By Gaya Travel on February 19, 2018
Having been in South East Asia for over three years, Mr Thomas Gassner served at Pullman Jakarta in Thamrin Square and Pullman Bali prior to his current post as the General Manager (GM) of Sofitel Kuala Lumpur Damansara. He started his career at the AccorHotels in 2004 with the Sofitel Hotels and Resorts located in the Middle East, specifically in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Since Mr Gassner has served both at Pullman and Sofitel, he is well-versed about the difference between the two brands, which are part of the AccorHotels. “Both are five-star level hotels but the target is different. Pullman is more targeted for the younger and hipper clientele seeking pizzazz and edginess hinging upon technology, social media and connectivity, while Sofitel is catered to those who have arrived and established, emphasising on design and luxury,” he explains.
Although Sofitel Kuala Lumpur Damansara upholds French flair and heritage through art and cuisine while banking on diverse workforce, the hotel does not sell itself as exclusively French or involved only in promoting anything French. Of course, the hotel does showcase subjects that are synonymous to what France is famous for such as art and cuisine, but it prefers to project itself as more of a refined property with a global outlook and celebrates Malaysia, which happens to possess French heritage. “Guests should understand that they are in Malaysia and not in Paris, so it is important for guests to embrace local culture first and foremost. The hotel provides the cultural link between the host country and France,” says Mr Gassner.
Mr Gassner further expounds that each property managed by Sofitel Hotels and Resorts around the world has its own character and does not conform to a particular standard look.”We need to understand that each Sofitel property has its own personality and soul. For the past 10 years, Sofitel has undergone extensive changes and embarked on more aggressive expansion,” he notes.
The identity of each Sofitel Hotels and Resorts is standalone and unique because each of them conscientiously incorporates local culture, identity, influences and marry them with French flair that can be seen in the hotel’s interiors, providing guests with strong sense of place and further enriching guests’ experience. “It is important that guests don’t wake up wondering which city they are in because everything looks the same (since they also stay at the same hotel chain in other locations),” Mr Gassner quips.
Sofitel Kuala Lumpur Damansara intends to uphold the high standards and service level that the brand is known for, and ensure that guests’ have memorable stay and continue returning. “Our guests informed us that they are happy with the staff’s friendliness and attentiveness, which I take it as very positive, especially coming from foreigners; they enjoy the Malaysian hospitality . That is what we are targeting and what we are bringing into our daily life. We also challenge ourselves to continuously improve than the day before,” adds Mr Gassner.
As with any property that has been newly opened, Mr Gassner confessed that there are bound to be teething problems. “Each new hotel experience has its own unique challenges because you almost start everything from zero and need to implement standards onto the new hotel and hire staff within a few months’ time to meet deadline. You will only get to know the result of your pre-opening hard work only after interacting with guests regarding their experience staying at the hotel.
“I was told that our first months went by successfully. We need to continue going beyond our guests’ expectations – all the hard work put in during the pre-opening and opening actually starts when we begin receiving guests at the hotel and when they give their feedback to us. Without guests, we are unable to test out the level of hospitality,” he adds.
“Since it is a new hotel, we are interested in seeing the reaction of our guests and how we are being perceived by our guests while at the same time ensuring everything runs smoothly. We also emphasise in growing not just the business but also the staff’s capabilities and potential, requiring them to continuously learn and develop. We receive many positive comments from guests, including inputs on the areas that we need to work on,” iterates Mr Gassner.
Regarding the type of guests that the hotel receives, Mr Gassner shares that the hotel’s location in Damansara Heights works to its advantage because it is patronised by well heeled business travellers and corporates from the surrounding offices of local and international corporations.
“But we are also surprised and happy to find that we also attract local leisure guests over the weekends who come for staycation or to spend time with their families – we welcome more children than we previously expected. We did not expect much from the leisure market at first, thinking that leisure guests might prefer hotels with resort-like facilities located more towards central and downtown area, but it turns out that the lesiure guests keep coming nonetheless. Since the location is also close to residential areas and housing estates, many guests from out of town prefer to stay here when they visit their families, relatives or friends around the area. This trend drives us to effectively cater to local or foreign business, including leisure travellers. The expatriate community is also quite strong here and they bring along their family and friends to experience the city and the hotel,” Mr Gassner elaborated.
When asked whether the hotel needs to necessarily advise their guests on what to expect from the city, Mr Gassner finds that guests in this day and age are normally armed to the teeth with information about the destination they are visiting. “To be honest, our guests are well prepared with what they would like to see and where they want to go. When I asked some of the guests what they want to do when they were in Kuala Lumpur, they already have a list prepared and figured everything out. They readily understand that KL is famous in the region for having good nightlife and dining,” claims Mr Gassner. He adds that getting around the city is convenient and accessible since it has good infrastructure and things are not too far away from each other, hence no issue with the hotel’s location.
Even though Kuala Lumpur appears affordable to foreign travellers, Mr Gassner reckons that people do not travel to the destination simply because they can stretch their money. “I think they come here more for the experience of what Kuala Lumpur offers. Of course, the fact that Malaysia is reasonably priced is an advantage. But I personally don’t think that people decide to go to one place just because it is cheap or good value – people want the experience and see what they have not seen before in Kuala Lumpur, as well as accessible. Kuala Lumpur is preferred by many travellers because it is that kind of a place. Besides, when they go out of the city and explore more of Malaysia, they will definitely be amazed,” claims Mr Gassner, who has dived in Sipadan and visited Langkawi and Genting.
Mr Gassner beams with certainty when we asked him how does he think the hotel would fare in the next three to five years. “I am confident that with the current integrated development by GuocoLand Malaysia comprising two luxury condominium blocks, two corporate office towers, the hotel, and a food-and-beverage-centric lifestyle mall, the whole Damansara City will become more developed, especially when various multi-national corporations and other companies begin occupying the offices. From the hotel, you can quickly reach the downtown area, including KL Sentral or something similar, and the hotel will benefit greatly from such development,” Mr Gassner concludes.