Name – Thomas Henseler
Position – General Manager of Belmond Governor’s Residence Hotel
Nationality – German
MI: When was your first visit to Myanmar?
My first visit to Myanmar was in 21st December 2011.
MI: What was your first impression of the country then?
That’s good question. It reminded me of the places I have worked many years before in Vietnam in the 90s. You know, the age of the cars and there was not a lot of traffic on the roads, there was very quiet, people very friendly and everybody dressed in traditional outfit and we can see now after 4 years already big difference, especially with the young people dress in all sorts of jeans and leather jackets, green hair, red hair and so on, change has come very very fast. I also noticed that the people are very keen on having contact with foreigners talking to people explaining about the country, listening to other people all about Myanmar. It was very interesting in the beginning. As I came here to work, I found out that Myanmar people are hardworking people keen to learn, especially younger people. Today after 4 years, I must say it was a great experience.
MI: How has your opinion of Myanmar changed now?
Well, it has not really changed, but I have a lot more knowledge about the country now. So, I see things from a different point of view. In the beginning, I did not know about all the issues that are existing here locally. Now, after reading a lot on a daily basis and experiencing daily life, I see things a little bit differently. The country obviously has a lot of challenges to go through. It was all privilege to experience the last election, which hopefully will be a new chapter for Myanmar and a step in the right direction. So, with all the issues that exist I think that there is a generally positive outlook on the future of the country.
MI: How did you end up as General Manager of Belmond Governor’s Residence Hotel?
I was transferred from another Belmond Property in Peru, South America.
MI: Please explain to our readers about Belmond Governor’s Residence Hotel.
The Belmond Governors’ Residence is one of the few luxury Boutique hotels in Yangon with only 49 rooms. Belmond has been in Myanmar since 1995. When we started operations with our Road to Mandalay Cruise and we then acquired the hotel in 2006. This hotel was built in 1996. It was run by another company for 10 years then Belmond took over. We currently operate this hotel as well as the Road to Mandalay and Orcella river vessels. The Belmond Governors’ Residence used to be the Kayah Gayhar (Kayah State House), which belonged and was used by the state of Kayah.
MI: How is working in Myanmar different from other countries?
Well, it is different because you have less resource available in terms of equipment’s, raw materials and so on. There is a lack of trained human resources. So, we need to do a lot of sourcing and training.
MI: What is your target market segment?
At the moment about 25% each are American, French, and British and the remaining 25% is the mix of everything German, Swiss, Australian. We have more and more people from Latin countries, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, also from Northern European countries, Sweden, Denmark, Norway etc.
MI: Please describe a typical Governor’s Residence guest.
A typical Governor’s Resident guest is probably about 55 plus rather wealthy, well travelled, and who enjoys the good things in life.
MI: What has been the average occupancy rate for the past one year? How about at present?
Last year was 62% and this year we will finish about 53%. MI: Please explain different room types and packages available for guests.
We have four different room types, our entry category named deluxe, then deluxe garden view; these are the rooms that are facing inner courtyard, next are the governor’s rooms. Then, we have two different kinds of Suites that we categorized in one category. Room rates depends on the season; average of room rates for 2015 is around USD 500 that includes breakfast, free mini bar in the high season, Wi-Fi and free laundry.
MI: What is your view on tourism and hotel industry trends in Myanmar?
It is an important sector for the country. It provides a lot of work and income for local community. It also provides a platform for Myanmar to showcase itself to the rest of the world. People come here to visit; they experience the food, nature and different environments like Ayeyawaddy River, Chindwin, Mandalay, Bagan, and Inle Lake. There are a lot of culture in Myanmar that people can experience.
MI: Let us know of your present and past CSR projects in Myanmar.
One of our biggest projects that we operate is our clinic in Bagan. We have our doctor Hla Tun who has been with us for 20 years. In this clinic, we treat about 5,000 people free of charge and provide medicine, basic medical care. So, there is a lot of effort involved and we got a lot of support from our clients. We also work with the Mary Chapman School of the deaf and mute that means we take on trainees from this school people who cannot speak or hear. We train them in different departments and we have recently fully employed two of those in our kitchen.
MI: What would be the key challenges facing Governors’ Residence in the next 2-3 years?
The key challenge is going to be to maintain service level with human resource that is available because tourism is growing, and more hotels are coming in. All new hotels are usually hiring people that they take from another hotel, that is going to be a big challenge, not only for us but also for everybody in the industry. There is not enough trained work force currently on hand. Increased competition will also create challenges for everyone.
MI: If you could make our change to the Government policy, what would it be?
More support for the Tourism Industry in all the possible ways, ease import restrictions and cut down on the incredible amount of beaurocracy, open and support hotel schools and other training facilities MI: What are the critical success factors in the high-end hotel industry? It is all about service. It is delivering seamless, high quality service to different clients; that is why the training is so important. Here what we have, mostly are western clients but also an increasing number of guests from all demographics. It is important to personalize the services as much as you can and anticipate the needs of the clients before he or she is asking for it.
MI: What are your plans for Governor’s Residence for the next 2-3 years?
Our plan is a major renovation of the hotel, which will be 20 years old in January 2016. Normally, luxury hotel needs major investment every 7 to 10 years. Obviously, the business has been very slow in earlier years but now it is time to invest and make the Belmond Governor’s Residence an even bigger success.
MI: How are you enjoying your days in Myanmar?
I must admit the quality of life in Yangon is still very basic. There are a lot of things that we are missing. But, we can see improvement, and I am sure that is going to continue in the fast pace that we have seen in the last 2-3 years.[/paypal]