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Lifestyle Curators for Thailand + Southeast Asia

Entrenching a ‘New Marriott’

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“The sustainable business strategy for a successful hotel is to be involved with the local community.”

By Laurence Civil

Gerrit Graef
General Manager
Bangkok Marriott Sukhumvit

Growing up as a German military kid, he was used to the idea of packing up and moving somewhere new every two years, a great grounding for his future career in the international hospitality business. He left school when he was aged just 14-years-old to become an apprentice chef, starting his culinary career by peeling onions. He started on the bottom rung and worked his way up. From day one his goal was to visit a new country, so far he has clocked 51, well ahead of schedule.

He started with Marriott in 1996 working in Cologne, Germany. His first overseas posting was in Dubai. “Professionally that was the biggest learning curve,” says Gerrit, “the hotel had associates from 48 different countries and cultures, and just seven percent were local Emiratis. From the Middle East I moved to Mumbai, in a regional role, opening new hotels. There I learnt that Indians grow up to be competitive in the workplace.”

“This is my 13th hotel opening,” he says, “I am a foodie and Bangkok is known for its culinary diversity, this move took me back to my roots. Our pre-opening study showed that there was neither a steakhouse nor a rooftop bar in Thonglor. Those were the gaps in the market for us to fill with The District Grill Room & Bar and the Octave on the roof. We want to be more than just another hotel. We want to be part of the local community. Being accessible, affordable and offering value for money we are attracting 85 percent of our bar and restaurant customers from the local community. Sukhumvit is the Manhattan of Bangkok.

“This hotel is the first of those being labeled “New Marriott,” targeting generation Y — those born in the early ’80s upwards — with a team of associates in a similar age group who can engage with our guests and get their feedback. The aim is to offer a brilliant travel experience. Shortly, an iPhone app will be introduced so that guests can check themselves in on the phone. Very importantly it has to be a hassle-free experience.

“The sustainable business strategy for a successful hotel is to be involved with the local community,” he says. “A successful dining experience can lead to us getting more business when they can combine business with pleasure. A visitor has multiple needs during his stay, my job is to be the master blender to make sure that they are all met. It’s all about positioning the hotel in the market so that it appeals equally to both the local and international traveler.”

This Marriott is two-in-one, both an executive apartment and a hotel, in two adjacent buildings. It has a senior management team taking overall care of the two buildings with each having a junior management team to help look after the details in each. The long term guest has different needs to the guest who is just staying a couple of nights. A service apartment with full hotel facilities offers another value added factor in service.

“I last cooked professionally in 1990,” he says, “but I am a foodie GM with a passion for quality. Before every service in each of our outlets two dishes are prepared, sometimes paired with wine, for our colleagues to taste and critique. The rational is that people will sell a product better if they are familiar with what they are offering.”

“Most of our associates have an average of seven years or more with the company,” he says. “It is how you treat people that keeps them. To achieve that we offer strong training and offer career development.

“I believe in having open and honest communication to encourage engagement. We have an open door policy and seek associate satisfaction. They are taught how to do the best and we leave the execution to them. Take the football analogy, I am a coach looking critically at my associates to play together as a team. I am a team player rather than a structure player wanting to create a happy working environment

“I have what I call ‘a cup of idea meetings’ with our associates after joining the team but it can take a couple of months to understand how it works. I am pleasantly surprised at how open our associates are in the way they speak to me. Our philosophy is to treat the customer as if they were a member of your family coming to your home. The hotel should be treated as the guest’s second home.”