thai, Vietnamese and Western dishes. Mosaic, on the 7th floor, is a poolside area by day that transforms into an outdoor lounge and cocktail bar serving Western and Thai grilled specialties in the evening.”
For Ehmann, it is important to work closely with the people in his environment. “We make an effort to change our local environment,” he says. “We are working closely with ARK, an organisation working in the slum areas of Bangkok. Activities include picking up a group of kids and taking them to play rugby, or our kitchen staff showing them how to make the best of the cooking facilities they have, in the most hygienic way. As the kids grow older, if they demonstrate the right attitude, we maybe can help them start their careers in the hotel.”
What does it take to work in his team then? “We hire our people based on their attitudes as that’s what is important,” he says. The rest will follow. As he says: “We have the resources to train the right people on how to achieve the service skills. The training is very practical and interactive as we want our team members to share, learning by watching.
“If they see that I am not being stuffy they will feel relaxed and have the confidence to approach and talk with me. Working here is all about human interaction. To everyone I am Khun Chris. The use of the first name is part of the Hilton culture.”
A special case of excellent customer service comes to his mind. “I was so pleased when a guy walked in wearing an Arsenal shirt, the night before they had lost a match and our waiter discussed the game with him,” says the service-oriented GM. “That is the DoubleTree way.”