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GM Raphael Hirsch in a standard room at ibis

Hired and Wired: Jobs Vanish at Pacesetting Resort

Wednesday, June 4, 2008
A SURPRISING experiment is being undertaken at a new resort in Patong. The rest of the tourism industry worldwide will be watching and, if they are wise, taking notes.

At 260 rooms, the ibis seems a normal three-star resort. That is, until you ask general manager Raphael Hirsch how many staff there will be.

''Eighty,'' the young Frenchman says. ''Yes, just 80.''

The traditional rule-of-thumb is one staff per room. But not here.

The reason? Because when you step into the foyer of the ibis, you step into the resort technology of the future.

The ibis in Patong is the first of 12 Accor hotels that will open in Thailand in quickfire succession through 2008 and 2009.

And the reason why there are only 80 staff at this hotel and similarly small staff at all 12 hotels: the economics of the internet, and some poweful software.

In Bangkok lies a central ibis office that will manage the backroom essentials of the ibis flock as well as catering for reservations, human resources, finance, engineering and group sales.

The group director and assistant director in the capital head a team of 14 or 15.

Touch-screen software enables staff to send details of guests' spending direct to Bangkok.

The waiter at lunch, for example, taps in the guests' order on a screen, and the chef in the kitchen sees the order come up on the kitchen's computer link.

When the meal is over, the bill is presented, a credit card is debited and all the details are sent at the touch of a screen to Bangkok.

Mr Hirsch, a nine-year veteran of hotels in Thailand, says that the role model for the move into the future is the pacesetting regional budget airline, Air Asia.

Prices at the ibis are dynamic online, updating via the Bangkok office perhaps three times a day, depending on supply and demand.

At some times of the year, you may have as many as three different prices from which to choose, structured to suit your needs.

In some cases, the price may be extraordinarily low . . . but perhaps not refundable.

We checked the online site during our visit and found rooms at the ibis going for just 1050 baht a night. Very competitive for June in Patong, especially compared with the going rate of 2000 baht listed on the wall in the foyer.

That's enough to drive the last of the old-fashioned internet refuseniks online.

With a choice of standard or family rooms, the decor and functionality will be the same across all 12 resorts.

The consistency extends to ordering a meal in the Taste restaurant (''Taste is about simply trying everything.'').

There are 28 items from which to choose, and it's mostly tapas-style Thai food.

The same items will be available across all 12 establishments. Three orders will cost you 199 baht, four cost 249 baht, and five 299 baht.

There is no room service, but a chef remains on duty after 11pm.

Early morning starters can eat breakfast from 6am. The plan is to make this 4am before next high season, ensuring guests get well-fed before they go touring.

Within Malaysia, Air Asia's own Tune Hotels are taking no-frills to a new limit with customers able to bring their own towel, or buy one. The idea is that guests should not have to pay for anything they don't use.

Indeed, the ibis idea is so compatible with Air Asia that they plan to roll out some package deals. But unlike Tune Hotels, the Accor resorts are clearly structured to meet the more relaxed holiday market, and targetted at the young.

Standard rooms are compact at 20 square metres, including balcony.
But cable tv and wi-fi are available, and the only disappearing act comes in the fridge, which has no mini-bar.

The ibis sets a pleasant holiday tone, with three mountain bikes racked outside for a quick getaway. It is tucked away down a quiet soi behind Gracelands, off Patong's beach road, with one-way access from the parallel Rat-U-Tit 200 Pi.

Rooms are cheerful, and the expectation is that the occupancy rate will rise rapidly from the 10 percent experienced through May 2008, the hotel's first month of life.

Some of Patong's rambling old guesthouses are likely to face upscale competition, judging by the bright decor, sizeable central swimming pool and tree-shaded courtyards.

While new technology is probably going to deliver savings to customers and the Accor brand, Mr Hirsch adopted old Phuket technology back in February to hire the staff.

A large sign on a circulating pickup truck did the trick, along with flyers handed out in Central Festival and visits to local colleges.

Staff underwent a month long training course to learn how to apply their new technology computer skills.

Perhaps it's lonelier with only 80 employees, but most have found the prospect of six days' leave a month and special rates at other Accor hotels within Thailand are worthwhile incentives.

And with only 80 staff, that means a larger cut of the service charge all round, right? Hmmm . . . .

It's all very intriguing. Will the ibis Patong become a breakthrough in the science of resort management and pricing?

Phuketwan will be going back to check on progress.

Details: ibis Patong Phuket, telephone +66 (0) 7630 3800 www.ibishotel.com/asia.

The ibis joins other Accor brands on the island in the Novotels at Patong and Cape Panwa and the new Mercure, which opened in Patong in 2007.


Related Articles:

Trained Staff Shortage: New Resorts Go Hunting

What's your view of the idea of using the internet and new technology to deliver savings to resort guests? Tell us now below.

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