Christopher e. stafford, Chief operating offiCer, 137 pillars hotels & resorts
Christopher E. Stafford, Chief Operating Officer, 137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts, tells SPACE editor Can Faik of his pride in watching the 137 Pillars brand grow and prosper as it welcomes guests from all over the world…
137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts has been crafted and created as a luxury boutique brand where the essence of its hotels is hospitality above all. The luxury hotel owner and management company currently operates two 5-star hotels in Thailand – one in Bangkok, the other in Chiang Mai – with a luxury resort in Phuket in the pipeline, and further properties, both at home and abroad, expected to be announced in the near future.
What was your background prior to working for 137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts?
My career in hospitality came after I became inspired working for the then luxury Park Avenue Gothenburg hotel in 1974 as a 16 year old bellman. Since then I have worked in hospitality management roles in Norway, Australia, Tahiti, Singapore, Maldives and Thailand. Over this period I have been involved in 16 hotel openings globally. Westin, Regent, Anantara, Bali Hai Hotels, SilverNeedle Hospitality and 137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts have been my employers. At Anantara I was the founding GM and later VP operations in opening the first six hotels for that group. At 137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts I have been involved in the opening and development of both of our hotels over the past seven years. We are now planning further extension into new markets.
Where are you based in the world?
I am based in Bangkok, Thailand
What exactly does your role involve?
My role as Chief Operating Officer covers a wide scope of managing our existing properties, developing the brand experience, evolving our group to reach towards its goal of being the number one luxury boutique hotel operator in our respective destinations. Development over our company into new markets, creating a positive and exciting working environment for our teams, and being active in the community within each destination.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I love the atmosphere of a luxury hotel where care, love and much attention is accorded to our guests, our staff and our facilities in a way that shows our passion for excellence. I enjoy the creation of new 137 Pillars Hotels in growing our family of great owners, great teams, and great products.
What are 137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts unique selling points?
We aim to provide traditional hospitality – to recapture the genuine essence of hospitality in a manner I would call understated yet very elegant. To that end every detail in our product offer is thought about to the extent that it delights our customers – where life becomes legendary – our guests live with us and it becomes their aspiring home; one they will always come back to, therefore timeless design is critical.
Our Unique Selling Propostions are:
- Luxurious suite and villa only products that create a feeling of home away from home – one where you can dream.
- High ceilings and great veranda/terrace spaces that enable you to get a greater sense of space through volume, which enables our designers to produce more emotion and feeling. A hotel suite you wouldn’t want to leave!
- Gardens that encompass natural original flora and fauna, restoration of all trees to their magnificent best. Nature restored is key to each property – our guests are awed by the gardens in both hotels to date.
- Design that has a timeless condition – so that it can maintain relevance over the lifespan of each property.
- Sustainability is demanded increasingly by our guests and this is one of our key selling points. We are eliminating plastic as a material in all hotels and addressing the issue of farm to table menus, give back to community in terms of garden waste creating our own compost, which is sold to local farmers and other hotels.
- Our history is a key to our brand built around the old Baan Borneo house in Chiang Mai. This was part of the colonial era timber trade belonging then to the Borneo Company where many famous Thai and Foreign personalities lived – from this we created our own eateries now opening in multiple locations called the Bangkok Trading Post.
What will be next for 137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts – and will Europe soon be on your list of future openings?
We are currently working on new project opportunities in Southeast Asian neighbouring countries – we are also negotiating new 137 Pillars properties in the Pacific. We are keen also on New Zealand as a destination. We would see the Greek Islands, Portugal, France and the UK as potential for our brand in Europe.
What other exciting projects do you have in the pipeline?
We are currently in process on projects for Phuket and Bagan in Myanmar with expectations to open in 2021 and 2020.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design in Asia compared to Europe and the USA?
We see Asian designers creating new concepts in hotel room design blending their own materials such as laterite walls and specially made surfaces borrowed from temple construction. Using more of their natural, cultural and religious heritage borrowing accents and bringing this into contemporary design. Many examples now abound of this Asian expression in some of the world’s best hotels.
How important do you feel design has become when launching a new hotel?
It is a critical element – guests come to live the dream, experience the traditions and culture of each venue, so we work hard with designers to weave this into our hotels. The element of surprise is important to keep our guests excited and learning new things about a property on day three, four, or five.
How important do you feel technology is when designing your properties?
Very important – we are able to deliver a better experience for our guests. We have smartphones for all our guests’ usage while staying with us to enhance their stay. Database management, seamless service, management controls, marketing techniques all rely heavily on technology. We will expand our IT to make the experience more and more seamless from a sense of arrival second to none to a sense of departure willing you to come back.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
Yes, we see more adventure in the use of colour and less hotel like furnishings making the interiors more interesting and varied. More creative use of space – better use of lighting, music, scents, and all the emotive touches. Higher ceilings for new luxury hotels, more exciting bathroom experience and space. More of a residential feel with use of drinks trolleys rather than just standard mini bars. Exciting use of new materials like lucite in tables and magazine racks, and sofas designed as sofa beds for improved capacity.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I love being part of the daily cut and thrust of creating and crafting experiences for our guests. I also truly enjoy the entrepreneurial side of finding new hotel sites to develop – call it the ‘art of the deal’.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
My favourite hotel in this region is the legendary Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. Overseas I really enjoyed the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, the Hermitage in Monaco, and the Kahala in Honolulu. A favourite lobby is the Regent Four Seasons in Singapore, and finally I love the Trisara in Phuket.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
Queenstown in New Zealand.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
The hotel openings – The Regent Sydney, the Anantara Hua Hin and the 137 Pillars Suites & Residences Bangkok.
Let’s finish with the issue of work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
I truly value my own time with my family and enjoy spending time learning new things – at present I’m relearning the guitar and taking a Thai language course, and I love polo, tennis, golf and exercise, which gives me the energy to run this wonderful hotel company.