One of Bangkok’s most iconic five-star hotels has recently reopened its doors with a fresh look and a new general manager at the helm.
Stephen Gould, who has returned to Thailand after a six-year hiatus, is no newcomer to the Bangkok hotel scene, having held executive roles with Conrad Bangkok and the Shangri-La Bangkok before returning to his native New Zealand to become the cluster general manager for Sofitel.
Separated by a global pandemic during the time he was away, Gould observes that Asian luxury hospitality has also evolved into something that’s more contemporary yet subtle, a theme that now characterises the new aesthetics of InterContinental Bangkok after its year-long multimillion-dollar makeover and reopening in June 2023.
New era of quiet luxury
At InterContinental Bangkok, the lobby’s centrepiece is a striking chandelier inspired by the intricate ‘phuang malai’ garland.
The 381-key InterContinental Bangkok has embraced a quiet and conscious approach to weave Thailand’s culture and heritage into the interior design. The lobby’s centrepiece is a striking chandelier inspired by the intricate ‘phuang malai’ garland, while traditional floating flowers and ‘kranok’ patterns adorn the walls and carpets, and ceilings.
“We’re not trying to recreate the era of King Rama the fifth in 1865 but instead represent modern Bangkok,” says Gould. “We’ve created a design concept that aims for longevity and timeless appeal.”
Reflecting on hospitality trends, Gould notes a shift towards understated elegance, with guests seeking connection and more inclined to spend on luxury experiences, a trend that has been accelerated by the pandemic. He sees a resurgence of traditional luxury hotel brands like InterContinental that offer full facilities and vibrant spaces without crossing the line into excess.
A Classic room at the recently reopened InterContinental Bangkok.
In with the new
In its refreshed version, InterContinental Bangkok places “a greater emphasis on the interaction with the local community, with its restaurants with bars designed to appeal to the local market too”, shares Gould.
One notable transformation is the introduction of SoCal, said to be Bangkok’s first Californian-inspired restaurant, which replaces the former Italian restaurant with its bright and casual street-facing dining concept.
Throughout the property, the guestrooms and suites have taken on muted colour palettes and the Club Lounge has undergone a substantial facelift, while the Grand Ballroom, accommodating up to 1,000 guests, boasts a 4K LED mega screen.
But not out with the old
While embracing changes, the millennial hotelier still values traditional service and emphasises the role of the importance of the general manager in keeping up guest interaction as much as working behind the scenes amid today’s dynamic hospitality business.
“I like to be present and enjoy being with people so I try and skew my day in this direction as much as possible,” he says. “There is definitely a trend in the other direction [towards hotels being less GM-centric], but I don't think it’s to the benefit of the industry. You're more likely to find me chatting with guests then being behind a locked office.”
Gould also draws inspiration from the hotel’s longest-serving employee, Yongyuth (known as P’ Yuth), whose hospitality career began in 1967 at the former President Hotel – now the present-day Holiday Inn Bangkok, the sister property next to InterContinental Bangkok, which first opened in 2004 after being rebranded from the Le Royal Meridien Bangkok.
P’Yuth’s genuine and humble nature has endeared him to countless hotel guests and associates, Gould considers it a privilege to work alongside P’ Yuth, recognising the Thai elder as a repository of knowledge about Bangkok’s dramatic transformation over the last half-century.