Being the General Manager of any prime resort in Phuket is a monumental task of people management and operational logistics. Such responsibilities across the scale and services at Le Meridien turns that dial up to 11.
It’s a sure sign of the character’s experience and confidence that Julian Lowry, the General Manager of Le Meridien, is such a relaxed, genial and all round cheerful chap.
We met at one of the resort’s 10 restaurants so I could find out more about the man, and why Le Meridien remains one of the island’s key destinations for both holiday-makers and business conferences alike.
“It’s all about the people,” Julian responded, “Our people are at the heart of the hotel. Our retention of staff is high, with some having been with the resort since its opening over 30 years ago. We have many returning guests who come year after year, and it’s part of the hotel’s character that they can rely on greeting the same, familiar staff who remember them well and provide a personalised experience. What table they like to eat at, when they like their rooms cleaned. And of course, the location of the resort helps too.”
And well it might, as this vast complex boasts fantastic facilities that provide guests with every possible requirement during their stay. Along with the diverse choices of food and beverage options the hotel houses two outdoor over-sized swimming pools that provide stunning sea views across the secluded and pristine beach.
Some of the best have humble beginnings, and it’s certainly the case with Julian. He began his career as a pot washer for a restaurant in Sheffield, England, after the owner caught him kicking a football against his wall and decided to make better use of his services.
The restaurant trade became Julian’s true calling and he steadily progressed from understudy to Executive Chef, specialising in Cold Kitchen Cuisine such as salads, hors d’oeuvres, canapés, pates and terrines.
“My career was never planned,” reflected Julian, “I just fell into new jobs along the way.”
When a previous hotel manager informed the then Executive Chef that he was now the Food and Beverage Director as well, his career took yet another turn.
Many years later and countless destinations including the UK and Middle East, Julian finally landed at Le Meridien as the Director of Food and Beverage in 2008. In April 2016 he became its General Manager.
I asked Julian about the skills required to step-up into this most senior of roles.
“Actually, it’s all about learning what not to do. You’re not the expert anymore on everything you have to deal with. You must understand the requirement and delegate. You’re not so hands on, so you have great trust in your people.
“The position requires diverse disciplines which you are consistently fine tuning. It’s all about communication and relationship. And that is what Le Meridien is at its heart. We’re a boutique hotel with 470 rooms! It’s very important to us that we have a close relationship with all our guests and provide a personalised experience and lasting memories.”
Le Meridien has just undergone significant development and has big plans for 2019. Having recently finished renovating the Free-Form Pool with new features including bridge walkways, a water fountain, Jacuzzis and a fully covered kids pool, between May and September next year they will be working on the much larger Lagoon Pool. The works include pool retiling, new design details and filtration system, plus the renovation of 242 rooms that surround this pool area, and also enabling some ground-floor rooms to enjoy direct access into the pool.
“We’re fortunate that the resort has two defined wings,” added Julian. “We can close one half more easily for development without disturbing the other guests in any way.”
For a hotel that enjoys the highest occupancy rates on the island, I asked about the changing face of tourism and clientele.
“Over the years we’ve seen and catered for a diverse range of multi-national guests. From the Russian interest, the development of the Chinese tourist trade, and more recently hosted the launch event for GoAir’s non-stop flight routes from India. For us there’s great opportunity in offering our combined business and pleasure trips to the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) audience in this region.”
With the opportunity to reinvigorate the tourism industry and to bring in clients from new destinations, are there needs from local government to meet those demands effectively?
“The main concern is the demands on infrastructure. The journey times from the airport and to take external trips from the resort have increased dramatically, and it’s a drag for the customer. The local government and businesses need to look after the big picture, not just immediate commercial returns. In addition, luxury goods are expensive here in Phuket. We need to continually develop quality experiences for our guests across the island.”
If not busy enough Julian and his team also support a wide range of eco-tourism initiatives and local charitable efforts. The hotel’s Serve 360 program was set up to ‘do good in every direction’.
This includes projects such as Helmet Heroes providing much needed protection to the 93% of children on this island who do not wear helmets on motorbikes to school every morning, and Child Watch Phuket, which supports much needed scholarships for the poorest to attend learning programs and universities.
Julian expressed the staff’s interest in actively looking for specific local projects that generate the most benefit. To date Le Meridien has supported 10 schools with their in-house engineering team by constructing new buildings such as libraries, as well as providing furniture and basic equipment needs.
The hotel has been proactive in its conservation efforts, introducing paper straws across their site, as well as using alternatives to plastics for bottles in all guest rooms.
Julian Lowry is a General Manager with a strong sense of the importance of customer and community. Not only is this evident across the values and service at Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort, his team’s efforts are reaching far and wide to the island community at large.
Le Meridien Phuket - +66 76 370 100