Fishing where the fish are: How one woman steers 137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts amid the pandemic

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2020 started great for Ms. Anne Arrowsmith who was promoted to corporate general manager for 137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts after joining the Group in 2016 and helming the 137 Pillars House Chiang Mai. Little did she know, she will be steering the rudder on how the Group will traverse a big challenge.

“Being of a certain age, I’ve had the advantage of inheriting a work ethic and a certain patience with respect to opportunity and personal advancement together with sage advice from my grandfather who reminded all his grandchildren to ‘consider ourselves as good as anyone but never better’. It is apt advice for everyone today and helps cut across gender, race and religious inequities,” Anne told TD that this has been her mantra for her professional life.

The British national first joined the travel industry when she was a junior pursuer for P&O Cruises that took her around the world. This was her first introduction to the exciting and expansive world of hospitality. Then Anne “jumped” the ship in Los Angeles to work for a management and marketing consultant before joining Regent International Hotels and Four Seasons Hotels in sales and marketing roles that took me from the US to Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore.

In 2016, she joined the family-owned 137 Pillars hotel group as general manager of the luxurious 137 Pillar House in Chiang Mai, which opened in 2012 and was refurbished in 2019. Then, at the start of 2020, she took over the role as corporate general manager that expanded her managerial role to include management and oversight of the 137 Pillars Suites and Residences in Bangkok as well as assist ownership in assessing and aiding in future expansion.

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Her first year was marked tackling the coronavirus pandemic. TD chatted with Anne and learned how she managed to maintain all of the staff when others are laying off employees left and right.

Travel Daily (TD): When the coronavirus pandemic hit the global travel industry that saw some properties closing their doors, what did you do to overcome this challenge?

Anne Arrowsmith (AA): In an industry that was severely disadvantaged, I was blessed to be working for a family-owned business where the lines of communication are open and easy.  We clearly established our shared objectives and worked to the best of our collective abilities to control what was within our control. We were also open and honest with our teams who we consider to be partners in the business and deserving of frank and frequent feedback.

Our key aim was to maintain our teams which meant prompt actions regarding effecting savings.  Where we could, outsourced activities were brought back in the house and we spoke with our third-party vendors and, although not all, they were magnanimous in making concessions.

Of course, it’s no surprise our biggest fixed cost is labour, and we quickly acted with tiered leave without pay initiatives where those being paid the most, made the largest sacrifices. I can proudly say that in Chiang Mai every member of staff retained their jobs while in Bangkok we made the tough decision to close our specialty restaurant which resulted in the culinary team from that outlet being paid redundancy in compliance with Thai laws which are quite robust in the protection of the employee.

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TD: What are the steps you have taken to get people to the door and to keep the business afloat? (e.g. promotions, accredited ASQ, etc.)

​AA: When your source markets are suddenly and thoroughly eliminated you are forced to ‘fish where the fish are’ and do what you can to appeal to the local and domestic market and in this endeavour the industry was given a lifeline by the Government with its Travel Together program and we looked to maintain our long stay clientele as well as build this base by appealing to those needing to stay in Bangkok and interested in a new experience.

TD: What are your goals (short-term and long-term) for the 137 Pillars properties moving forward?

AA: The euphoria of welcoming 2021 was fleeting as a day later Thailand was presented a list of restrictions that severely impact our industry and effectively remove or seriously limit our revenue sources.  So, once more we are redoing the numbers and reviewing a narrowing list of options to minimize losses and to preserve as well as we can, the livelihoods of our colleagues and keeping the hotels afloat.  Currently, this is our prime focus and thoughts of new projects, while always present, are given a lower priority.