What new initiatives is Swissotel Le Concorde currently involved in?
SAWYERE: The Swissotel Le Concorde has been around for 8 years. We just started a full renovation of the property and this is to really bring in the branding of the Swissotel worldwide and the style for which Swissotel is known for, the Swiss touch. At the same time we are going to keep the Thai culture and atmosphere. We have already started with the lobby, the restaurants are on the way, and shortly we will be starting with the room renovations. This should finish around the end of next year.
How competitive is Bangkok as a hospitality destination?
SAWYERE: Bangkok is always going to be competitive. Thailand in and of itself is one of those countries that will always rebound. You can see it again this year, same as last year, we have a 21% increase in arrivals even though Bangkok still has a growing room inventory. This year alone there are going to be another 2,000 rooms added on, bringing us to 37,000 rooms available in Bangkok. By 2015, when the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) opens up, there will be somewhere in the region of 41,000 rooms. But the arrivals are still continuing to grow, so the occupancy is still there, but the hardest target is keeping the RevPAR up. While most hotels can survive with the occupancy, it is the average RevPAR that is the hard thing to compete with and this depends on the markets you are going for and where your hotel is situated. So hopefully we will see growth, continuing growth, and Thailand continuing to rebound after all its crises. I thing Thailand has a good future.
What is your breakdown between business and leisure travelers and how do you see this evolving?
SAWYERE: The business of Swissotel Le Concorde is actually broken down into many different parts. We can say that during the week, Monday to Friday, we are very much 50-50, 50% corporate or MICE business and 50% tourists. At the weekend, this will go up to about 80% tourists as there are less business events during the weekend. So it is really a segmented market. You have to look at who is coming to this area. On the weekends, we have tour groups, golf groups from Japan, and during the week, Monday to Friday, we are very much a MICE hotel. We have over 20 function rooms and we accommodate around 500 to 600 people every day around lunchtime meeting wise. So from the whole aspect of marketing a hotel, you have to break it down into Monday to Fridays, weekends, and you have to look at your different segments. Luckily enough, we are in the right place for many different markets.
What is the spend difference between a business traveler and a leisure traveler?
SAWYERE: Actually, room wise they are roughly around the same nowadays with MICE packages. Business travelers spend a lot more time here during the day because they are here all day for the meeting package and a majority of them will have room service during the evening when there is no event available. The tourist goes out during the day but tends to have a higher class room. So where you may get more out of the room rate, you may get less from the F&B revenue. Tourists like to sit by the pool, go to the fitness center, go to the spa, so you get different revenue from different ways. In general, the average bill is about the same, it depends how you sell out your packages to the different people. Tourists like going on day trips, so you can get revenue from there and corporate guests like to have the corporate lounge or the business center, so you can get some money there. So it really depends.
Can you give a breakdown of the MICE facilities you have here at the Swissotel Le Concorde?
SAWYERE: This is one of the main aspects of our hotel’s business, the MICE business. It is something that is really booming in Thailand and especially in Bangkok. This is why we have 19 function rooms and we are building another 3. By the first of December, we will have a purpose built 450 seated MICE restaurant with a full buffet making us the only hotel in Bangkok or even Thailand that has this facility. The actual MICE business is growing. We do the full management package here which means the second we get a request for an event, we do the whole arrangement from the beginning right through to the end. There is an assigned sales person to the event and even during the event that sales person will take care of any needs. We have a full banquet team that caters to any needs, so even if the seating needs to be changed 10 minutes before the event, it is done. So nowadays, it has to be full package, full service, and this is where the Swissotel Le Concorde really puts emphasis.
This year alone there are going to be another 2,000 rooms added on, bringing us to 37,000 rooms available in Bangkok. By 2015, when the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) opens up, there will be somewhere in the region of 41,000 rooms.
As we move into a more competitive environment with more hotels and more destinations arising in Thailand, how do you deal with shortages of human resources?
SAWYERE: Yes, there are many more hotels opening up and many more rooms not just in Bangkok but all over Thailand. Pattaya is still booming, Phuket is still booming, and now the North is booming, but there are more and more people moving out of their hometowns. As we know, the majority of Thais are from the North, this is the most populated area, but now they are moving out, they are going down South, they are coming to Bangkok. So employing people is not that hard. Salary wise, a five star hotel normally pays minimum wage or more than minimum wage. They recently had the minimum wage increase and this affected us very minimally because we already pay mostly over minimum wage. Getting qualified people, well, you can look at it another way, employ unqualified people and train them. So yes, our training costs have gone up and our salary expenditure has increased minimally, but if you look at an overall cost of a hotel, salaries are a very small proportion of costs.
In what ways do you work with the Thailand Conventions and Exhibitions Bureau (TCEB) and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)?
SAWYERE: Working with TAT and TCEB and even the THA are important to the success of any hotel. But they are split into 2 parts. TAT is very much travel agents and roadshows. We attend maybe 5 or 6 roadshows with the TAT every year. We go to ITB in Berlin, ITB in Singapore, the Asian version, World Travel Mart, and then we do about 3 or 4 different roadshows. You have to do this to be successful. TCEB is more convention side, so obviously we work very closely with them being a majority MICE property. We do not attend too many of their overseas events, but that does not mean we do not work very closely with them in Bangkok. We attend all of their seminars and they do seminars actually here in the hotel. So we have a very good close relationship with them.
What is your outlook for business travel and leisure travel in Bangkok?
SAWYERE: Again you have to really look at what is coming into Thailand. Yes, Thailand is booming with its tourist arrivals, but you also have to break that down into where and how those tourists are coming in. The majority of tourists arrivals are just coming in across the border, do their shopping and go home again. You then have to look at the different business coming into Thailand. These are still very open markets and there are still a lot of new markets. In terms of trends, the younger generation tends to want to go to the boutiques or the small properties and the older generation still likes to go to the traditional tourist hotels. As long as you are on the line of the BTS, MRT, or other easy access to get around Bangkok, you will be ok. The most important thing is you have to incorporate technology. It does not matter if you are a boutique or a huge convention hotel, technology nowadays is by far the most important. You have to have easy accessibly plugs in your rooms. Internet wise, we particularly give free WiFi and land-line to all rooms regardless of the package. These are the kinds of things that hotels have to give as benefits. Yes, these things affect costs, but you have to incorporate these things – and this is not just in Thailand but anywhere else in the world.