The road to recovery: Sukhothai's VP anticipates a strong hospitality resurgence
The first few months since Thomas Schmitt-Glaeser returned to Shanghai in January 2020 were spent managing the COVID-19 pandemic rather than celebrating a decade-long reunion.
The veteran German hotelier was back in the city, this time as General Manager of The Sukhothai Shanghai in the heart of downtown Jing’an District. His previous stint in the city was with the Shangri-La group from 2006–2009.
Now, with the pandemic all but over after more than three difficult years, Schmitt-Glaeser, who is also Vice President of The Sukhothai Hotels & Resorts spearheading the brand’s expansion, is optimistic about the city’s hospitality scene, as guests, primarily domestic and regional travelers for the time being, have begun to revisit the hotel over the past two months, filling up rooms and packing the restaurants and bars.
“March is the first month that we really see business rebounding, with corporate business groups and overseas travelers returning quickly,” he told Shanghai Daily in an exclusive interview. “The fashion industry, which is our key account, was the first to bounce back for us.”
The Sukhothai Shanghai, a contemporary lifestyle hotel that is part of the HKRI Taikoo Hui mixed-use complex and includes two Grade-A office towers and a premium shopping mall, impresses its guests as a “private estate” where intimacy and privacy are most cherished and comfortably ensured.
“When you step into the hotel, it feels like immersing into ‘A Place Apart’ from the hustle and bustle city life,” said the general manager, who joined Sukhothai in Bangkok in 2016.
“A niche and boutique brand, Sukhothai is very different from many of its traditional luxury counterparts, all of which seem to share the same DNA of marble lobbies and big crystal chandeliers.”
The Sukhothai Shanghai is inspired by the concept of the “urban oasis” and is designed to reflect a reconnection to nature, with a focus on promoting not only the physical but also the mental and emotional well-being of the guests.
It features 170 stylish guest rooms and 31 suites, as well as five inspiring lifestyle F&B venues serving Thai and Mediterranean cuisines as well as a Gin Library with more than 350 kinds of gin.
While domestic travel and city events boosted occupancy rates, the general manager is anticipating a double-digit increase in revenue with the return of international travelers, who used to account for about 40 percent of its guests when the hotel first opened in 2018.
“With corporate business being a strong sector for recovery, I am looking at a 70 percent increase in hotel revenue this year,” said Schmitt-Glaeser, who began his hospitality career more than 25 years ago in Europe, with spells in Geneva, London, Berlin, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Beijing.
“Since the end of last year, we have been focusing on refreshing English communication for our employees as well as reviewing and amending our breakfast buffet menu to meet the expectations of overseas travelers and getting our staff ready for international customers.”
Schmitt-Glaeser, a firm believer in motivating and training employees to provide the kind of service demanded by today’s increasingly discerning customers, said that one of the best decisions he made during the pandemic was to take good care of his employees and treat them with respect.
“We are very focused on keeping our people here, keeping them happy, and not cutting their salaries, especially during difficult times,” said the general manager.
“We voluntarily requested a salary reduction, but only for management, including myself, and not for our rank-and-file employees. We also did not lay off any employees because I knew the pandemic would end. When business picked up again, I’d need all hands on deck.”
“People claimed that the pandemic had altered many things. To be honest, I don’t see much change in the hotel industry and find that everyone wants to go back to the old days.”
“Zoom cannot replace everything, and you are now seeing a revenge trend.”
As business resumes, The Sukhothai Shanghai recently launched a number of initiatives to commemorate its fifth anniversary, including new offerings, a new hotel video to reconnect with international customers, and some fun-filled events to re-engage with guests.
Schmitt-Glaeser enjoys biking around the city, taking photos, and discovering new restaurants and bars in his spare time.
On weekends, he usually takes his dog to the dog park and relaxes with a traditional Thai massage or a bottle of wine and a cigar with friends.
He is an avid traveler who prefers to visit remote locations, such as the sparsely populated Yubeng Village in southwestern Yunnan Province, which has greatly impressed him.