One of the giants of the hotel business is retiring this summer after more than 40 years running the celebrated Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok.
Kurt Wachtveitl, who’s 72, took over the Oriental in 1967 after completing hotel school in Switzerland and working at several European hotels.
He became General Manager of an establishment with a proud history. Founded in 1876 by two Danish sea captains, the Oriental’s A-list crowd in the early days included the cream of the literati, including Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling.
Wachtveitl was given a free hand by the owners and transformed the hotel into one of the best in the world, his formula for success being a rigorous focus on his guests and staff. The hotel maintains a database of some 40,000 guests — listing their tiniest preferences, pet peeves and, occasionally, how their stays didn’t go quite right.
One senior executive was recently amazed when on arrival he was greeted with an apology for a water problem in his room a decade ago, and upgraded to a suite. “You win a person like this forever, I guarantee you,” says Wachtveitl.
The veteran hotelier has a fund of stories – he’s had to tread diplomatically with temperamental celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson, and once had to host Cambodia’s murderous Khmer Rouge leaders. More amenable guests have included Princess Diana, Sir Sean Connery, George W Bush and Elton John.
But Wachtveitl saves his greatest praise for his staff and is proud that the average length of service at the Oriental is more than 16 years. “I am lucky that Thais have great potential for the hospitality industry because of their warmth and caring attitude,” he said.
The Oriental is consistently featured in the lists of the world’s top luxury hotels and you can book it at the best rates through Luxique.
by Andy Moreton