|By Woranuj Maneerungsee, Bangkok Post,
ThailandMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Mar. 12, 2007 - Thirty-five Celsius! What a hot day! Worse, the big-city air pollution has been causing a lot of sore throats. Escaping from the city may be the cure.
Spending time in pleasant surroundings somewhere in the provinces is the dream of city dwellers. Boutique hotels are particularly popular, though there's some debate about exactly what qualities set a boutique hotel apart from the mass-market product -- and justify room rates two or three times higher.
"Boutique hotels should deliver your total experience," says Srayuth Ekahitanonda, the general manager and shareholder of Let's Sea Hua Hin Al Fresco Resort, which opened last November. "This includes inspiration, impression and great value for money. You pay for a different experience that you cannot get from any mass-market hotel. Physically, it's perceived as a small hotel with design and character. It should deliver services that complement the character of the hotel."
Mr Srayuth is irritated by hotel operators who misuse the term "boutique". Their hotels may be small and stylish but they lack the extra services. Still, they charge sky-high prices.
"That worries me," the soft-spoken Mr Srayuth says. "One rotten fish will spoil the entire basket."
"They are unnecessarily using the term boutique hotel. It's too much! So I dare not use the term boutique hotel for ours, but chose to use 'al fresco' instead," he says. Al fresco means "in the fresh air".
As boutique hotels compete for popularity among local and foreign travellers, Mr Srayuth has urged Thai Airways' prestigious Royal Orchid Plus unit to accredit boutique hotels and release details to the public. That would help add value to the tourism industry, he says.
Mr Srayuth 36, has spent a dozen years in the hotel business, excluding his childhood with his mother who worked for a five-star hotel.
He holds a degree in tourism and hotel business from the University of Surrey in England and worked for world-class chain hotels such as Banyan Tree and Four Seasons for more than a decade.
He wishes to retire from day-to-day management when he is 45 years old, then become a hotel consultant.
He and two friends-turned-business partners invested about 100 million baht in their property on Hua Hin beach, which has long been one of Thailand's most desirable tourist destinations. The 30-something businessmen had already successfully run a beachfront restaurant under the same brand, Let's Sea.
They could have built a seven-storey hotel with the sum they spent building a two-storey hotel with 40 rooms.
A big part of the investment was spent on small but essential details, such as pillow cases and bedsheets made from 230-thread count cotton fabric, and 300 thread-count fabric for blankets. They make visitors feel comfortable, smooth and warm. They were selected to suit tropical countries.
Mr Srayuth uses sales of pillows, at least one a week, at the hotel's gift shop as an indicator of visitor satisfaction.
In addition, wooden windows are designed to open horizontally or vertically. This allows guests to either admire the dark blue swimming pool in the middle of the site, or share the same view privately. Secret passages for hotel staff are built underneath the building so they will not interrupt guests.
In a whimsical touch, Mr Srayuth built a fake bus-stop right in front of the hotel to catch his guests' attention.
"I wanted to do something to humour guests living in a hectic city. I would like to remind them, could you please go slowly. Your blood pressure will be low and that would be great," he said.
"Visitors stop talking when they get off the bus as they're curious what it (the fake bus-stop) is. They keep walking on a zigzag passage, and then they're stunned when they see the hotel," he says.
The partners' hard work has borne fruit sooner than expected. The three-month-old hotel has received a warm welcome from visitors willing to pay 8,888 to 11,111 baht a night. Restaurant sales have also increased."I'm grateful when our hotel staff earn incomes as high as their friends working for long-established hotels in Hua Hin."
Asked what he considers a genuine boutique hotel, he comes up with The Sukhothai in Bangkok, Tamarind Village in Chiang Mai, and Rayavadee in Krabi. He also mentions Old Bangkok Inn in Bangkok, though he has never been there.
He is tight-lipped when asked to name a fake boutique hotel. Perhaps he would rather say that privately.
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Copyright (c) 2007, Bangkok Post, Thailand
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