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Phuket people: Hilton hotel GM enjoys the spice of life

PHUKET: Seasoned American hotelier Brian Connelly was appointed as the new General Manager of the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Phuket – Surin Beach last December.

By Steven Layne

Wednesday 16 April 2014, 05:31PM

On his feet, ready to greet and treat - Brian Connelly, GM.

On his feet, ready to greet and treat - Brian Connelly, GM.

Born and raised in the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean in 1971, Brian later moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a place he still considers ‘home’. Having lived throughout the US up until 1997, Mr Connelly finally moved to Asia, where he’s lived and worked in Hong Kong, Manila, Dubai, Macau, Jakarta and Singapore, among many other places. The Phuket News recently sat down with Brian to talk customers and chilli.

What have you most enjoyed about moving to Phuket?
The biggest and most pleasant surprise I’ve had since I got here is Surin Beach. As someone who’s come to Phuket before on holiday, I had always driven right past this area to go and stay in either Patong, Karon or Kata. I had never even stayed in Kamala before.

When I first got here to work, I quickly realised what I’d been missing... I discovered a little village, and a number of local establishments... gems. We really do have one of the nicest beaches on the island with neat little restaurants, food stalls and a lot of world-class beach clubs nearby – Zazada, Diamond, Bimi, Catch, Pearl, Salt, Bliss, Nikki... after dark, it offers a sophisticated and sexy atmosphere, but is still really family-oriented during the day. I love it. I rarely go down to Patong now.

What drove you to move to Asia after a life spent in the US?
I think it’s a little bit of nomadic wanderlust’... a desire to travel, a desire to explore. It’s in my blood. My mother is Italian, while my dad was in the US Airforce when he met her in Rome towards the end of the Second World War. They travelled a lot. And what better way to see the world than to travel and work at the same time.

So, initially I joined a company called Corporate Clubs of Asia, and with them I managed a number of membership-based country, golf and city clubs in Jakarta. Then the 1997 financial crisis happened and I ended up moving around and working for a few companies... Initially, I thought I’d come out [to Asia] for only a year or two – and that was 17 years ago. I’m still here and not planning to move back any time soon.

How and why did you first get into hospitality and management?
My father was the general manager of a hotel and owned many restaurants. I basically grew up in a hotel and have always been involved in the hotel and restaurant industries... it was just a natural course for me. I went to college for it. My first job was with Sheraton where I was a corporate trainee, working at hotels coast to coast in the US – Colorado, Connecticut, Florida and California, to name just a few.

What is your philosophy on hospitality?
There are three main pillars. The first is to take care of your associates and employees. This is probably the most important one, because if you have happy and engaged employees, they will take care of the customer far beyond anything you could say or write. If the employees can share your vision and find there’s value in giving a high level of service and exceeding expectations, you’re on the right track.

You can dictate all you want, visa vis memos, policies and procedures, but you will never get as far as you would if the team members share your vision. If the ugh simple and personal steps like engaging with the customer, you’re going to be the winner.
At the end of the day, every hotel has the same – we have rooms, beds, pillows and bathrooms. Yes, some are a bigger, some are a little nicer, but these are all tangible things. The intangible is service. An intangible asset far exceeds the tangible.

To demonstrate this to my employees, I ask them what is their favourite restaurant. They answer and I ask why – they’ll say, ‘because they know me’. This is why we like to go to ‘dive’ restaurants, why we go back to places, because they’re unique, have character and because the people there know us.

The second pillar is, of course, taking care of the guests. The main thing is to engage and talk to them, walk around – management by walking around is one of my philosophies. I like to walk up to them, whether at the pool or while they’re having breakfast, I’ll pour some coffee and strike up a conversation.

As the GM, I make it clear who I am. My picture is everywhere, I have personal welcome cards, I’m the only one wearing pants. Listening to the customer is also very important. We review our guest comments every morning in the department head meeting.

Last but not least is to make sure you’re having fun at what you’re doing. I like to have fun, I want my staff to have fun, and certainly want guests to have fun. They don’t come to hotels because they’re upset – they come because they want to have a good time, so as hoteliers we’ve got to make sure we can facilitate that happiness.

After some 17 years in Asia, what do you miss the most about home?
Without a doubt, decent and authentic Mexican food – I miss the different kinds of chilli and chilli powders... That said, I’m not going back any time soon. I’m here to stay. This is my home now too.

Looking for like-minded SOBs

By Claire Connell

Brian Connelly, general manager for the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton in Surin, has started up a ‘Gentleman’s Wine Club’ called Sons of Bacchus or SOB.

Having recently moved to Phuket, Brian decided it would be a good idea to start the group as a way to both meet people and appreciate the fine beverage.

Brian first started a SOB group, named after the Greek God of wine, in Manila in 2010, then one in Hangzhou, China in 2012 when he was living there.

Each guest brings a full bottle to the dinner to share with the group. Before the event, Brian advises what the type or theme will be for the night, but it’s usually a red rather than white.

The event consists of a four or five course dinner, plus beverage tasting and pairing.
“It’s a serious wine club, for those who appreciate good wine. We will rotate venues around the island,” Brian said.

The second event is tentatively scheduled for April 24, at the Dusit D2 in Patong.
The dinner price is usually in the range of B2,500-B3,500 per person. For more details or to RSVP contact Brian at

Warning: alcohol may be a health hazard.

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