A Local Touch For A Global Brand
When Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok was still in the planning stages back in 2018, pinning down what type of clientele would frequent the centrally-located five-star property was something of a guessing game; would it be a healthy mix of Thais and international guests? Would the guests be in the 30-45 age group? Then, Covid-19 crashed the party and the question of demographics became irrelevant. Given the unprecedented circumstances, today the hotel is a thriving location from dawn to well past dusk.
The leading face of the design-led hotel is Patrick Both, a hospitality professional whose 25-plus year career has seen him hold executive positions in a variety of traditional luxury properties from London via the Middle East to Southeast Asia. Prior to taking up his coveted position as General Manager of Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok, Patrick was the GM at Anantara Siam Bangkok.
“I’m from traditional luxury and have spent my career working for Langham’s, Kempinski and Anantara in the UAE, Maldives and Thailand. After a decade with Anantara, I really wanted to get involved with a design-led hotel like Kimpton. I feel this style of property has more relevance today than traditional luxury because here we’ve broken down the stiff service and made the whole feel more approachable for guests. I find that really inspiring and the feedback I get from my team is that they are all inspired by our approach too.
“There’s always lots of laughter throughout the hotel and you might just hear the occasional banter between our staff and guests; it really does make for a more relaxed atmosphere for the guests and a good working environment for the staff. We are a lifestyle property and that’s how we are portrayed, but I prefer to look at us as a design-led hotel on the luxury side,” Patrick says sipping on an ice-cold glass of water.
“During our pre-opening operations, we were a little unsure what the makeup of our clientele would be; we thought the demographics would be in the 30-45-year range. Actually, we’ve been proven wrong with our initial assessment as it turns out our demographics span all age ranges. From the hotel lobby and café CRAFT to the rooftop Bar.Yard, there is an unbelievable amount of raw energy that permeates throughout the hotel. On most days of the week, it really is like we are working in the pre-Covid days.
“The hotel is a treasure trove of interesting art installations that relate our story to the world. For instance, in the lobby area you can see the five elements and the history behind how they have been integrated into that large open space is an interesting story. Presently, my marketing team is working on putting QR codes on all 47 art installations so that guests can learn more about the hotel, the artists and their compelling stories.
“From the very start, the theme was to have Lumpini Park flow into the property. From the lobby you can see lots of wood elements and textures from young to old; different stages and different styles, especially around café CRAFT. We’ve also got large floor to ceiling windows that let in natural light but also project the abundant greenery that surrounds the hotel. That’s really stimulating as we are basically surrounded by tall buildings.
“I’ve been here for two years and was involved in the planning and pre-opening stages of the hotel. We had a wide spectrum of input on the overall design of the hotel, from the textures and styles, the colours and the lighting. The owners were here at every stage of the development and I was also asked to give my input, so for me I have a real connection to the hotel. Our lead team was from P49Deesign, which was quite interesting as it is a local design house but they really went that extra mile for us and you can see that throughout the guest spaces,” he says.
Patrick relates how long-distance video calls to Kimpton Head Office in San Francisco were required as Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok would be Kimpton’s first property in Southeast Asia. “Obviously, they wanted to ensure it had all the Kimpton characteristics and now we are open, you can get that Kimpton feel. We also worked with White Jacket from Singapore on interior designs, Food & Beverage concepts from Blue Salts consultant for our drinking and dining concepts and Hassell Design who we worked with on Bar.Yard,” he says of the huge effort that went into taking conceptual drawings and making them work in the real world.
There are 362 guest rooms at Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok, which includes 131 serviced apartments and the designers incorporated organic materials and modern Thai artistry throughout every room. To that end, there is an unmistakeable connection between nature and Thai craftsmanship that perfectly blends with the modern design features of the hotel. Every room and every bathroom are fully appointed with all modern conveniences so that guests can simply relax in their own little cocoon.
“Wherever possible we have created links to back our neighbourhood and Lumpini Park with eccentric photos of the greenery in the park, while next to the bed are two hanging wooden lights which resemble bird nests. As guests get to know us, they can explore the many connections and narrative that runs through the hotel and binds us to this wonderful community and location,” he proudly informs me.
Before becoming part of the IHG Group, Kimpton was a brand of one and so while the company had brand pillars, the affable general manager says he and his team have been given the freedom to play. “I think, prior to the opening of Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok, pretty much every Kimpton property was quite similar. However, what I like about the brand is that it has evolved to incorporate the personality of each new location and that’s why Kimpton hotels always have a name. Here, we are “Maa-Lai”, named after the garland flower that is given as a welcome gift to visitors, so there the Thai connection to traditional hospitality.
“Another good example of our relationship to Thailand is our spa named amaranth spa by HARNN, which is connected to the maa-lai garland and our hotel. We’ve incorporated the purple colour of the amaranth flower into the spa’s treatment rooms and it is a relatable story connecting the hotel to our location and to our guests.
“Our gardens are also fantastic and to a certain extent give us a resort kind of character while the design-led elements and our pet-friendliness are all aspects of Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok that guests are continuously talking about. We allow owners and their furry friends to occupy one side of café CRAFT as well as outside on the terrace, plus we have pet floors if guests want to stay longer. We do not charge extra for pets, which is probably a little different from other hotels. However, I must emphasise that we ensure thorough hygiene as we sanitise each room after use. We’ve had all types of pets here including cats, dogs, birds, Silkie chickens and even hedgehogs. Our policy is if it can fit in the elevator it’s allowed in the guest room,” he says with a laugh.
Bill Kimpton, the founder of Kimpton Hotels, was a dog owner who became upset when hotels attempted to charge him for bringing his dog, if he was allowed to have a dog in the hotel in the first place. When the former investment banker founded Kimpton Group in 1981, he created a chain of boutique hotels that made Kimpton famous for being pet-friendly. Kimpton properties still provide a range of pet amenities including pet menus, canine ice-cream and all types of pet grooming and cleaning equipment.
“The carpets in luxury hotels are normally 80% wool and 20% nylon, but with modern technology we are able to use 100% nylon carpets and you can’t feel the difference. The carpet still has that fluffy wool feel to it and that familiar bounce. However, 100% nylon carpets are much more hygienic and easier to clean in our pet designated rooms. Therefore, guests can rest assured that the room they check-in to will be completely clean and sanitised.
“What is most important here at Kimpton Maa-Lai, our standout feature if you will, is our people and the energy they generate. We’re delivering the best service every minute of the day in a fun and relaxed manner. Our dining spaces have been superbly crafted so they offer intimacy but can also be turned into a group space very easily. Ms.Jigger is an intimate space but after 10pm it turns into a bar atmosphere and is very lively with a great vibe. We’re paying attention to the type of music, the sound level and lighting to create the perfect ambiance.
“It is these little refinements that are very important when you come to a Kimpton hotel. A big part of our establishment are our beverages and we like to get very creative. To that end, we’ve installed a Clinebell ice machine that removes all the impurities in water so our ice is pure, almost like a diamond. It looks fantastic in a beautiful glass and really makes a cocktail taste better. For us, it is 60% vibe, the lighting, music and atmosphere that you stand for, and 40% for how good the food and beverages are,” adds Patrick.
Hospitality has been changing for some time now and the once popular English ‘butler’ type of staff is quickly becoming irrelevant, except for in the most classic European and North American hotels. Patrick has been a great believer in hiring people who are a little quirky; he wants his staff to be themselves. That’s important to him and for Kimpton as a forward-thinking brand. Even piercings and tattoos are no longer taboo, but the German national draws the line at scruffiness. During several visits to Kimpton, I have spotted more than one member of staff with very artistic tattoos, while Patrick tells me with a huge grin that the beverage manager is currently sporting a Mohican haircut. “For me though, his knowledge on beverages is far more important than the way he looks,” he says with pride.
“Going forward, we still have plans to do an official launch of Stock.Room, which is where we serve breakfast. The whole floor is dedicated to the art of food and beverages. We have cooking studios, pastry showcasing and a range of other exciting cooking themes we want to get up and running. We’ve used the space several times for corporate functions and brunches and more recently for our Easter Sunday Brunch. However, to see it fully launched and utilised we need to wait for the return of our international guests.
“Our marketing plans were very different at the beginning of 2020, so we’ve shelved our international plans but our strategy for the local market has pretty much remained untouched while our F&B strategy is quite similar to what we initially planned. Since we reopened, our guests have been mainly those experiencing our Staycation packages and long-stays. We have 131 residences and 231 guest rooms and suites. Our initial plans focussed on geo marketing but we’ve been forced to move away from that until we know which travel corridors or travel bubbles will emerge.
“During this Covid crisis we stayed very flexible in our approach and we are trying to make the best out of the situation we are in. I guess the morale, the esprit de corps, of our team is very important and it is that high energy that keeps us all focussed. Our beverage programme has been adjusted and adapted as government policy dictates but again our team has been very creative with lots of new mocktails and even popsicles appearing on the daily menu board.
“This has obviously struck a chord with our guests as they keep coming back. At our casual dining outlet Ms.Jigger we didn’t lose any customers at all and our revenue slipped only 20% during the alcohol ban. Likewise, our guests like the comforts of our long-stay residences and we are very close to 100% occupancy. We adopted this residency strategy as the Covid pandemic unfolded and it has been very successful for us. We have a majority of Asian guests but also a number of locals and a few corporate guests. For some of our local guests, they decided to turn to us as they refurbish their homes or move to a new property. It is a very good guest mix with about 14 different nationalities in the residences,” Patrick says.
When we talk about the return of international travel, he is cautious in what he says, offering up that hopefully in Q4 this year there should be some movement. “Going by the Phuket ‘sandbox’ model we should see an improvement in arrivals in late 2021, then a larger influx in Q1 and Q2 of 2022. For the next six months at least, we are going to continue building our domestic presence. I feel it is important to remain open-minded and adapt to the situation accordingly. As we’ve seen with Covid-19, things can change dramatically in just a few weeks. However, if international markets opened tomorrow or in six months, we are ready for it.
“We’ve worked with international media, influencers and we’ve created lots of short video clips internally to keep our message positive and consistent in the markets. We’re making the most of the digital world to reach our target audiences around the world. Pre-Covid we had a good idea of where our international guests would be coming from but all those statistics are now up in the air. We are quite well-known in the Japanese market as our sister hotel Kimpton Shinjuku Tokyo opened one day after us. There are so many plans in the pipeline for the Kimpton brand in the Asia region; it is going to be an exciting future.
“I think I’ve gained more experience during this crisis than anything that’s happened before and I rarely get ruffled now. During SARS, I was working in China and it was a difficult time, but it’s nothing compared to Covid, which has gone on for such a long time. I’m very fortunate to have fantastic owners here and a very competent team around me that likes to have fun at work. This really helps everyone’s mental health. ‘Is Covid difficult?’ It most certainly is. It is difficult to reach our targets but we work hard to keep everyone physically and mentally fit.
“We opened café CRAFT on 1st July 2020 and two weeks later we opened Bar.Yard and then Ms.Jigger. This was not a normal approach to opening a hotel for IHG, however it made sense during Covid and we’ve continued to build on it since then. We’ve implemented all the IHG hygiene and health and safety protocols to protect our guests and staff, including the IHG Way of Clean and IHG Clean Promise. We have a monthly self-audit to update what we’re doing, what cleaning products are being used and where we are cleaning. We’re 100% compliant which has resulted in us being certified Sharecare Health Security VERIFIED™ with Forbes Travel Guide, which is good for the international travel market,” he adds.
Unfortunately, many of Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok’s planned corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes have been put on hold during Covid, but the energetic general manager and his team are working hard to reduce their carbon footprint. Local produce is used in F&B offerings including products from the Royal Projects, while guest room mini-bars are stocked mainly with locally sourced products. Prior to Covid, the hotel was 100% plastic-free and a recycling programme was in full swing. Today though, most items need to be wrapped in plastic for guaranteed hygiene.
“In our bathrooms, our toothbrushes are made from corn starch and all amenities come in paper packaging, which we recycle. Also, a standout feature in our guest bathrooms are the bathrobes. Each Kimpton has a muse who above all else is inspirational. Our muse is Thai-Japanese and her bathrobe is a kimono-style outfit which was designed in combination with us, local fashion designer Tube Gallery and artist Christian Develter.”
“When I get time off from the hotel, I like to hit the gym and workout and practice my kickboxing. My daughter is passionate about gymnastics and taekwondo so I spend a lot of time with her, which is great fun and very rewarding as a father. As a family, we like to travel in Thailand and we’ve been to the beaches and more recently to Kanchanaburi to see the River Kwai and Hellfire Pass. I’m also a keen trekker and have been to Nepal, but my family stayed at home. I have very different life away from the hotel and I love the contrast between the two,” he says bringing our interview to an end.
Source: Punch Media Digital.