Hotel industry is a very interesting industry, it’s not only because personally I love travel and tourism, but also because it is a special industry in which the brand positioning and market segment are very clear, much better than most of other industries. Another reason that hospitality is most famous for customer services. I thought these concepts could be applicable to most fields. So let’s meet a hotel executive you definitely want to meet.
Having experience with different hotel brands in Indonesia, Austria, France, Singapore and finally settled down in Thailand, though Samir Wildemman moved around Thailand from Phuket, Koh Samui to Bangkok. Now Samir might feel comfortable in the city on the river Chao Phraya, as he has lived in Bangkok for more than ten years. And The Prestige Okura Bangkok, a luxury five star hotel under his management has collected 9.4/10 score from Booking.com, 4.5/5 with TripAdvisor, 9/10 from Agoda reviews from more than one thousand guests. This is a very high review that most five-star hotels in Bangkok can hardly achieve. So I’ve had a field-trip interview with Samir in Okura to get inside the mind of the luxury hotel executive on what is customer service like.
Your hotel has got such high-ranking reviews just after two years. How?
Even a small hotel in Khaosan Road can have very high rating like us. Because customers like it. We are in the hospitality industry. It all comes from customer services. Our main duty is to serve the guests and make them happy. It’s a nature of our business, we want people to come here and enjoy our facilities.
If we have good services we have good business.
So we need to manage customers’ satisfaction. Now review sites help spread the words easier if you have positive reviews
How about other factors guests possibly like?
There are some very small boutique hotels, they don’t have marble, don’t have security guards,… but people love them.
So depends on which price range you are, you should try to be the best in what you do.
Each should provide the best in their segment. It comes down to the team, to training, to please the guest with excellent services. If people pay 200bath a night, they don’t have high expectation, if they pay 7000-8000 bath a night, they have different expectation.
So do you have a list of customers’ expectation, how many factors in that list?
I think we should understand our customers. We’re a Japanese company, in Japan we can’t really make mistakes. When people come to Thailand they can see a very high service-oriented culture, but they’re more forgiving here. We have many Japanese clients, therefore we really focus on details. Because Japanese guests when they come to a Japanese company, they expect as it runs in Japan. So our team is much more alert and it also helps us to perform different things. You can have a fantastic hotel with a very beautiful interior, but without good service your business doesn’t run, it’s all come down to service.
If your service is outstanding you will succeed.
How about the hotel design itself?
The designer played with the colors, with some factors from the Japanese culture, the pattern, the wall… There is Japanese motto in a very modern environment. And the color tone is very neutral, blending. Very Asian notch, that gives a nice touch while we’re definitely an international hotel.
Who are target customers? Where are they from?
A majority of our guests are non-Japanese. Japanese is just one segment, can be 20-30%. They are repeated customers. Others change much by months. Last weekend we have international holiday in Hong Kong, we also have a lots of embassies around here. Americans also contribute a part of the guests,.. We have a good mix always.
How about westerners and Asian?
We have more Asians, we are more known in Asia, Middle East. Many are Asians, a considerable growing number from China market alone. Some Westerners stay in the winter months from Europe. We are a Japanese chain and we are not well known in EU.
How about other countries in SEA?
Hong Kong, then Taiwan and Sing, Indonesia and Vietnam market is still small.
I’m surprised because most Japanese companies only have GM who are also Japanese, but you’re German?
I think it’s doesn’t matter, we just have to understand what customers want.
You can be Thai, Australian… but we have a big Japanese team, my deputy is Japanese, many of my staffs is Japanese.
With Japanese culture, everything has to be on time even one minute… but it might be different from Thai culture? So how can you do with this?
That’s our challenge as managers. Japan is the number one investor to Thailand, Japan has more than one million visitors to Thailand and many of them are repeated. Japan is also Thais top destination. So we might have differences and also similarities.
How can the guests know the hotel?
Okura is one of the world best hotel brands. Word of mouth is also a very strong source for us.
How to remain such a high quality for everything and keep everything consistent together?
That’s why I get white hair, he pointed to his pepper salt hair and laugh.
You cannot manage everything alone. It’s all about the team, we can not succeed without the team.. Like marriage, if you want a good marriage, it needs a couple. It always takes two people to tango. We can’t dance alone. It’s about how to get people understand the common goal: customers first. The attitude needs to be there. Japanese culture apologies are very important. Admit if you did something wrong. It’s the way you deal with it. If everybody understands then it would be ok.
We need to work like an orchestra, smoothly and attractive.
Can you measure the feeling of guests?
Look at online, check review sites. We can learn from the guest.
When we opened the hotel we had a lot of training, we had a lady who did training for Japanese Airlines. When you come to elevator you should even know where should you stand in Japanese culture.
Can you give an example how to keep a high standard?
You have to fix the standard first. Define what your hotel standard is. We have SOP standard operating procedure. We can have a book for this. But it comes down for common sense. Use your mind, what would you expect what would you do if thing happen to you. The Operating Procedure is nice but we can’t follow everything by the book. Everything is different, we have to use common sense to make the guests happy, what can we do to deliver.
Keep the guest coming back is our goal.
It comes down to the feeling of the guest.
How about the returning rate?
It’s hard to say, but we have a very high repeat rate.
Do you keep contact with them?
I don’t think we should do too much as it’s time consuming for them. Though we have social media. We keep our guests and potential guests updated with e-newsletter.
Can you share the demographic of Okura Bangkok?
Holidaymakers are younger than business travellers, they’re from 25-40 years old. Biz guests are older. When you travel on business junior staff stay in 3-4 hotels, we get most senior president, CEO, CFO, 4x-5x years old.
Which is larger? Business or leisure segment?
We expected 60—70% are business travellers, but now 50-50 with leisure travellers. FITs (Frequent independent travellers) are very strong now, because of TripAdvisor, Agoda, Booking. It’s turn out to be popular.
You’ve been with the hotel 4 years. What was the hardest thing?
You opened the hotel you didn’t know what will happen when you open the door. You were new and not everything worked. But the guests expected everything perfect. And our staffs, It tooks time for every body to get together. Nobody had history, …and you can have one chance to make the first impression.
If the first is negative then it’s very very difficult to go back.
That’s the most challenging!
What make Okura different from others?
We have a very long history. Okura Tokyo was rank one of the best hotels in the world. It’s a showcase of Japanese hospitality, international hotel.
But we try to combine Japanese efficiency with Thai hospitality.
Doesn’t what you sell. You want guest to stay and happy. We word hard!
What is the most challenging thing next 12 months?
The next 12 months not so bad. As you know Thailand has fluctuate political scene. We believe confidently in the economy. The biz is back to normal. We need the MICE biz to comeback, it need 2 years, hotel work hard on this one. Thailand is a very popular destination. Managing the recovery is very important.
That belongs to a big picture, how the way Okura manage it well?
Of course everyone plays it role. We make sure all business run well. Review sites, it does help you a lot. If we let down the win, cut off, then the guests could feel and know. So it’s very important to keep the very high standard. Hotels drop the rate. But it’s not a good practice. If we cut down it hard to raise it up again.
We have a strong team, they seem to be quite happy, we don’t expect a high turn over. It a big help also. It needs training, team building.
Because staffs is our software, hotel is hardware. Hardware don’t change much. That why we have to look after our software.
What is the most important to recovery?
We have a very good occupancy: Aug 80%, Sep over 80%, November is even better than that. Really focus on delivering the service, maintain our quality, and continue improving things. People come back need something new. We have to do all.
Every thing will be around Customer Services? Don’t need to do marketing?
If we have good customer services then that the most efficient marketing actually.
What we do marketing communication: lots of activities to communicate, special offers for guests and repeated guests. We also need to maintenance the 2 years-old hotel, it’s not new any more. We focus on making it better, we have to innovate, come up with new ideas. And we are also developing new market. Now it’s important to tell people the situation is good, good to tell people to come back.