James_Low

In Search of Hotel Excellence: COMO Metropolitan Bangkok

I recently toured Southeast Asia with my wife, and after visiting Sydney, Bali and Singapore, my fourth stop was Bangkok.  At just two meters above sea level, we were scheduled to reach the great Thailand capital at a time when flooding threatened to shut down the city.  Taking our chances, we landed to sunny skies and friendly faces.

When we arrived at the COMO Metropolitan, we were greeted by the hotel’s General Manager, James Low, who promptly exclaimed, “You brought the sun with you!”  For the three days in the city, the water subsided and we were treated to an urban experience so remarkable and vivacious that I would recommend a Bangkok visit to everyone.  Whether in the future or years from now, you have to see it to believe it.  Readying for departure to the next destination, I had the chance to sit down with James Low to talk about his experiences at the COMO Metropolitan.

To start, can you give a brief description of COMO Metropolitan Bangkok?  How did you come to join the COMO team?
A part of COMO Hotels & Resorts, the Metropolitan Bangkok, arguably the city’s first design-driven hotel, is located on South Sathorn Road, enjoying a close proximity to Bangkok’s famed urban nightlife as the style hub of the east.  The 171 rooms and suites – defined by subtle and elegant contemporary design – all offer generous space, with comfort and luxury felt in telling detail; from refined 500 thread count cotton beddings and silk curtains, handmade mosaic and limestone bathroom, to the COMO Shambhala signature bathroom amenities.  The Met Bar, a stylish members-only bar lounge serves a comprehensive selection of tailored Martini cocktails.  Headline restaurant Nahm by David Thompson delivers indulgent authentic Thai cuisine, whilst Glow focuses on extraordinary organic, healthful cuisine.  Relaxation is also available with a signature COMO Shambhala Urban Escape, comprising holistic Asian-inspired treatments, a gym, yoga studio and 20 meter outdoor pool.

Prior to my joining the COMO team as the pre-opening General Manager for the Metropolitan Bangkok, I was working for Hotel Properties Limited (owner of the Metropolitan Bangkok) for 12 years.  My personal file was forwarded to Mrs. Christina Ong for consideration to head the Bangkok project and after an initial interview in Singapore, I came on board COMO.  My hotel experience goes back 33 years with the Regent Kuala Lumpur (now under the Four Seasons banner), Merlin Hotels, Holiday Inn Johor Baru & Singapore, Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur, Hyatt Saujana and Concorde Hotels.

How does COMO Metropolitan Bangkok integrate with the other COMO properties around the world?
Metropolitan Bangkok is able to extend the unique COMO experience in this vibrant city; an experience that encompasses the five pillars encapsulating the COMO hallmarks.  These are: Design (Western contemporary classics juxtaposed with Eastern antiquities), Service (warm and natural Thai hospitality), Cuisine (Nahm by the award winning chef, David Thompson, and Glow for healthful, spa cuisine), Wellbeing (Como Shambhala Urban Escape spa), and Culture/Adventure (promoting Thai art and performing arts in this lively city).  Also, as the hub into Southeast Asia, Bangkok is able to offer a first-hand introduction of the COMO experience prior to our guests visiting sister properties in Bhutan, Bali, Cocoa Island in the Maldives, and soon-to-be Phuket.

Although the property has not been directly impacted, how has the flooding in Bangkok altered the hotel’s business?
Hotel occupancies in the city plummeted after advisories against travel into Bangkok were posted by major governments.  Meetings and events were noticeably affected as well as the regional leisure traffic out of Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Korea.  However, we managed to accommodate some local residents whose homes were affected by the floods and we adjusted staff schedules to support those living in the more heavily affected suburban regions.  Bangkok is such a unique destination we expect the numbers to return to normal once the waters subside.

How did the hotel adapt to the floods, both to ensure the safety of patrons and staff, and to continue to provide the best quality experience while in the city?  Did you have any crisis management plans already in place?
We have a crisis management team on standby 24 hours a day and the team is certified in crisis management training.  We also have in place an evacuation manual in the event of any emergencies in the hotel.  The following are some of the preparations made to adapt to the flood situation in Bangkok:

  • Seal all possible areas (up to two meters) in which flood water may seep in using the building walls, sand bags and drain plugs in case of water backwash
  • Basement electrical appliances moved to higher grounds
  • Switch off main electrical board when the water approaches the 1.8m height threshold and call the area electricity board to turn off supply in our area
  • Ensure sufficient supply of essential items in hotel such as bottled water, food, gas, diesel, blankets and basic first aid
  • Allocate an area to evacuate all guests for briefing and to act as an information center
  • Have passenger trucks on standby for evacuation to the airport
  • Activate a 24 hour news desk posted on our website to update incoming guests and reservations with the latest information
  • Ensure sufficient staff are available at the hotel to service our guests
  • Containment of operations and services in the event of prolonged flooding

While visiting, I had a chance to experience one of your two-story penthouse suites – one of the finest accommodations in all of Bangkok.  Do you have a separate marketing plan for such rooms?
No, we do not have a separate marketing plan for the four penthouse suites but we do have press releases sent out when necessary.  As you experienced, the product is remarkable: you are greeted by the soaring expanse of an eight-meter high ceiling, and a floating staircase to your guest bedroom and private office. Once a guest has stayed in one of these suites, there is no going back to a single story product.

Each penthouse suite comes with its own personal butler.  Do most people understand the advantages of a butler?
Unfortunately, most visitors do not make full use of our butlers’ expertise, even though most COMO guests know the level of service they can expect as the butler program is available throughout the COMO group.  The butlers onsite here at the Metropolitan are very humble and talented individuals, helping guests plan their days, arranging for other services or reservations, and acclimatizing visitors to Bangkok by introducing them local customs and languages.

The hotel’s signature restaurant, Nahm, is led by the renowned chef, David Thompson.  How did you leverage his recognition to market the property?
As the Metropolitan Bangkok is already in its eighth year of operation, PR opportunities were less readily available.  David Thompson’s Nahm gave the hotel plenty of opportunities to refresh the brand.  David has a very strong following in the UK, US, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, and they were scores of media requests to cover Nahm in these major markets.  We also took the opportunity to market a package entitled ‘Tantalizing Thai’ to promote our rooms together with a dining experience in Nahm plus a personalized signed copy of David’s prominent cook book, Thai Food.

(Article published on eHotelier on November 25, 2011)

Larry MogelonskyIn Search of Hotel Excellence: COMO Metropolitan Bangkok