David Martens shares how he’s managing this uncertain period in his role as general manager of Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin and corporate director of operations Hua Hin, Krabi, Samui & Vietnam, and his learnings from reopening to the domestic market.
Travel Weekly Asia: When did the resort first reopen? What was the decision process like?
Martens: The resort was reopened on July 24, 2020. Hua Hin has traditionally enjoyed strong market demand due to its proximity to Bangkok, and at the time, we could see from other properties that had opened before us that Hua Hin remained a popular getaway destination. We then had to make sure we had a stringent sanitation and safety programme in place before we were ready to welcome our guests back to the resort.
With the shift in demographics, we have been more proactive in engaging much more on social media with our Thai guests… We’ve also adapted our food offerings in our outlets with more choices of Thai food and more locally recognised dishes.
TWA: And did you reopen with full capacity?
Martens: We reopened with all our rooms and some of our featured restaurants, such as Coast Beach Club and Railway Restaurant. We will open with full F&B capacity depending on demand in the coming months.
TWA: What new measures have you introduced because of Covid-19?
Martens: We have introduced a new certified comprehensive health and hygiene programme called Centara Complete Care, which was developed in close collaboration with Ecolab, a global leader in water and hygiene technologies, and Swiss firm SGS, the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company.
Among the rigorous changes is the elimination of self-service buffets at our restaurants, with live stations screened off from guest touch access, social distancing of 1.5 metres between tables, chairs, fitness equipment, function space and sun loungers, which are sanitised in-between guest usage, and increased frequency in sanitisation of all public areas such as lifts and kids’ clubs. There is no in-room delivery of luggage or meals with all items instead left at the guest room door.
Our spa and wellness facilities allow single treatments only with no use of steam, saunas or hammams for the time being. All treatment rooms are sanitised in between guest usage.
Sanitising gel and disposable face masks are placed in guest rooms. Other key changes include a dedicated system of contactless measures for check in and payment, as well as upgrading of teleconferencing capabilities for the meeting sector as businesses get back to work.
Staff, who have undergone special training, wear accredited face masks at all times, and temperature readings and hand sanitisation are mandatory for all guests and employees.
We have also achieved SHA Certification in conjunction with Tourism Authority of Thailand's Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration: SHA by undergoing a strict inspection process on our service processes.
TWA: How have market segments and occupancy patterns changed?
Martens: Since international arrivals has been suspended, the wholesale production has stopped completely, and we are only relying on retail. The majority of our guests now are local Thais with some expatriates from Bangkok.
Our resort has traditionally been patronised by 80% European travellers – a big portion of which are long term returning guests – who are attracted to our heritage dating back 96 years. These guests from European markets would stay longer than one week.
Locals, on the other hand, tend to stay on weekends or when conferences are held in the hotel. With the shift in market segment to only Thai guests and local expats, the occupancy patterns have shifted to mainly weekends, which is traditionally always been the case for Hua Hin in general.
Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin has reopened since July 2020.
TWA: How how are you adjusting your focus to the domestic market? Are you changing your room rates?
Martens: We are fortunate of Centara’s positive brand awareness in the domestic market. Over the years, the company has built up a reputation of delivering authentic family experiences, so we have been able to continue attracting families as well as couples.
We have had to adjust our room rates in line with market conditions, but rather than engaging in a price war, our main focus with domestic travellers has been to come up with attractive packages, including Stronger Together, with rates starting from 2,650 baht (US$84) per night and a half-board offer for stays of four or more nights. We’re also offering Private Villa Escape for friends and family seeking the luxury of space with a half-board offer starting at just 5,370 baht per night, while the Stay Happy and Healthy enhancement offers extra amenities and wellness inclusions including AcuRelax massages and an in-room fitness workout kit.
TWA: What new ways are you introducing to make up for lost revenue streams?
Martens: We have been looking at different opportunities to utilise our resources and our team’s skills in other areas, such as offering house and condominium cleaning service for local people in Hua Hin, mobile carpet cleaning service for local companies, fitness and pool day passes, as well as private classes – including Thai boxing, yoga, circuit training, TRX training, swimming for children, and tennis classes.
TWA: What key insights have you gained from the reopening to domestic market?
Martens: With the shift in demographics, we have been more proactive in engaging much more on social media with our Thai guests. We also make sure all our information is readily accessible via QR codes so local guests can have information on their own mobile devices in real time.
We’ve also adapted our food offerings in our outlets with more choices of Thai food and more locally recognised dishes. We’ve also had to review our spa offerings to be more competitive in the marketplace.
TWA: How do you think the next few months will be like?
Martens: The next few months will be challenging. I think the domestic market will continue to travel but they will keep looking for other destinations within Thailand and the popularity of Hua Hin will start to slightly subside.
As the borders start to reopen, our hotel will see many of our repeat guests return – in fact they keep in regular contact with us and are waiting to see when they will be able to visit. Once international flights restart and foreigners start to arrive, I think we might temporarily see less Thais travelling due to concerns of the virus imported from overseas.