From location to execution and ambience, Pimalai Resort & Spa offers a unique experience in every aspect. Situated in between an untouched hillside of lush tropical forest and the clear Andaman waters, this genuine landmark is now taking the next step towards the future with a glamourous face life and a broadened wellness concept. The one holding the reins is Pimalais new General Manager, the Frenchman Patrice Landrein, a true devotee when it comes to guest relations and sustainability.
A small slice of heaven. That is possibly the best way to describe Pimalai Resort & Spa on Koh Lanta south of Krabi in Thailand. Currently the only resort on the island having received the official 5-star certification, Pimalai has established itself as the number one property, with top rankings on a majority of travel review platforms. That says something. Built on a splendid piece of land with hills and lush tropical forest, and direct access to a 900 meters pristine sandy beach, you are sure to fall in love with nature. As well as the ambiance, one might add. Arriving at Pimalai, you feel like coming home, which is one of the reasons why they have so many recurrent guests, more than 40 per cent during the high season, as well as long stayers. Member of the hotel community Small Luxury Hotels, Pimalai has now commenced a major renovation, bringing it to the world and inspire future travel.
Committed to environmental conservation
The global demand for more genuine travel experiences and hotels with a strong commitment in preserving the environment continues to be a strong travel trend. Pimalai Resort and Spa has since its inception in 2001 been strongly committed to environmental conservation and community engagement. For instance, they participate in the education of sustainability at the local schools on the island raising awareness about ocean pollution, which is one of the biggest threats to the pristine ecosystem around Koh Lanta.
Heading the hospitality execution and continuous development of the resort is the new general manager Patrice Landrein. Having worked for some of the most prestigious international 5-star hotels all over the world before moving to Asia, including Plaza Athénée in New York, Savoy in London, Hôtel de Crillon and Vendôme in Paris, he brings a wealth of experience to Pimalai. His particular areas of expertise include hotel renovation and sustainability. His plans are to increase the sustainable aspect, and to deliver even better customer services, implementing new concepts.
– Sustainability is very important for us. We are very pro-active in preserving the environment, and protecting the interests of the local community. For instance, we have no plastic on the property and we only use electrical vehicles. We also put a lot of effort in education, as we need to change the behaviour of people and communicate the importance of sustainability. People are very happy to see what we are doing at Pimalai. However, although Koh Lanta has got the best quality of air and sea water in Thailand, this is something we all need to continue focusing on. Properties like ours have an important job to do. Things have already changed a lot here in this region, and it will change even more in the coming years.
In what way are you involved in the local community?
– Besides hiring personnel, we are much focused on supporting local businesses. For instance, we help the schools by educating and involving them in recycling and sustainability. And we clean the beaches around the island. As Koh Lanta is a tourist island, we must, unfortunately, purchase most things from the mainland. All our main suppliers are in Krabi. But we have our own organic garden on the property, and our owner has got the biggest organic farm in Thailand and we will be working more with ingredients from there as well as from local suppliers.
Being in Thailand, how have you worked in order to understand the culture of your team?
– My management style is much about onboarding and encouraging people. You don’t manage Thai people like you manage Vietnamese or Swedish or French. Thai people are very focused on the family spirit. It’s all about empowerment and giving the ownership to the staff. If they feel that they own the product, both they and the property will prosper. When you see that we rank number one on different comparison platforms in terms of customer satisfaction, it is really a confirmation that we are working in the right way.
How do you make sure to you pick up on comments, complaints or suggestions from the guests?
– We use the guest satisfaction tool Revue Pro. Within 24 hours after a guest has arrived, he receives a quick survey to check that everything is okay with his room. Secondly, one of the first things I implemented, was the position of guest relations managers that go around the property and connect with the guests. Finally, after the stay we also send out a survey. If it is good, we kindly ask if the guest could provide us with a review on TripAdvisor or Google review. I’m actually very impressed with the high number of satisfactions reviews we get. But again, we are very close to the guests. As for myself, I try to go to our two breakfast rooms in the morning and to the happy hour at night to greet the guests.
Right now, we are going through a very difficult time with the Covid_19 pandemic. How has it affected your business and how are you managing the crisis?
– We were doing quite well until the 15th of March when Europe started to shut down. It was high season for us with normally many European guests. As soon as they started to shut down it turned out a disaster for us. Now, Thailand too has shut down although we do not have many cases of the corona virus, it is more as a means to protect us for the future. We have been in the industry for 18 years; the property has been quite successful and we have good owners. They don’t expect the hotel to be profitable at all times. We reinvest every year. This means that we can manage the situation if it doesn’t last more than four months. We are also supported by the Thai government. So, together with the owners we decided to speed up the renovation while we are closed.
Tell us about that, what will the renovation include?
– Originally, we were supposed to fully renovate 20 hillside ocean-view villas, in the end we decided to renovate 39. We have already renovated our 64 deluxe rooms, which are now absolutely exceptional with a mix between modern and traditional. In the villas we are now focusing on renovating the bathrooms, taking them from old style to modern in order to place the hotel in a new era. The bedrooms are already beautiful, and together with the new bathrooms it is going to be fantastic. The materials we use is a mix of wood and tile and we try to work with local craftsmen. But we have to work quite fast as we don’t know when we can re-open.
What is your view regarding the pricing for Pimalai for the coming year, with the pandemic in retrospect?
– When the window is open again, I want to be first out. We are facing a big shift and how the behaviour of the customers is going to change. I believe we have to focus more on the local travellers from the Asian continent, as that the airfares are going to be higher. From Europe we will probably see more and more upscale travellers which really is our segment. As for the pricing, it’s too early to say. Simply because we don’t know. But we can expect a big change. It will never be like before because people will focus more on travelling sustainably.
What are your plans for the future after this historical shift?
– We are definitely going to change our approach in terms of our gastronomy. We are implementing a wellness concept with an organic menu, creating a package with focus on food, yoga, meditation, and a nice spa program. I like the mix of Chinese medicine and the Mediterranean diet, so we are going to do something very special and unique. After the quarantine that many families have lived through, I think families will be even more united, which means that we will also be focusing more on family activities, where the parents will be able to share time together with the kids, like joint cooking classes.
More and more travellers are seeking genuine experiences, for instance staying at resorts that focus on gastronomy. How have you incorporated that in your offer at Pimalai?
– We have many guests coming for the food. Currently, we have four different restaurant options; Rak Talay on the beach with a mix of western and seafood. Spice and Rice which is a Thai fine cuisine restaurant. Seven Seas, our gastronomy restaurant which is simply amazing. We are right now improving the wine list with fine wines and organic wines. Out of these three restaurants, one is number one on Tripadvisor, one is number two and one is number four. And finally, we have the Banyan Tree Poolside café. The Michelin Guide is supposed to come to Krabi sometime next year and I really except to be one of the best tables in the region next year. So, we have started to step up. Our main goal is to make our guests happy, but receiving a Michelin star is of course a target for our staff. As for dealing with allergies and food intolerance, we have a questionnaire before the guests arrive where they can tell is about their allergies and food intolerances. If they don’t, we ask upon check-in. We also have small signs at the restaurants stating if the food is gluten free or vegan and etcetera. Vegetarian and vegan food is being incorporated more and more on our menus. I travel a lot and always try to see what the trends are and how we can adapt it to our concept, and also dependent of the segmentation.
Your personal gem at Pimalai?
– I would say Rak Talay, our beach restaurant. If I only had two hours to spend here, I would go there and have great seafood and a glass of very good white organic wine!
Background (in brief): Born in Brittany, France. Began a hotel apprenticeship at The Ritz in Paris in his early 20’s. Has held a wide range of operational roles at various international hotel brands and resorts in France, United Kingdom, the United States, the Caribbean and Vietnam, before moving to Thailand in 2016.
Dreams about: A third Michelin star! And opening a hospitality school in Krabi for poor kids, this is actually my real dream!