Phuket Opinion: Speaking of warm welcomes

Yodying Viprakasit, 45, was raised in Bangkok and attended high school in England. She has BA and MA degrees from the US and attended culinary school in Italy. A Phuket resident for over seven years, she is the owner of Cafe Y Te on Phang Nga Road and Casa Blanca, a boutique hotel on Phuket Road.

Here she talks about what hospitality means to her, and the ways she expects her staff to be able to use English.

PHUKET: I have lived and travelled abroad a lot, and it was during those times when I was away from home that my concept of hospitality was formed.

Imagine the feeling you get when you are in a foreign place and need help, and a kind stranger steps forward to help you. That sense of being cared for, of being welcome, is what I want my guests to feel – and what I train my staff to convey. That “from-the-heart” feeling is the epitome of good service.

Of course I want to have a successful business, but my focus is not on making the most money from each guest but on developing long-term relationships with them. I want my guests to like my place so much, to like Phuket so much, that they want to come back.

I want my staff to make guests feel at home, but also pampered, so they feel that their money is well spent. My staff need strong English skills to be able to do this.

When people consider why English skills are important, they probably think first of providing information – and this is definitely crucial in a hotel. I want my employees to be able to give guests all sorts of ideas about what to do in Phuket – what to see, where to eat, where to go and what tours to take.

But hospitality is not just about giving information. It’s about making guests feel welcome, anticipating their needs, and, as I said, developing relationships.

From the business side, it’s about selling things, and sometimes it’s about being firm with a guest who has taken advantage of us.

For my staff to be able to do all these things, they don’t just need English, they need confidence in their English.

For example, to make guests feel at home, I want my staff to open the door for them when they come in, and chit chat with them a little bit – say “good morning”, “how was your day”, that kind of thing. If they are not confident enough to say these things, they can’t really make the guest feel welcome.

If guests need help and my staff can recognize that and act before they ask for help, it creates a better impression. But to do that, staff need to be brave enough to approach them and talk to them.

And to develop relationships, which hopefully will encourage the guest to come back to Phuket and stay with us again, we need to talk to them and get to know them.

Language skills translate into sales skills. I want front-desk staff to converse with guests when they are checking in, and ask them things like: “How long are you staying?”, “Do you have an airport transfer?” and “Are you planning on taking a tour?” Time we spend chatting with guests is a chance to sell them things.

Finally, sometimes we have to say things that are embarrassing or unpleasant. It’s even harder to do this if your English isn’t very good – especially for Thais, who are comfortable making the guest feel important, but not so comfortable with confrontation.

If a guest who is checking out is taking something from his room, for example, and we know it, we have to say something, otherwise we’re going to lose money.

English is important not just for me in my hotel, but for Thailand as a whole. When the Asean Economic Community gets underway, Thai people will face more competition for jobs, and the country as a whole will have to fight harder to be attractive to investors. We need to get ready now.

— Leslie Porterfield


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