As a Swede in Bangkok’s Chinatown Hotelier Nicklas Moberg has jumped on an undertaking that places him in a truly unique setting, and not just that; but in charge of its main street’s most prominent and only modern four-star hotel!
This is the kind of undertaking where Nicklas thrives, when there is truly a challenge.
“I appreciated that it was new and fresh but in an old setting, so I could foresee guests who would appreciate this: something comfortable and modern while at the same time offering the culture shock one encounters out on the street. It was clearly a case,” he had evaluated the hotel when deciding to accept the offer of managing it.
Previously called White Orchid, the renamed and entirely refurbished Hotel Royal Bangkok @ Chinatown is now as good as new, and something of a fresh addition in this otherwise conservative district.
And how on earth did Nicklas end up as General Manager there? Coincidences and connections typically played out. Nicklas had already decided to make Bangkok his new home since a few years back, having left behind a long stint mainly as restaurateur in the family business back in his home town Örebro in Sweden. He had in fact come to Thailand for a classic thai-m out. And here he still is…
Encountering hotel environs at young age
Going back first to where his career started, the local hotel caught his eye at early age. This “famous old hotel” is a neighbour with his weekend job had back then in 1988 at an auction house (Nicklas has an interest in antique things).
In that hotel Nicklas encountered an environment that he felt he wanted to work with.
“The hotel’s manager thought I was too young but if I was so ambitious he would find me something. So I started with cleaning toilets – doing the less funny part. Then I climbed to working in the bar.”
And that was how Nicklas’ food & beverage career started. Soon enough he quit at the auction firm to focus on the hotel job.
“The hotel manager also owned a nightclub so after a few years I started combining with working also there, so one could gain different insights while still handling guests; still striving to offer a level of service above expectations.”
And already here it becomes clear that Nicklas is very focused on guest satisfaction in order build returning guests – which we will come back to.
After a few years working in the nightclub Nicklas bought and ran it together with the chef. He gradually got more offers to work within hotels and to buy other restaurants, based on his successful performance.
Nicklas ended up buying another restaurant that was very unique: a converted pornographic cinema from the 1950s. There, he successfully continued a previous collaboration with a jazz club and turned it into an incredible venue for live jazz.
“Nothing of its kind had been open on the scene previously and with this partnership we managed to have a large number of jazz musicians from the whole world that came to perform there.”
The years as restaurateur within the Örebro scene peaked when Nicklas family business bought what was then the largest restaurant in town, where he found himself with something pretty “alien” in the form of Swedish dance band entertainment instead of pumping music and jazz.
Valuable retail insights
As the family sold off in 2007 Nicklas went back into the hotel business.
“I had then worked in the family business for 15 years, combining work in hotels with running restaurants and pubs during most of those years. It had been very demanding to both run own restaurants while at the same time being able to do perform well.”
And, as a typical example of coincidences, his international career started when a hotel guest at Grand Hotel in Stockholm (where Nicklas also worked) offered him a job in the French Alps, when the guest learned that he was not keen on skiing. General Managers in the Alps tend to break their legs, Nicklas was told, and took on the offer for a job, indeed replacing a Dane that had just broken his leg.
Aside Grand Hotel Nicklas also helped a friend with a tax-free business at Arlanda airport, where he got to learn valuable things about retail. He also studied this as part of his education.
“I brought that with me into the hotel industry in order to see if it would do the trick for us as well; to use the environment of retail within a hotel setting. And this is something fundamental that one must work on; that there are so much more to sell to the hotel customer.”
Once Nicklas started discovering these new opportunities in how to work, he himself also got so much more knowledgeable and skilful, he says.
“I thought I was performing well but then got even stronger in my skills with what I could implement within the hotel industry.”
At the end of the day this is about gaining more revenue to the hotel, but also to meet the guest’s level of needs; to be a bit on top there, says the hotelier.
“During my years in the hotel industry I have seen that the guests get much happier if I am prepared for their visit, without them knowing that, than if being asked about needs upon arrival.”
I travel frequently myself and look at how I want to plan for my stay to be very good, and then apply that on how the guest sees him or herself. And just because we get a booking to the hotel it does not mean that we know everything about the guest. One must put an effort into obtaining information about this guest that enables getting as much as possible out of the guest’s stay and that equally the guest gets as much as possible out of it.”
“When you gather this information your starting point will be much better how to address and serve a guest.”
As Nicklas elaborates on this topic, which all of a sudden seems so fundamental, it soon becomes clear how he right he was: “Nowadays many hotel operational programmes have these elements included, but back then in the early 2000s we did not have this thinking within hotels concerning upselling, cross-selling and re-selling.”
“The hotels have been in their comfort zone; being happy just when the guest has paid and checked in. The hotels have entered something late that others have been using much longer. And many have woken up only in the last 2-3 years by creating their Facebook page, somebody has been put in charge to manage this and publish content,” he continues.
Guest expectation insights
A consequence for the Swede is that he is today much more of a sales person than in the beginning.
“We have a lot of guest interaction all the time, which is where we establish contact and build a hopefully long-term relationship between the guest and the hotel – the product we are selling.”
And that is where Nicklas, as a foreign manager, can best contribute: in showing his experience from Europe in the guest service management.
“I can see that we can be good complement for the Thai hotel and tourism industry precisely because we are sitting on information and experience on non-Asians’ expectations on their vacations; what they want to get out of their stay and everything that comes with it – both as a business traveller and as tourist.”
“We invite guests who have a higher standard of living about everything about them. And in Asia one must work much harder to educate the associates about this, which is training that requires a long-term effort.”
Different than Bangkok
Also in focus is looking at how Hotel Royal Bangkok @ Chinatown can better be seen and heard.
“That is especially important for a hotel of this kind that is smack in the middle of a really unique place in Bangkok to where many guests to Bangkok would like to visit and stay without really knowing how to get here. One does not know what is on offer here and when things are open, so one wants some info.”
Giving information to guests prior to and during a stay is therefore key.
“I want to meet people, such as groups, companies wanting to make business here in Chinatown or to just come here for one reason or the other and tell them what’s available here; what Chinatown as a product has on offer, and which does not equal the same product as Bangkok. And I am trying to market this area completely differently from if I would be in hotel somewhere else in Bangkok in a city hotel were I might not have an own product to tell about.”
The benchmarking against the competition also looks good: “Our hotel is better, nicer and comes with higher level of service.”
The fact that there is a Swede in the hotel is also paying off.
“During the short period I have been here so far we have seen a strong overall increase in the number of Scandinavian guests. That comes from word-of-mouth. And it’s about talking to guests and knowing that social media is powerful. I work a lot on this, talking to the guests and trying to make them convert that into direct bookings, which we make more revenue from.”
A Swedish guest, recalls Nicklas, booked to stay at Hotel Royal Bangkok, based on noting a name in reply to guest feedback on Tripadvisor; a Swedish-sounding name, belonging to Nicklas Moberg – the Swede in Chinatown.