Name: James Wilson
Position title: General Manager at Centara Grand West Bay Hotel Doha
Company name: Centara Hotels & Resorts
When and why did you join the industry?
I joined the hospitality industry when I was still at school, in my late teens working summer jobs, from stewarding to waiting tables and kitchen preparation. This exposure gave me a taste for the industry and it wasn’t until I finished University and my postgraduate studies that I returned fulltime to my first junior management position at the Churchill Hotel, London in 1989.
What do you like most about your job?
I just love the dynamics of the industry and that every day is a new opportunity to experience new circumstances, new challenges and interesting people while working at the sharp end of the hotel mission. It also gives me the opportunity to travel and live in other countries and absorb other customs and cultures and truly enjoy the diversity the world has to offer.
What’s one of the biggest achievements of your career so far?
This is difficult to answer. I am a nurturer of people and have developed many of my younger associates to HOD and some even GM positions. I love to see people embrace challenges and grow in their careers. Aligned with this was the pioneering achievement in Dubai and Abu Dhabi properties of Investors in People, the only hotels in UAE to become accredited, one to silver standard and one as best global newcomer. But perhaps for me the biggest achievement is not through recognition but through a discipline of balancing my family life with my career. I have a happy caring family with a loving wife and daughter. I have been there for them, while balancing my passion for the industry.
What’s the best advice ever given to you and who gave it?
My best advice was “Family come first” and I received this from a General Manager in Swallow Hotels when I was his deputy. It is all too easy to become absorbed in work. We work in a 24/7 environment and when we are engrossed in what we do, the hours just disappear. In today’s world jobs can come and go but family is forever, therefore it’s important to make time and to especially be there for all special occasions.
Who do you admire and see as a role model in the industry?
This is hard to answer, since I admire anyone who dares to be different and push boundaries, who do things never done before. Those who inject new life and differentiation to our industry. Here are 3 examples:
Rocco Forte who built one of the first Global Hotel Chains starting from a simple milk bar in Piccadilly London. He created some of the first recognisable Global brands.
David & Sandy Orr who developed a new hotel concept called City Inn and took it nationally within Britain (contemporary IT drive 4-star accommodation with a Michelin awarded dining experience). They have since been bought over by Hilton.
Thanpuying Chanut Piyaoui an incredible lady (who in 1970’s in a man’s world) founded her own hotel company with both grace and determination. A lady who personally showed me to never fail, to recognise the most junior of people and the big contribution they make to the success of a company.
What can people expect from your company and what sets it apart from the rest?
Centara Hotels & Resorts is a key pioneer in the Thai Hotel industry. A company who has successfully taken Thai hospitality onto the international platform with hotels in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Vietnam and soon Qatar, Oman and further afield.
I believe what sets Centara apart is our unique Thai hospitality and service. Around 15% to 20% of our staff in Doha will be Thai. Our hotels very much embrace the location in which they are built while successfully celebrating our Thai roots through services and facilities. Centara Grand Hotel is an international 5-star hotel with modern décor and cutting edge IT, a fantastic range of facilities including, contemporary Thai dining and Thai spa treatments. Our hotels are truly unique in stimulating the five key sense using Thai fundamentals suitably interpreted to be receptive to an international audience.
What destinations are on your travel bucket list?
I like to travel a lot but mostly off the beaten track and to travel these with my wife and daughter would be a must. Having said this the following are on my bucket list:
South Africa I’ve always wanted to cage dive with White Sharks, Travel the Tran-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok, Sail around Micronesia, Trek the Outback in Australia, Alaska & Artic Cruise, and Louisiana in USA for a true Cajan & Creole experience.
What’s a memorable travel experience you’ve had (good or bad)?
A number of years ago I decided with a small group of friends to trek through part of the Amazon Jungle on the Peru/ Bolivia border. It took one and a half years to plan and get the right guides. It involved flying to a dirt strip in the jungle, taking a motorised canoe up the Amazon for 3 hours, leaving the canoe, trekking for miles to a large swap, taking a paddle canoe across a Caiman infested swap over a lake full or Piranha fish to a hill location in the middle of the jungle where we camped. I remember waking the first morning and carefully stepping out of my tent to avoid the tarantula spiders that roamed the forest floor. To see the jungle tree canopy stretching to the horizon beneath the hill. Morning mist drifting through the canopy branches, burning off as the sun rose and the jungle became alive with animal noise and brightly coloured insects. At that moment I felt so small, so humble as I gazing across a landscape which had been untouched by man for hundreds of thousands of years. It was a once in a life time experience.
What are three things you always take with you when travelling?
Mosquito Repellent, Hiking Boots, Sunscreen
Name someone famous you’d like to travel with and a destination you’d like to go with them.
I would like travel with Bear Grylls to the Congo in Africa. I think spending a week with him on a survival experience in that part of the world, would be a truly amazing and rewarding experience.
What direction do you see the industry heading in over the next five to ten years?
Currently we can see a lot of consolidation taking place in the industry. International chains buying international chains. Globally there will soon be the formation of only a few big players in the industry and they will be a lot more empowered to address or influence globally issues ranging from e-booking platforms to industry norms and legislation.
However, I also see the opportunity for niche players. Those who offer unique services and stay experience. Those who differentiate themselves from the big players and those not confined to big brand parameters. Smaller groups and independents can push the boundaries where big chains cannot. They can be a lot more proactive, reactive and a lot more regionally personalized. There is the opportunity for a lot of creativity and evolution within this sector of the industry. I can see very interesting times ahead.