Sebastian’s SO creative hotel career

He is moving up and being part of key conceptualisation projects, as well as branding and marketing exercises, working within AccorHotels – one of the largest and most vibrant international hospitality groups. He is in the business of hotels – the environment he got to visit in Thailand as a child; looking with wide eyes and excitement at all the attention one receives as patron in a luxury hotel, a spell-binding experience that has been instilled with him since then.

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His name is Sebastian Solasachinda, from a small rural town in Sweden called Flen, the son of a Swedish father and a Thai mother, who has had his fair share of both his parent’s culture, while growing up and studying. Sebastian speaks to ScandAsia about his choices in life so far, where he has with success staked on a career with the hotel industry over one as TV host and model.

It’s lunchtime on a Saturday at SO Sofitel Hua Hin, a resort situated in northern Cha-Am that was re-branded in early 2016. Based in Bangkok, Sebastian is the Cluster Director of Marketing and Communications overseeing no less than three hotels, all belonging to different brands – Sofitel Luang Prabang, 3 Nagas Luang Prabang MGallery by Sofitel, and SO Sofitel Hua Hin.

It’s the day when the hotel hosts its monthly SO beach party; free for all and open to outside guests. Hotel pool parties are almost the norm in Bangkok these days, but when SO Sofitel Bangkok initiated the concept five years ago, where Sebastian then worked, it was the first hotel to do so.

“No hotel was doing it back then, and now it’s packed every time. Other hotels are following the trend that was set as well.”

Sebastian and the team are now taking this trend to Hua Hin.

“We’re starting this trend in Hua Hin and will keep doing it, with beach parties at Beach Society [their bar and restaurant beach and poolside]. Since renovation and rebranding we have added more of a vibe and much more colour to it. It matches the concept of the hotel as well to have beach parties – our guests are looking to have fun by our private beach. We are shaking up Hua Hin and Cha-Am, providing a venue for beachgoers to dance on the sand and socialize.”

And this does not exclude any age group – young at heart rules here, though the beach party mainly turns out to be a draw for the youngsters, in terms of guests coming with complimentary hotel shuttles from Hua Hin or weekenders from Bangkok.

SO Sofitel Hua Hin will also serve its guests with a beach club concept that includes DJ entertainment every Friday and Saturday.

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“It will be a place where to listen to music, wine and dine. There are many things that we are still adjusting, as we have just launched. And here the majority of our customers are Thai, which is the opposite of in Bangkok, where we mostly have international guests. So here we have to navigate how to adapt the concept to speak to the Thai audience. We try different things and adjust along the way.”

SO different
“One must be really creative to come up with new things, as the customers are so used to overwhelming information coming from so many places these days that it all seem the same at the end of the day,” Sebastian comments in general on the challenges for hotels in terms of reaching out in the vast sea of information that potential guests are bombarded with daily. “How you stand out is important and what’s good with the SO Sofitel brand is that we have no strict rules forcing us to do this and that. We brainstorm on ideas to be different and out-of-the-box – because we are SO.”

SO Sofitel is not to be seen in the same way as the Sofitel brand as such, which is more elegant and refined. On the contrary SO Sofitel is a rebellious lifestyle brand bursting with energy.

“We are encouraged to be creative, to be playful and make sure our guests are having fun, something out of the ordinary when staying at SO Sofitel. One should react: ’Wow, this is different, it’s bordering weird, but I like it’ That is what I want people to feel when staying here; you get stunned and shocked for a few seconds but then slowly you start appreciating the design and the story and concept behind it. The room – because it is SO it looks different from an ordinary room. The breakfast spread looks different and playful etc.”

In other words: no cookie-cutter hotel here.

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Excited by hotels
This difference is precisely what attracted Sebastian to work with the brand in the first place. The determined and self-assured Thai-Swede had come back to Thailand after finalising his hotel education in Switzerland aiming at working for the most trendy hotel brand on the market at that point of time, the then newcomer W, which was about to open a hotel in Bangkok.

Going back to childhood, his interest in working within this sector was born out of visits to luxury hotels in Thailand, where his mother brought him along at an early age.

”As a child you get extra attention and when you enter a hotel it looks so big and exciting – they looked fantastic back then – and the service, the marble bathrooms, the buffet spread. I was impressed by the whole hotel concept and thought it must be cool to work in a hotel. And this has followed with me during the years.”

“And I thought: I enjoy doing something for somebody else: put a smile on someone’s face and feel the happiness. Working in the hotel sector could be something for me.”

That was earlier when Sebastian had returned to Thailand and tried out modelling for a while, having finished college in Sweden.

“I thought that it was fun but I had to think: should I continue my career within modelling and acting? After six months here I was uncertain. I wanted an education to fall back on – to safeguard myself – so I committed myself to further studies. And I concluded to study hospitality. Upon returning I’d still have time for modelling, but then I could also always get a job in a hotel.”

So Sebastian went to Switzerland and went to a hotel school on top of a mountain – the Swiss Hotel and Management School in Leysin campus for this BA Honours in Hospitality Management. The Leysin campus was chosen primarily due to 5 mins walk to the ski-lift, where more hours during weekends were spent snowboarding than actual studies.

And there, he made sure to get to learn all about true luxury service at its absolute top level, the kind of attention he had felt attracted at young age, as he very carefully picked his first internship. He was accepted for the legendary The Ritz London (which opened in Edwardian London in 1906) as room service attendant, where he got to serve even Royalties and other celebrities.

“I studied a lot of about service and The Ritz is known for that. I learned what real service is – which was great. I worked extra in banqueting in order to experience as much as I could, to learn what they did in order to go the extra mile to please the guests.”

In his second apprenticeship he wanted to learn all about the front office and got the opportunity to work in a small boutique hotel, La Cour Des Augustins, – the new hotel trend at that time – in Geneva, where he could also practice speaking French and learn about reservations to check-in and check-out.

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Sebastian tells that he inherited his mother’s talent for languages Sebastian tells that he inherited his mother’s talent for languages (who studied Arts at Chulalongkorn University and is a professional translator living in Sweden). He did his first six years of education in Thailand, before continuing in the town of Flen in Sweden, so he is also fluent in both Swedish and Thai.

“When I studied in Thailand I was a top student in the class on Thai language, which was weird as a half-Thai kid at the time and landed me in a few troubles with the local kids. As for my Swedish it gets a bit rusty at times since I don’t really use it in Thailand, so i takes me around 4-5 days to adjust when I visit home in Sweden,” he says as we converse in Swedish.

The world is my oyster
Towards the end of the studies in Switzerland he fell in love with a fellow student from Thailand.

“I thought about my future: I’m a young, the world is my oyster. Now’s the time to follow my heart, take a leap of faith. So I moved back to Thailand to be with her, and arranged for a job before going, through some contacts working at the head office for Sofitel in Bangkok.” A romantic some may say.

Therefore Sebastian got his first hotel job at their corporate office, which was also his first step into marketing.

“I thought it would be of interest to see what’s happening on the marketing side of things as well. I worked there for six months.”

After that stint Sebastian had W hotel in sight.

“I wanted something more fun, more lifestyle and playful and W was so cool when it entered the hotel scene; stretching the boundaries and rules, with quite a bit of outside-the-box kind of thinking.

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The so challenge
But AccorHotels had something similar in store for Sebastian.

“I learned about the upcoming SO Sofitel Bangkok – the first one in Asia, and I thought it seemed exciting. And my previous boss knew the upcoming hotel’s general manager so I was interviewed – and got the job as marketing executive.”

Sebastian was the third person recruited for the new hotel and they set about to conceptualise this brand new hotel brand for its Bangkok launch – with much freedom to brainstorm and be creative. Sebastian found himself in a very challenging situation but the kind of task he had wanted.

“It was very intense, but also great fun with this new brand and being able to influence and partake in such a process.”

The branding group of AccorHotels had drawn up guidelines but it was not set in stone how things should be done, as a concept. And how to bring it to life in a real hotel setting and make the difference was very much up to the opening team. They planned and executed how to tell the story, how to make people be coming back, and how to think out of the box.

“Once it opened I felt very proud of what we had achieved from all the hard work put into it. I was part of building the basis for this hotel, and for the brand as well! So that was very rewarding for me to be part of that process!” concludes Sebastian.

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Learning marketing
What was next? “After 2.5 years I felt that, after having been promoted as manager, I felt that everything was in place, all things were working well up to standard.”

He had now entered the hotel scene for real and had the learned the process of being part of a hotel’s opening team and the challenges and special circumstances – and obviously in the So Sofitel Bangkok case even more than that – one comes across during such a process.

At this point Sebastian turned back to modelling for a while including working as TV host after winning a TV host competition entered by 5,000 people. He went on some dating shows on TV etc., but gradually came to realise that what may seem a fun and quick earning job would not correspond to his goals for the future, coupled with fierce competitors that are younger and more willing to take a pay cut. The model industry is in other words very tough these days with more supply.

Then he thought about moving back to Sweden and studying a Masters in Marketing. But again a Sofitel connection came to influence Sebastian’s next career step.

“Coincidentally I met my previous boss at Sofitel who recommended a special branding agency – the hotel and travel brand consultants QUO, as a way to learn further about marketing and branding. “

Sebastian got a job there and learned to see the agency side of hospitality marketing and branding – until again Sofitel knocked on his door.

“My previous GM from SO Sofitel Bangkok, now Vice President Operations for Sofitel, Pullman, MGallery and Grand Mercure for AccorHotels Upper Southeastast Asia, contacted me wondering if I would like to work with SO Sofitel Hua Hin on the re-branding – he needed someone creative, young and dynamic with knowledge of the SO brand.”

With a new challenge in mind, Sebastian accepted and began as Cluster Director of Marketing and communications in January 2016 but this time overseeing also two hotels in Laos: Sofitel Luang Prabang, and 3Nagas MGallery By Sofitel in Luang Prabang.

“It’s my first job as Director, and all three hotels are rebranding projects that have joined the AccorHotels portfolio. So I have three different brands to oversee now, and they all have separate identities; SO Sofitel is different from Sofitel as such – being more rebellious and fashion-forward.”

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Sofitel Luang Prabang is French-colonial style proeprty, over 100 years old and Unesco-protected. “There it really feels like being part of history.” 3 Nagas MGallery by Sofitel, a charming boutique hotel with history right in the heart of Luang Prabang.

Sebastian is based in Bangkok but visits the properties regularly. As for his own story it is just the beginning and, most certainly, with many exciting things stories to come within the hospitality industry.

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