LuxuryHow a luxury hotel learns to adapt on the fly post Covid: A conversation with Park Hyatt Bangkok general manager Michael Golden.

Refining the art of being nimble

Adapting quickly to the pandemic while retaining the service and brand standards of a luxury hotel is a key challenge, says Golden
Adapting quickly to the pandemic while retaining the service and brand standards of a luxury hotel is a key challenge, says Golden

Travel Weekly Asia: How have you navigated the Covid situation for your hotel?     

Golden: In reopening our hotel, obviously the first priority was hygiene and safety, and all those standards that have to be implemented. For us, fortunately a lot of them were already there. Instead of doing them when you weren't looking, it was a matter of actually making these practices a little bit more visible. In the past, we would always say to housekeeping, ‘Listen, don't clean the buttons in the elevators if there’s anyone there.’ Now it’s ‘Don’t worry about it, let them see it.’ 

F&B is a key focus. For example, through the need for social distancing, we’ve changed things around the Penthouse Bar + Grill. We used to have the restaurant on level 34, the bar on 35, and the rooftop on 36, but now we converted the bar to dining as well so that we could spread people out and also offer more private dining options. And that has really taken off well as people now have multiple options for private dining. In the Penthouse, we have put in dining that is more locally oriented, because Thais tend to eat more than they drink, as opposed to more tourists coming for the bar.   

TWA: How can you convince the local market to have a staycation at Park Hyatt Bangkok? Are you adjusting your room rates? 

Golden: We're doing different staycation packages. We run a certain one for a month or so, and then we'll change it and do something a little bit different – changing the inclusions mainly. You end up doing a lot of things that normally you wouldn't do, but you have to try in the current market. 

Outdoor infinity pool with views of Bangkok skyline.
Outdoor infinity pool with views of Bangkok skyline.

Eventually, when the borders open back up and tourism comes back and hotels get back to a little bit of normality, then the [rates] will go back to normality as well. So what we're offering now doesn't mean we're going to keep that for another five years - that will be market driven.

But I don't think there will be a massive price fall because everyone knows there’s just not enough demand. We've tried some different things, but it hasn't sent our occupancy skyrocketing, so there's no point going further. And if a hotel like ours continues to drop rates, then everyone else has to follow. And there are some unbelievable deals out there. 

TWA: Would it be difficult getting people to come back again? 

Golden: I think it depends on the person and why they're here. We have a lot of repeat clientele who just love hanging out in the hotel, and there are hotel junkies who go around trying everything. But there's not enough of that staycation business to go around in Bangkok. The question is it doesn't matter what you're offering, it’s a question of how sustainable it is as well. At the moment, a lot of people are trying staycations and taking the opportunity to grab a good deal, but what about in four months’ or six months’ time, are they still going to be doing that? 

With that in mind, the impact on the hotels and the industry is not actually seen yet. It's not over yet. Just because all the hotels are opening back up doesn't mean that it might not get harder and more complicated. There are more questions than answers. 

In general, the population is not used to domestic tourism either. If I compare it to Melbourne, where I come from, the city has a sporting event or cultural event every weekend. So on a Friday when some people go home or leave the city, others come into the city for those events. 

Guestroom at Park Hyatt Bangkok.
Guestroom at Park Hyatt Bangkok.

Now Bangkok doesn't have that, it’s been very tourist oriented. If you live just outside Bangkok, what reason do you have to participate in those things? It's probably hasn't been structured in that way before because they haven't needed to because the city's always full of tourists. So the question is, will it eventually adapt? 

Domestic staycation tourism in China is doing very well, because there are people from other big cities coming into Beijing and Shanghai to experience the capital or whatever. Bangkok doesn't have that; we get a few people from Phuket and Chiang Mai, but you're not filling your hotel on the weekend with people from [elsewhere in the country]. We don't have that luxury. 

TWA: What do you think will happen in the next four to six months if borders remain close? How would you manage that? 

Golden: I can't really answer that. Because we're literally taking it week by week by week. At the moment our occupancy is increasing, but you don't know whether that's sustainable, or whether it will drop back off again. Same for food and beverage, it's great and busy, but is there a reason behind that? Is it short term or long term? 

The good thing is towards the end of the year, we are seeing more events which were postponed in the earlier part of the year or events which were relocated for whatever reason, so for us events will be better in the last quarter than has been. 

At the business level, I wouldn't put my hand up and try to predict anything. We're expecting it to stay like this for quite a while. And to bring in another 20, 30 or 40% occupancy is pretty difficult.   

Until the airports open up the industry is what it is now, and it will stay that way for quite a while. It's about hotels trying to learn how to adapt to that.

TWA: Were there any positive learning points during this period?

Golden: The main thing is that hotels are very traditional – to a certain extent. And in the current environment like this, you have to be very nimble and adapt very, very quickly. But by nature of the service, especially for hotel like ours, it's not easy to just change direction overnight. These things take time. So it's been a matter of learning how to change direction overnight without upsetting the applecart. That's probably one of the biggest challenges. 

From a team’s perspective, they all get it and know they have to do different things. But it's a matter of saying ‘we're going to do this in a month's time’ to ‘we're going to do this in two days’. And we're doing things now that we wouldn't have done before, and doing it in a very Park Hyatt way. Previously, and especially for a brand like ours, we would want to make sure it's perfect before we roll it out, whereas now we will give it a go, see what happens, and then adjust.

Curvy exterior of Park Hyatt Bangkok.
Curvy exterior of Park Hyatt Bangkok.

TWA: You were the pre-opening GM for Park Hyatt Bangkok and now you had to reopen the hotel again post Covid. Which one was more difficult? 

Golden: Pre opening is harder because you are starting everything from scratch. Reopening was just opening the doors, turning the lights on and you go again [laughs]. 

TWA: Was it really as easy as that? 

Golden: No, it wasn't as easy as that. Opening this hotel was about establishing the brand and starting everything from scratch. Reopening was a different story – you're looking at different standards, different operations. We didn't have all of our team here, so you try and run things with a very limited operation until we got everything going and everyone back. So that was a different challenge, but for me having already been through an opening it wasn't as tough to go through a reopening as it was an opening. So you open and close and reopen it, you kind of know what's going on and what needs to be done.

But then the big question is, how long can everyone last? There's a lot of very big hotels in the city and it’s not a bottomless pit of money. 

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