The spacious hall with high ceiling is made out of dark teak wood and decorated with armchairs, couches, cushions and a big panorama glass facade with a beautiful view over the pool area. The atmosphere is relaxed, the weather gorgeous and the hotel oozes of sophisticated вЂsabai sabai'. The hotel is Hilton Hua Hin Resort & Spa in Thailand and is a very popular spot for both Scandinavians and Thais from Bangkok. It is also the biggest hotel in Hua Hin with 296 rooms and 380 employees and with a Dane in one of the top positions. His name is Christian Madsen, 33 and he is Director of Operations at the hotel.
Director of Operations means that I'm responsible for the hotel when the General Manager is not here, from the kitchen to IT and everything in between. I had the same title in Dubai but this is the biggest hotel I have worked in so far, Christian Madsen says.
Coming directly from Hilton in Dubai one year ago, he and his family were completely new to Thailand.
I feel like we have really settled down here. My wife Louise is pregnant with our second child and we live in a nice house three kilometres from the hotel and have some good friends here. We like to cook at home and just relax when I'm off work. Compared to the Middle East where we just came from, the climate is much more pleasant in Hua Hin and not so hot as in the desert, he says.
Actually, it was not a complete coincidence that Christian ended up getting a job in Hua Hin.
Louise and I stayed here in 2005 and we really liked the feeling of the hotel. From the beginning I could see all the opportunities here. So when the position as Director of Operations was available, I applied and luckily got it, says Christian.
Born to travel
Christian is literally speaking born international. He grew up in such exotic places as Rio, Iran and Kenya before his Danish parents settled down in NГ¦rum north of Copenhagen. He always knew he wanted to live and work in foreign countries and with that in mind he got his hotel education at the Copenhagen Hospitality College (Hotel og restaurantskolen) in 1998.
I knew that a hotel career was the perfect solution to me. It could give me possibilities and challenges everywhere in the world, Christian says.
After some years at the SAS Radisson in Copenhagen, Christian joined the Hilton International when they opened their first hotel in Denmark at the airport in 2001 as the first international chain in the country.
Being part of an international chain suited me perfectly and today Hilton has more than 3000 hotels all over the world. I started as a supervisor and it was a lot of work. I learned the hard way how important it is to find a balance between work and private life or you will burn out, Christian says.
Speaking of private life, Christian met Louise in Denmark and even though she had a very good career in the banking sector, she was happy to travel with him. First, they went to the Middle East where Christian was sent by Hilton in 2005 to Salalah, Oman and Dubai, and now Thailand. The couple got married in 2007.
Her brother is in the hotel business as well, so she has always understood my job and has always got a job of her own as well. Now, she takes care of our one and a half year old son Carl and prepare for the new baby in February, Christian says with excitement.
Challenge in Hua Hin
A five star hotel is not just a five star. There are different standards everywhere in the world.
It is a challenge working for five star hotels. We have to deliver the highest possible standard every time, explains Christian.
Especially at a hotel like the Hilton Hua Hin since sixty percent of the guests are regulars who have stayed at the hotel five times or more and have certain expectations. The hotel is the biggest in Hua Hin and very popular among Scandinavians.
Like with any other hotel it is all about location, location, location. This one is right in the centre of town on the best part of the beach, you can walk to the night market. We have entertainment for children like Playstation, ping pong-table and a small cinema, a top class spa, fitness, good restaurants and the beer house Hua Hin Brewing Company. I personally made sure that we now have eight different drafts, he says and smiles.
Different Thai Style
With a working week of six days and minimum 60 hours with only Monday off, Christian is very busy. His job is to improve every aspect of the hotel that can be improved, from the breakfast buffet, restaurants, staff, events - and still balance the budget.
In order for me to improve the hotel I'm looking at the guests. Who are they, what do they want. We do surveys and go through every guest feedback we receive and since I arrived the team has done some big changes. Our guests used to be mainly Scandinavians, but recently it has changed, Christian says and explains:
At the moment most of our guests are still foreign, however our Thai domestic market has grown substantially and we see many Thais from Bangkok coming to our hotel. They are not necessarily impressed by the very looks of blue ocean and palm trees and have different expectations to the hotel. I could see from the surveys that we needed to regulate a few things. The Scandinavians always praised our Thai staff for being so nice and polite, whereas the Thais expected at different style of manner. At the breakfast buffet we regulated food and staff in order to please the growing Thai number. Of course they wanted more rice dishes and soups at the buffet but their whole eating pattern is different. Scandinavians take a plate and fill it up a couple of times and then leave. The Thais take a bit of everything and make their own buffet at the table and sit there for a long time and eat together which gives another demand of food and staff. It is very interesting, Christian says.
One result of Christian's survey is a monthly open-air movie night called Cinematic Splash.
The first Thursday in every month we have an open air cinema by the pool. We heat up the BBQ and show good movies with music, like Mamma Mia with Abba-songs .
The whole point
Also, with only four foreigners out of 380 staff, Christian has learned a lot about the Thai culture.
To be honest I thought it would be easier for me to understand the Asian culture compared to the Middle Eastern. However, I actually find it harder to get an insight in the Asian culture. After three months I thought that I understood it, but after six months I knew that I didn't. It is day-to-day experiences, like why they react in a certain way. Thailand is the land of smiles but there is so much more to it behind the smiles. I don't think I will ever fully understand the culture but that is the whole point with travelling. It is not whether or not you agree but to understand and learn which is important, he says.
And with that point of life Christian can easily adjust to any culture. In the hotel business the contracts are normally two-three years. Where Christian is going next is not planned yet.
At some stage we will move back to Europe because of the kids. But right now we are open-minded since every place has something to offer. Especially the least obvious, Christian says.
Rikke Bjerge Johansen