Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts has announced that Craig McMahon, a veteran in Asia with more than 20 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, will take on the role as Area Director of Sales & Marketing at its latest resort in Thailand, Banyan Tree Krabi.
The appointment comes as the new, luxury 72-key hotel prepares for a Grand Opening on October 24.
Based in Bangkok for more than 12 years, McMahon has carved a niche for himself in independent and boutique luxury resort sales & marketing, having previously worked in senior management positions with Six Senses and Soneva in the Thai capital. McMahon ventured to Thailand from India where he had previously been director of sales at the prestigious Imperial Hotel in New Delhi.
The following interview with Craig McMahon took place on 23 September 2020:
Q: Preparing to open a new resort during a pandemic must be a challenge. You were in semi-lockdown in Bangkok throughout the crisis – how to manage to maintain a positive attitude, both professionally and personally?
A: It certainly is a challenge, perhaps doubly so in these extraordinary times. On the flip side however, the fact that there is so much work that goes into ensuring a successful opening meant that we haven’t had much time to dwell on our circumstances. We had to remain very focused at all times.
Personally, I think my initial reaction, like millions of others, was that the pandemic would not be as long drawn-out and persistent as it has been. The lockdown and all the restrictions that came with it was a first for most of us, and the novelty of working from home and doing zoom conference calls wore off very quickly. I found regular exercise was one way of overcoming any negativity, and I meditated regularly to help focus the mind and remain as positive as possible. The fact that we have a very close-knit team and a supportive owning company have also been a huge plus.
Q: Banyan Tree Samui stayed open throughout the Covid crisis. How was it able to do that? What did the 226 staff do at a time of near-zero occupancy?
A: We were fortunate to have some long-stay guests who stayed with us for a few months, thus ensuring we didn’t have to close the resort during the crisis. This also proved to be a good time for all our associates [staff] to clear any outstanding annual leave while some volunteered to spend some extra time with their families by opting for unpaid leave.
Q: What about enhanced safety and hygiene standards at the Samui resort?
A: Banyan Tree has partnered with Bureau Veritas to co-develop a health and wellbeing program called “Safe Sanctuary”. Besides enhanced screening procedures, it also includes deep sanitization, hygiene stations, and redesigned processes throughout the guest and employee experience. All our hotels have rolled out this program as of June 2020.
Q: What would you like to see happen in Thailand to help speed up recovery of the tourist industry?
A: I think the respective authorities have managed the situation extremely well so far and this is reflected in the relatively low number of cases in the country. The challenge now, of course, is the economy which is struggling on several fronts. Thailand’s GDP is largely dependent on how the tourism industry performs. Ideally, from a hospitality industry perspective, we would like to see a partial lifting of border restrictions with countries who have very few or even no new cases just to give all of us a bit of a lifeline and kickstart the sputtering economy. While I completely appreciate that there are several factors that need to be taken into consideration before making such a decision, I do believe that we need to find the right balance between an overly cautious approach and the reality that the common man is faced with today.
Q: Banyan Tree Krabi is slated to open on October 24. To what extent do you believe this new resort can achieve high occupancy or will that factor be completely determined by the Covid regulations?
A: All expectations have been reined in by the new reality we currently live in. With the borders still closed, we only have the domestic market to focus on; but in all honesty have been pleasantly surprised by the response to the upcoming launch of the resort. Krabi is more accessible and affordable than most other Thai resorts with return flights costing as low as THB 2,000 (US$65). This, coupled with the fact that there is a fair amount of anticipation in us being the first luxury resort opening in Krabi in 11 years, has led to a very positive uptake in bookings for the first few months.
Q: Looking ahead to a sunny day when borders and airports are all open again, which demographics and markets do you expect will be the main interest of Banyan Tree Krabi?
A: We expect our key business drivers to come from some traditional markets such as Germany, UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and China. We also expect strong levels of interest from Scandinavia, the USA, Middle East and Australia, and the domestic Thai market will continue to be a very important focus area.
Q: What do you see as Banyan Tree Krabi’s appeal?
A: Apart from being Krabi’s first luxury resort opening in a long time, I would say our location on the gorgeous Tubkaek beach, with ethereal sunset views and bordering the Hat Noppharat Thara – Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park is a real standout. The resort itself will appeal to a mix of segments ranging from couples and honeymooners to families with children and groups of friends. A wedding deck with views to die for and several unique meeting and function space options will give us a definite edge in the MICE and wedding space. Add to this an all-pool suite and pool villa product, innovative food and beverage outlets and concepts, a distinctive kids club, and Banyan’s Tree’s world-renowned spa, and I think we have a very solid product with universal appeal.
Q: We have spoken about the downfall of tourism during the pandemic; but do you see any silver linings? Do we have reason to stay positive?
A: Absolutely. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the future. I would say one of the big positives to eventually come from Covid-19 would be the anticipated impact the pandemic will have on slowing down mass tourism in Thailand which was beginning to have a devastating impact from both ecological and social standpoints. This is also probably a good time for the authorities to take a step back to modify plans aimed at maintaining the ecosystem by scaling back on the number of visitors to natural sites. As a global leader in sustainability and wellbeing for the last 26 years, Banyan Tree’s ethos has never been more relevant, and I can assure you that CSR [corporate social responsibility] will continue to be an integral part of the group’s drive and focus in Krabi.