Having been entrusted with an iconic hotel with exceptional DNA, GM Wilson finds himself wondering: What could I add to a legend?”
By Laurence Civil
He was away from Bangkok only for three and a half years. But, says James Robert Wilson, general manager (GM) of Dusit Thani Bangkok, it’s as if it was 10 years. “So much has changed in Bangkok,” he says. “It seems to have become more IT savvy now, has more positive vibe, and offers even more choices. I feel that Bangkok has more of a ‘city culture’ now than when I left three and a half years ago.”
Wilson was GM for Pathumwan Princess Hotel Bangkok, which is also under the Dusit Thani Group umbrella, from year 2000. Here, he was honored as “General Manager of the Year” by Jacob´s Creek & Thai Hospitality Magazine in 2005, and soon, was made the group’s vice president of operations, overlooking all of Dusit International´s five brands. In 2009, he moved to a GM post in Dubai.
He found Dubai most challenging. “One of the biggest challenges was how to export the Thai hospitality culture, which is part of Dusit Thani,” he says. To do this, they strived to keep an average of 15-20 % Thais in their workforce, regardless of the strict immigration restrictions. Moreover, they made an effort by a particularly sweet Thai welcome. “When an Arab guest checks in, they would usually be welcomed with coffee and dates on arrival but at Dusit Dubai there is always a selection of Thai desserts waiting for them in their room,” he says.
They even came up with the slogan: “We are here to celebrate Thai culture and to embrace local culture.” Their respect for Dubai culture materialized, for example, through their female staff uniform, which modestly showed only one bare shoulder unlike the two as it does in Bangkok.
Consequently, the respect went both ways. During Ramadan, the Islamic Lent, the local authorities were sympathetic to foreign guests. They didn’t enforce their customs on non-Muslims. “We operated two restaurants that were screened off from public view, where we could serve food to non-Muslims during the hours of fasting,” he recalls. “We were also allowed to serve alcohol after sunset. Overall, I found Dubai extremely tolerant, welcoming, and a comfortable place to live and work in.”
His move back to Bangkok was part of the company rationale on international mobility among its top executives. “The people at the top need to have the experience of having worked in multiple destinations,” he explains. Consequently the GM from Dusit Thani Nikko Manila took his place in Dubai, and he returned to Bangkok, the birthplace of Dusit Thani´s success.
“I was honored to be entrusted with this iconic building,” Wilson says. “It has an exceptional DNA.” He found himself wondering: “What could I add to a legend?”
Dusit Thani Bangkok’s success can be gauged by its popularity as a venue for special occasions, especially weddings. “It´s possibly the most popular hotel in Bangkok to get married in,” Wilson says. “We offer something unique that relates to the Thai culture. With our gardens, we have the facilities to make their weddings memorable. Perhaps an even greater accolade, is that from year after year, they also come back to celebrate their anniversaries in Dusit Thani.”
In fact, even if Dusit Thani has a history dating to 1948, and has hotels from Southeast Asia to Nairobi, Kenya — their latest development — Wilson admits, “there is a generation who doesn’t know about Dusit Thani yet.”
“One of my aims is to make people aware of what this hotel has to offer, when other glitzy brands may be competing for their attention,” he says. This means, in addition to launching a new brand — the dusit d2 Hotels & Resorts aimed at the younger generation — providing more diverse and flexible services and keeping in touch with the clients through social media. “It is what is expected as a part of today’s lifestyle,” he says. “Wi-fi is complimentary for our guests, not only in their rooms but also in our restaurants. In the rooms, signing into three gadgets is a standard and if more network facilities are needed, we will provide it at no extra cost.”
He believes, however, that virtual worlds should not take away from authentic face-to-face service. “We are looking forward to implement international systems alongside our traditional culture,” he says. “Of course we now have mobile check-in and interactive television, but we don’t want technology to take over from our service, which must be gracious and Thai. Rather, technology has to complement it.”
“We are here to create an experience,” he concludes. “The wai and kneeling to serve our guests is an essential part of what is Dusit Thani.”