HotelsHow can hotels appeal to a new generation? Just ask Siradej Donavanik, who's championing Dusit International's lifestyle hotel and sustainability efforts.

The next-gen hotelier making waves for the next generation

As managing director of ASAI Hotels and vice president, operations of Dusit International, Siradej Donavanik oversees the development of Dusit International's new lifestyle hotel brand.
As managing director of ASAI Hotels and vice president, operations of Dusit International, Siradej Donavanik oversees the development of Dusit International's new lifestyle hotel brand.
Creative champ

Siradej “Champ” Donavanik is managing director of ASAI Hotels and vice president, operations of Dusit International. He is the grandson of the late legendary Thai hotelier Chanut Piyaoui, who built the Dusit Thani Hotel in 1970, Bangkok’s first modern luxury hotel and for several years the tallest building on the city’s skyline. 

Outside of the family business, he is a co-founder of Wonderfruit, the music and arts festival in Pattaya. He backs several standalone restaurants in Bangkok including Appia, Ginza Sushi Ichi, Menya Itto and Ginza Tenharu.

As the third-generation owner and operator of Dusit International, Siradej Donavanik, better known by his nickname Champ, knows hospitality intimately. 

For someone whose family roots are anchored in the hospitality sector, he also isn't one to beat around the bush. “Hospitality as a whole didn’t lose its touch, but we kind of forgot what we were trying to sell. We became heavily commoditised.” 

He quickly pronounces one of the industry’s favourite buzzwords: experience. “This whole notion of selling the experience is really looking at the customers’ needs and how we can be more value driven.” Dusit created the CX team, for customer experience, tasked with identifying the uniqueness of each property. 

One of the answers is to go local. Every property now has a designated community manager who selects things to do and places to eat that are community-driven, like a fishing village in Phuket or the organic farm movement in Prachuap Khiri Khan.

Launching a lifestyle brand during the pandemic

Donavanik is directly responsible for ASAI hotels, the first of which opened in Bangkok’s Chinatown during the pandemic. He describes the brand as a limited service lifestyle hotel at an affordable price.

The 2020 launch was “probably the worst time in the last half a century to open a hotel", but Donavanik sees a silver lining too. “The pandemic has made me more convinced that a concept like ASAI is something that would definitely work in the future,” he adds. 

The flexibility he asks of staff elsewhere applies double at ASAI. Staff on the front desk can check in guests then make them a drink. ASAI uses technology, including guides, QR codes for activities or self-service check-in. 

“We tested ASAI Chinatown on a local market but really it’s made for a worldwide audience. We bring out the flavours and the fabric of a destination,” he says. He hopes to work the same magic with ASAI Bangkok Sathorn , which is currently slated for a Q4 2022 launch.

Wearing multiple hats

One of the lessons Donavanik learned from Covid is the need for versatile, qualified staff, as the days of one employee for one function are over. At the organic gardens at many of Dusit properties, the group first provides training to existing staff, and ensure that they benefit first, in staff canteens and even in care packages they could take home.

Another example was training staff to run children’s activities that are now a big draw for both in-house and outside guests at Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket.

As chair of the company’s sustainability committee, Donavanik also leads the hotel's drive to embrace sustainable practices at all levels. Whether promoting circular economy, bringing kids to on-site farms, vetting suppliers or selecting partners, sustainability is a criterion for all decisions. 

This extends to the group’s partnership with chefs Bo Songvisava and Dylan Jones whose restaurant acclaimed Bo.lan was a champion of environmentally responsible practices. Together they are working on several projects including a relaunch of the casual Err outlet in the group’s second ASAI Hotel located in Bangkok's Sathorn district. 

Donavanik also launched Nómada, the flagship restaurant at the Dusit Thani’s Hua Hin property, where local produce in the seaside town lends itself perfectly to the menu. He doesn’t rule out expanding the brand beyond its first location. “If it works out well, we can spin this off and do something similar in other resort destinations.” At Dusit Thani properties in both Pattaya and Phuket, F&B options are under review.  

The Nómada concept is just one of the ways the group hopes to appeal to a younger demographic. “How can we make it more fun, how can we make it a little bit younger, how can we make it a little bit more lively?”

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