Third generation owner of Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok, Karan Sivasiamp, discussed the property’s new sensational features and how important is in the hospitality business to go with the flow.
For Bangkokians, Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok on Sukhumvit soi 18 is more or less a local institution in hospitality. Known and loved for its intricate European décor, renowned signature restaurants, warm service and excellent location, Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok is also known as the Scandinavian hotel. When I first moved to Bangkok 14 years ago and couldn’t quite decide where to set up our home, we stayed at Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok for a while. At the time, the hotel was overseen by a Swedish general manager and it was a partnered accommodation with SAS. The memory was still clear when I recalled an afternoon by the pool, listening to Nordic SAS staff talked about God and what they experienced on their journey. Very soon after, we felt at ease and at home at Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok, even long after we checked out and became true locals in our own rights.
Anyhow, even though Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok is seen as Scandinavian or for some, European, hotel, it is widely known that the property belongs to an Indian family, whose third generation is now running the business. The aspiring young management, Karan Sivasiamp, has recently taken the helm of the family business. Born and raised in Bangkok, he went to ISB (International School of Bangkok) and later earned BBA with a double major in Management and Marketing at the University of Miami – that explains why he speaks such a good American English!
His grandfather, the founder of Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok, arrived in Bangkok in 1938 from a small village close to Lahore. Only at 17, Karan’s grandfather worked in Bangkok as an assistant to his brothers in the family textile business. 80 years later, the family’s business group expanded into several other segments, including real estate. Recently they celebrated the 25th anniversary of the hotel, which they are very proud of. “The hard work, the effort of the entire family, has helped us come this far,” Karan says.
But Karan, despite being born into business, didn’t initially want to be a businessman. “During my school days, I had the wish to become a professional basketball player and I was playing every day and dreamed of playing in the NBA one day. After having completed my university studies with a double major, I started to work for a relatively new marketing company in Miami. After a year, I decided it was time for me to return to Bangkok to help my family. I came back to Thailand in 2007 and joined the family business since then.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t become a professional basket player,” Karan said with a regretfully smile. “But I learned a lot in college, and it has formed me into the person I have become today. I was always aware of that I would join the family business and I try to apply my knowledge to our group to help us grow bigger and become more successful. I have, in a way, fulfilled most of my goals.”
However, basketball is still something close to his heart. As we’re neighbors, I often spotted him playing basketballs with the kids and friends outside our apartment building. Karan is married to Shami, with whom he has an adorable little son. The couple married in November 2011. Shami was born in Bangkok, went to boarding school in India, but returned for high school in Bangkok, followed by studies at The Mahidol University.
According to Karan, with some changes within management and in various departments of the hotel, it’s important to keep competitive and to “go with the flow”. The hospitality industry is keeping on growing in Thailand and it’s very important to be updated with the latest trends. Anyhow, cutting-edge technology trend like crypto currency is still far too new to be used at the hotel. “It is much too early. Maybe we will be able to do so in 4-5 years,” he said.
Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok might still have the Scandinavia flair from the old days, but to date the hotel welcomes more Asian than Europeans. “We are aware of that most visitors to Thailand today don’t come from Europe. They are from Asia, including India, China and Japan just to mention a few. We have to adapt to new influences, be very dynamic and flexible, as things change so much faster today.” To give you an example, very few people book a hotel or flight today through an agency. Most people go online and do it themselves.
Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok has been around for a while, but it never gets old. One new feature, among others, at the hotel is the rooftop sky bar 1826, which was launched earlier in January. “It’s located on the 26th floor and we are on Soi 18, therefore the name,” Karan explained.
1826 quickly became known in the bustling Bangkok bar and nightlife scene with events like Gin & Jazz Night on Wednesdays, Ladies Night on Thursdays and so on, to attract both in-house guests and locals. “Our mixologist can make drinks to sip while you enjoy the beautiful Bangkok skyline. The opening night was a huge success and I was very proud. To see the mixologist creating the most fabulous cocktails was interesting. It’s indeed a visual theatre of action behind the bar.”
Karan recommended, Once Upon a Time at Rembrandt or a Hasienda de Fashion, two of the bar’s signature drinks, to taste. If you are a cigar lover, just ask for the cigar menu for a selection of fine cigars. If it’s too warm to sit outside, you can relax in the new cozy lounge, located to the right before you step outside. Food is also offered from the selection of light bites from the award winning Mexican, Indian or Italian restaurants. I recommend the butter and chicks, lamb kebabs and butter chicken pizza.
On the same floor as 1826, the famous restaurant Rang Mahal is located. Karan said the hotel had plans to renovate the interior. This restaurant is among the top Indian restaurants in the world. I personally recommended it as I have had the pleasure to dine there many times.
Manning the operation side of Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok is the new general manager Christian Bernkopf from Germany. Christian was born and grew up in Nuernberg He also had a degree in hospitality, which he said was his calling. “Already at a very young age, I loved to be among people, to organize events and host parties, dinners etc. I just loved being a host”.
And as GM for Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok, one of the capital’s first large-scale hotels and renowned spot for culinary concepts, Christian has a grand plan for the hotel. “We want to set Rembrandt up for the next 25 years and have the legacy live on. There are many interesting and exciting changes to come”.
Hospitality business is fast-paced. What was right yesterday, may not resonate tomorrow. According to the GM, “we must reestablish ourselves consistently and stay connected to maintain on top of the game. New markets are growing rapidly, and the mixture of nationalities is having a huge impact on what we do. Bangkok and Thailand grow in demand and many new hotels are seeing the daylight. This keeps us on alert and try to remain among the top hotels.”
The young GM’s past professional experiences include GM at The Pullman Danang Beach Resort, Pullman Khao Lak Katiliya Resort & Spa, Avani Hai Phong Harbour View and Office Tower, which is part of Minor Group. He has also been operations manager for the Minor Hotel Group.
While we’re waiting for the new exciting features that Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok promises, let’s have a drink or two to celebrate the long success of the hotel at the cozy 1826 sky bar. It’s worth a visit!