Dusit International Group CEO Suphajee Suthumpun’s passion is rooted in a simple concept: “any business, at its core, is about serving customers”. Overseeing a total of 269 properties, the hotel boss tells all about creating dreamlike experiences – day in, day out.
To some, Dusit International is about luxury experiences that revolve around peace, serenity and nature. To others, namely, hospitality industry professionals, it’s about 65 years of iconic touches influenced by the hospitable nature and immaculate artistry of Thai culture.
The chain’s portfolio, whether it involves a hotel, resort, spa or educational programme, is al about personalised touches that aim to enliven the spirit, no matter the journey. Dusit International Group CEO Suphajee Suthumpun’s journey is a magnificent one, filled with stories of success in which passion, paired with a drive to make an impact, prevail.
“My background is actually in technology – including positions such as Chief Executive Officer and Executive Chairman, Thaicom Public Co Ltd., General Manager of Global Technology Services (GTS) at IBM’s ASEAN headquarters in Singapore and Country General Manager of IBM Thailand Company Limited – and I first entered the hospitality industry as Dusit’s CEO in January 2016,” says Suthumpun.
“Any business, at its core, is about serving customers. So, whether you work in hospitality or technology, you should always aim to serve those who want to buy your product to the best of your ability,” the Groups CEO adds.
“For instance, when I first joined IBM in 1989, the company was going through a bit of a rough patch. But we spent a decade carefully re-calibrating the company, changing the culture and shifting the business model from a hardware focus to a service focus. Business boomed as a result. It was the same at Thaicom, whose fortunes were turned around when we shifted our focus from product to service. So, I guess you could say that that’s my forte – shifting focus from products to service.”
While changing from technology to hospitality may seem like a giant leap, shifting between industries has had its advantages for Suthumpun. For one, it was bringing a fresh pair of eyes and different business perspective to the new role – while still maintaining the same service-minded attitude. This has enabled the CEO to embrace Dusit’s longstanding traditions while also ushering in a new chapter of change. The fact that technology has become a big part of everything, of course, was another big advantage.
“As a company, we’re constantly seeking ways to enhance revenue creation so we can maintain and enhance our property portfolio while delivering value to shareholders – especially while our flagship hotel, Dusit Thani Bangkok, is redeveloped as part of a landmark mixed-use project,” says Suthumpun.
“In this regard, over the past three years, we’ve been strengthening our foundations, consolidating our operations and diversifying our portfolio across different geographies and business models to position ourselves for sustainable and profitable growth,” she adds.
Dusit’s three-pronged, multi-year strategy for balance, expansion and diversification includes balancing their portfolio of hotels to include half of their operations outside of Thailand, doubling the number of rooms they have in operation and diversifying their lines of business to receive approximately ten percent of total revenue from new investments in hospitality-related industries – such as their recent investments in the food business.
“While we’re best known for our full-service hotels and resorts operating under Dusit Hotels & Resorts, we have made moves to expand our services across the lodging spectrum to offer broader experiences for our guests and customers, and further meet the needs of luxury and millennial travellers. This, of course, allows us to reach new markets,” says Suthumpun.
The latest of Dusit’s ventures include entering the high-end vacation rental market through the full acquisition of Elite Havens, a leading provider of high-end vacation rentals in Asia, which brings to their portfolio a network of more than 200 fully staffed luxury villas managed and marketed across five countries. But there’s plenty more in the pipeline for the chain…
“In early 2020, our offerings will expand even further with the opening of our first ASAI Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, in the heart of the city’s famous Chinatown district. ASAI Hotels is our new lifestyle brand designed to link millennial-minded travellers with authentic local experiences in vibrant destinations worldwide, and we already have six more properties in the pipeline across Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines,” explains the CEO.
With great expansion plans, comes a busier-than-busy schedule, which the CEO believes is made easier with dedication and teamwork: “This means that my schedule is packed every day – with meetings, planning, strategy, etc., but we have an excellent team here at Dusit to make it all happen.”
When it comes to the UAE, Dusit’s Group CEO tells Hotel & Catering News Middle East that she shares the founding family’s vision of bringing the concept of gracious Thai hospitality to the region – and the world.
“In terms of significant milestones in the UAE, our first was when we opened our first hotel in the region, Dusit Thani Dubai, in 2001. Since then, we’ve gone on to open Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi, dusitD2 Kenz Dubai, and, most recently, Dusit Princess Residences Dubai Marina,” she says.
The Dusit Princess Rijas Dubai is slated to open in late 2021, and the chain will continue to explore options to open new hotels, says the CEO, under all their brand offerings, throughout the region – “so watch this space,” she adds.
“This year (2019) is a promising year for our properties in the UAE, especially during the last quarter of the year gearing towards the much-anticipated Expo 2020. This event is bringing with it a flurry of development, with many major attractions and lifestyle venues set to open and drive room demand in the region for years to come,” Suthumpun explains.
For the CEO, one major transformation that the chain has seen in the region under her leadership was a push towards sustainable practices – a global trend which has undeniably taken the industry by storm – and ensuring that Dusit’s properties would have a positive local impact. This meant ensuring that their hotels met and exceeded the stringent standards of various ISO certifications.
“Following the company’s new mission, vision and values I introduced in 2016 – Proud of our Thai heritage, uniquely delivering gracious hospitality to the world; mission: we empower our people to exceed expectations. Always. Plus, the new core values, ‘Care, Commit, Can Do!’ We’ve also fostered and promoted a culture of innovation at our properties to ensure management can take the initiative to delight guests with offerings that are unique to each,” she says.
“Take, for example, the introduction of Namak by Kunal Kapur at Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi. This innovative Indian restaurant, unique to the property, has been named by several leading media outlets as one of the best new restaurants in the city. And, at Dusit Thani Dubai, the new street-food dining style concept, 24th Street, simulates a traditional Asian hawker centre complete with Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Arabic and Italian street food choices – a unique offering for the city, and another big hit with diners,” she adds.
In terms of trends and finds within the region, the CEO has seen rapid growth in the sharing economy and that it, besides accommodation, now also encompasses meetings, co-working spaces, and event pop-up dining concepts.
“There has been rapid digital transformation across all touchpoints – customer journey, marketing, reputation, etc. – and the push towards sustainability also continues apace, with many guests and companies now only choosing to do business with hotels that have green credentials,” says Suthumpun.
“To compete and succeed in this business environment, we must create bespoke experiences through value-driven offerings that provide the utmost convenience for our guests and customers. At the same time, we must be conscious of our environmental impact and do everything we can to save energy and water, and limit waste,” she adds.
“Our management teams are doing an excellent job ensuring we cover all these key points to position our hotels for sustainable success, and ultimately prepare us for more growth in the UAE and beyond.”
The CEO, who also believes in the power of a solid hospitality education in preparing the coming generations who would be keen on joining the industry, is confident that Dusit’s contributions can make a change – and has taken concrete steps towards that goal.
“As previously mentioned, my background is actually in technology, but I do bring a service mindset to my role here at Dusit. I also strongly believe in promoting hospitality education, and I think our offerings in this area can strengthen the quality of the industry in general. In August, for example, we’ll open our first college outside of Thailand – the Dusit Hospitality Management College in Manila. This pioneering facility will be linked with our very own dusitD2 The Fort Manila hotel, offering a unique integrated learning experience for our students,” she says.
Globally, Dusit Thani’s portfolio now comprises 269 properties (nine owned and 260 managed) operating under six brands across 13 countries. The chain has more than 50 Dusit-branded hotels in the pipeline, and is expected to open at least ten to 12 hotels per year in key destinations from 2019 onwards.
“What’s most important is that, while our Thai DNA is certainly evident in each location, our gracious service is developed based on what is right for each destination, resulting in unique experiences designed to exceed guest expectations,” says Suthumpun.
Leaders tend to follow a certain style, inspiration they believe keeps them on track as they navigate what every day on the job may bring, which tends to have long-term results that may even alter trends for years to come. For the CEO, it’s all about the people. “My favourite quote is by the late American poet Mary Angelou, who said: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ ”
“As a global hospitality company, people are at the heart of our business. And it’s essential that we deliver experiences that exceed our customers’ expectations and leave them with a positive lasting impression.”