Mixed feelings as the tourism industry struggles to get back on its feet
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . .
These famous opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities more than describe life in Thailand for the greater part of the past ten years. By the end of 2013 and the first five months of this year, misunderstanding and hatred threatened to drag our country to the brink of irreparable damage to our culture, our lifestyles and most important, to our livelihoods.
Just when we thought that all was lost, out of the venomous haze of fear and desperation, a knight in shining armour rode into the quagmire of dissent and scorn, armed with faith and love for nation, religion and king, managed to pull this country back from the brink of anarchy and bloodshed, promising to return happiness back to the people.
One of the hardest hit segments of business hurt by the events in Thailand is the travel and tourism business, suffering a slump like never experienced before. Tourist numbers fell and occupancy in hotels caused reason for alarm.
Now as the smoke is clearing and the people of Thailand breathe a sigh of relief, life and businesses are slowly but surely getting optimistic that the future will be even brighter than before.
For more than a decade, general managers and top executives of hotels in Pattaya and the Eastern Seaboard met on a regular basis for the purpose of not only to build friendships with newcomers but also to strengthen bonds of camaraderie and cooperation with their old friends and colleagues. This group dubbed the ‘GM Gang’ is the brainchild of Chatchawal Supachayanont, general manager of the Dusit Thani Pattaya who, back when he served as the president of the Thai Hotels Association (Eastern Chapter), envisioned the coming together of a group of like-minded professionals who could work together for the benefit of Pattaya and the eastern region of Thailand.
The informal dinners are usually held at various hotels in Pattaya and this latest get-together was arranged at the Holiday Inn Pattaya on September 25, hosted by the charming and effervescent not to mention extremely talented Kate Gerits, the general manager.
Kate seemed thrilled as she welcomed her guests saying, “First and foremost I would like to thank Khun Chatchawal for asking me to host a GM gang dinner. At first I wasn’t very sure what it was all about being new to Pattaya, having assumed my duties here for just a little over 7 months.”
Kate went on to say, “It is very nice to meet the other general managers, particularly in the hospitality industry, as we all share a common purpose and goal to bring people to Pattaya and to run great businesses. It’s nice to meet like-minded people and share a meal together and be sociable, which of course comes easy to people working in the hospitality industry.
“I think it’s a nice idea that we get together and of course we may not be able to make it every month but certainly it’s nice to be able to see each other on a regular basis. It’s a great idea that we are able to do this, so thank you Khun Chatchawal for asking me to host, I appreciate it. This is also a great way of getting to know our local community.”
In his opening remarks, GM Gang leader Chatchawal said, “It’s been quite a while since our last meeting and that was because of a lot of things that were happening in the country. The turbulent period badly affected commerce and the day to day running or our businesses.
“Anyhow, I am extremely delighted Kate graciously accepted to host us. Thank you very much for your extremely kind hospitality.”
During the dinner, president of the Thai Hotels Association (Eastern Chapter) Sanpech Supabowornsthian (GM Long Beach Garden Hotel & Spa Pattaya) spoke of his recent promotional trip to Russia. He did not have very good news regarding the Russian tourist arrivals to Thailand.
“About 3 years ago the Russian market was the most important sector for us, but I am sad to inform you that the tourism mart exhibition halls were practically empty except for the exhibitors. This year we have seen a decrease of at least 50% of arrival numbers from that country.
“As you know I manage two hotels, the Long Beach Hotel and the Zign Hotel. Our Russian guests prefer the Long Beach and the Koreans favour the Zign. Right now, there seems to be some confusion regarding new regulations imposed on the Korean tourist market to Thailand and therefore they are focusing on travelling to other destinations.
“I am still optimistic about the Chinese and Indian markets, though they seem to prefer budget hotels. But lately the trend indicates that the Chinese tourists are now preferring to book rooms at luxury hotels.”
Matthew Fryar, director of operations of the Pattaya Marriott Resort & Spa, also a first timer, was full of optimism saying, “It’s very important for us to get together and have some face time. We all have busy schedules but at the end of the day, if we can sit across the table from one another and share a story or two, touch on business, then this is really great. We are looking forward to a really positive high season and whatever comes our way, we will always make the best of it. We are professionals and experts in our field of work and can always reinvent the wheel in some particular way to make it rotate.”
Veteran hotelier Rene Pisters, GM of the Thai Garden Resort had this to say: “We’ve heard about the dwindling Russian market and how it will affect the high season. I returned a few days ago from a two-week sales trip to Germany. The German agents are having a really hard time, their businesses plummeting by 20-30% as compared to last year. The Football World Cup had a negative bearing on this trend, as during that period of football frenzy, very few people were visiting travel agents preferring to stay home or in a pub to watch football on TV.”
Rene continued, “Other factors that have had a negative impact on tourism were the two ill-fated Malaysian Airlines flights, Ebola and the conflicts in the Ukraine & the Middle East. Therefore the feedback I get is that, at the moment there is no ‘mood’ to travel far.
“However, the travel sector will see that things are slowly and steadily improving but unfortunately there will definitely be no growth in the German market for this year.
“The unfortunate point is that if there is zero growth, which means the same trade volume that we did last year, there will not be enough business to go around, especially when you see expansions such as the second executive tower of the Holiday Inn and the soon to be opened Mercure Hotel right next door.
“I think Pattaya now has more than 47,000 hotel rooms. That’s quite a large number and more are coming. It is imperative that all concerned should sit together and discuss the present situation and what the trends will be in the near future.”
Peter Malhotra MD of Pattaya Mail Media Group and honorary member of the gang shared his thoughts: “I have been listening with interest to what many of you have been saying, and although I am not a hotelier, it hurts me too. I am a Thai and have lived in Pattaya for forty years. My children are all born and bred Pattayans.
“These are serious matters that have a severe effect on all of us, but I would like to give you all a little encouragement. I know that things are not at their best as they should be, but I ask you to think back a little in time.
“Those of you who have been here for 10 years or longer, must have seen constant turmoil in our country. You saw demonstrations that went on for months on end. Streets and many of your hotels had to close because they were in the vicinity of the disturbances. Our country was on the verge of a shut-down. They were not the very best of times indeed.
“But then someone brave steps up to the plate and goes to bat for our country, declaring, ‘enough is enough, we have to bring this country back to where it was, a land of smiles – a land of happiness – a land where people can strive to carry on with their livelihoods, to be able to look after their families and send their children to school without any fear of mental and physical harm.’
“We are going through a period of curing and healing. Sure it’s causing some inconveniences, but it’s the bitter medicine that we must swallow if we are to become healthy again.”
Danilo Becker (left), hotel manager of Thai Garden Resort, meets with Terapan Chuaprasert, EAM of the Pattaya Marriott Resort & Spa.
The Gang: Sittidej Rochnavibhata (Cape Dara), Sanpech Supabowornsthian (GM Long Beach Garden Hotel & Spa Pattaya), Kate Gerits (Holiday Inn Pattaya), Jitmanee Siravithayavanich (Way Hotel), Rene Pisters (Thai Garden Resort), Chatchawal Supachayanont (Dusit Thani Pattaya), Danilo Becker (Thai Garden Resort), Peter Malhotra (Pattaya Mail Media Group), Vanjie Lauzon (Dusit Thani Pattaya) & Tony Malhotra (Pattaya Mail Media Group).