I’ll never forget the look on his face. I really should have known better.
Please let me explain. Eric Hallin, old-school GM extraordinaire, was walking the floor of Sala Rim Nam, the breezy open-air terrace restaurant at The Legend – Chiang Rai, addressing every guest in turn with the easy charm developed in a lifetime in hospitality.
I’ve stayed at hundreds of hotels in this job, yet this is a practice all too rare in the modern age of ‘turn and churn’ where guests are checked in and out again like cattle.
“Do you do this every morning?” I naively enquired.
Well, that look of dignified indignation is now burned into my brain for all time.
In full disclosure, I’ve known Swedish-born, Thai-resident Khun Eric for close to 15 years and have been the recipient of his exemplary hospitality on numerous occasions at his former Bangkok hotel, The Rembrandt, in Soi 18. That fact alone should have rendered my enquiry redundant.
The executive club on the 24th floor became a de facto Foreign Correspondents’ Club and it was a preferred hangout for visiting journos and industry heavyweights alike and the ideal venue for Khun Eric to mingle with his valued guests.
So, of course, he does. It’s what any proper hotel GM does, right? Sadly, no. It seems to be an art lost to time as GMs are consumed by ARIs, KPIs, OCCs and other soulless measurements that now define the core duties of so many.
After leaving The Rembrandt in Bangkok, Hallin was called in to revive the Six Senses Resort, Con Dao, Vietnam (for the Norfolk Group), during which time he also held the post of President of the Thai-Swedish Chamber of Commerce.
In complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok’s Sukhumvit District, The Legend Resort is a delightful boutique property on the banks of the Mae Kok River with just 76 Thai Lanna-style villas and suites. Extensive gardens and landscaping complete the scene making the resort an ideal location for a relaxing family or couples retreat.
Roderick Eime sat down with Eric Hallin in the shady bliss of The Legend Chiang Rai Boutique River Resort and Spa, his newest posting.
How long have you been in the hotel business and where/how did you start?
I have only been in the hotel business since 1983. Prior to that, I was an outbound and later an inbound tour operator in Thailand. Since I had been quite successful at gaining many clients from abroad, I was offered the opportunity to take over the role of Director of Sales at the Indra Regent Hotel (Pratunam). In those days there were not so many hotels in Bangkok. However, in 1982 and 1983 a handful of new hotels opened including Royal Orchid (now Royal Orchid Sheraton), Hyatt Plaza in Lad Phrao (now Centara Grand), the Peninsula Bangkok (now Anantara Siam), Hilton Nai Lert Park (now Movenpick BDSM), Rama Gardens, etc. This was the year when the new Bangkok skyline started to push up to the skies as previously there were only a handful of skyscrapers, Dusit Thani, Indra Regent, Narai Hotel (with its rotating panoramic rooftop restaurant, La Rotonde), Chokchai Building on Sukhumvit and that pretty much was it until 1983.
As the Indra Regent was already a few years old by this time and hotels such as Royal Orchid were selling rooms at very special rates to fill rooms, we had to be inventive to survive and prosper. In those days the annual international tourism market to Thailand had yet to teach a million. We repositioned the Indra Regent specializing in the Australian, Japanese, and UK markets as well as airline stopover packages. We did so well that by 1985, towards the end of my contract, I had offers of GM positions from five hotels. I choose the Rose Garden for my first GM job.
What changes have you seen in that time and which were, from your experience, the most significant?
When I moved to Thailand in 1978, there were only about 600,000 visitors to the kingdom and we only had a few thousand rooms in Bangkok, around a thousand in Pattaya, almost no hotels, and a few bungalows in Phuket and Samui. In 2019 Thailand had 44 million visitors and Bangkok now has more than 150,000 hotel rooms. A staggering increase by any measure.
How have you defined the role of GM for yourself?
Some routines, but just about every day is a different day. My role is to be a mentor to my team and a facilitator for our guests. Together with our team, we work on creating an atmosphere of calm and relaxation for a nice holiday experience whether guests stay put at the resort or go exploring the wonderful sights around Chiang Rai.
How have you settled into The Legend after so long in Bangkok and what do you like most about your new property?
After almost a year here I am pretty well settled in. Life in the north is a lot quieter than in Bangkok. Here there are beautiful surrounding areas and even at the resort one can enjoy the river and beautiful gardens. Bangkok is still only just over an hour away by air and Phuket is also easy to get to, as it is just a two-hour flight away. So I can still make it to meetings in Bangkok or the beaches of the South whenever I need a change of scenery.
After three glorious days at The Legend, it was clear Khun Eric had stamped his personal brand of management on the place. The staff were cheerful and beyond helpful, service levels were impeccable and the general atmosphere of the property one of calm and serenity.