An Interview with Amanda Hyndman by Michelle Chaplow April 2017 – updated July 2018
Anyone who has stayed at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok will tell you that this is no ordinary historic hotel – indeed, it’s widely considered to be the best hotel in the world. A dreamy place with a proud heritage where time stands still, the Oriental dates from 1876 and offers a little paradise that literally transverses the River of Kings. Indeed, the Thai royal family uses the hotel for both public and private events. Once you’ve stayed at The Oriental as it is affectionately known, it will become your worldwide benchmark for superb service and all-round excellence.
Amanda Hyndman, joined Mandarin Oriental in 2007 as GM of The Excelsior Hong Kong, moving on to become General Manager of Mandarin Oriental, Washington DC in 2009. Then, in 2012, Amanda was offered every hotelier’s dream job: GM of Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, a post that she successfully held until the end of April 2017.
MVC: Half a decade of hotel history has been written since you joined. Have you always loved this property?
AH: Yes from the first time I stayed here in 1990 when I saved up to spend one night at The Oriental – as Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok was formerly known – and was seduced by the magical experience but I never dreamed I would ever come back as a guest, let alone be General Manager of such an iconic hotel one day. It was a great honour and a truly humbling moment in my career to be a charged with the preservation and restoration of such an iconic property.
MVC: What was the main attraction?
AH: I am fascinated by the hotel’s history so before I arrived to take up my new role I read Famous Hotels’ history book, [The Oriental: The Amazing Story of Bangkok’s Legendary Hotel] at least four times cover to cover so at least I had a basic understanding of the background and some of the momentous events that have taken place at the hotel – spanning three centuries!
Established in 1876 as the first luxury hotel in Thailand and located on the banks of the majestic Chao Phraya River, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, boasts an international reputation for legendary hospitality, grace and style, and has long been an inspiration to a host of world renowned writers and famous guests for 141 years.
MVC: There have been other ladies at the helm of this very special property, but you followed in the footsteps of two male GMs – Jan Goessing, and Kurt Wachtveitl, who was GM for over 40 years. Kurt is a legendary figure in the hospitality industry, and is known as Khun (Mr) Kurt in Thailand. What do you think that a female GM has brought to the property?
AH: Hotels have always had women in senior positions and there will be even more opportunities in the future because of the rapid growth in hospitality industry. The industry has so many opportunities as long as you have a passion for what you do, the ability to work hard and a healthy sense of humour helps quite a bit on occasions I hate generalizing but, most female GMs I know are both strong communicators and great organisers, so in equal parts tenacious and collaborative
I am in fact the 4th female GM at The Oriental and my role is to take care of the people – both guests and colleagues, both of who I spend almost my entire day with. Many of our guests have been staying at the hotel for many years, at first as children on a family holiday with their parents and now as parents themselves, or even grandparents.
MVC: What was your biggest challenge?
AH: There are multiple challenges, but you have to get over your fear and keep trying different approaches until you get the outcome you either want or you can settle for. In my opinion, it rarely works to walk away and if at first you do not succeed, the try and try again. I have always believed in following my gut instinct as well as the ethos ‘work hard, play hard’ which seems to have stood me in good stead. There have been numerous changes in Thailand over the past 5 years but my job is to ‘steer the ship’ and first and foremost to take care of the colleaues. If my people are happy, then they look after the guests and if they are happy then the hotel will be successful. It is very simple but that doesn’t mean its without its challenges – the staff currently number 1,200 so that’s a lot of people to care for.
MVC: In 2016, the hotel completed a comprehensive USD 18 million renovation of the historic Authors’ Wing and Garden Wing. Can you tell me about the project – any highlights, anecdotes?
AH: Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok actively strives to keep up with the times in order to meet the evolving needs of our sophisticated and international clientele, constantly fine tuning in order to make things even better, whilst at the same time maintaining a sense of place and a ‘home away from home’ for both our first time guests as well as our loyal guests who return time and time again.
Designed to significantly enhance the facilities and services of this award winning hotel, the renovation has restored the historic heart of the property to its original splendour. The project comprised a significant room reconfiguration resulting in the creation of new spacious suites with balconies in the Garden Wing, and a gentle rejuvenation of The Authors’ Lounge and Le Normandie.
We also opened Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group’s first ever ‘Spa Studio’ concept featuring world renowned results driven beauty treatments that are available for the first time in Bangkok, as well as express services for people of the go to experience powerful, effective, and less time consuming treatments.
MVC: Has photography played an important role in the hotel?
AH Yes of course, especially within our archives – not only to remind us of how the hotel was architecturally, but also for portraits of illustrious guests.
I worked alongside The Oriental author Andreas Agustin and his wife Carolla to curate a permanent exhibition of 365 black and white photos of famous guests – the Royal Family and writers in the newly extended Authors’ Lounge, which reflect the unique heritage of the hotel.
Hotel photography is an essential part of any hotel, both present-day visuals and the photographic archives.
MVC: I personally use the Oriental to benchmark excellence. When I was sitting by the pool today, a member of staff with an old-fashioned trolley was giving out your own ice-creams made with lychees and mangos, and decorated with nuts and fruits – it’s details like this that really make the hotel stand out.
AH: Obviously guests pay a significant amount to stay here, and they deserve special, services and extras. We have implemented many new touches things that are unique, but really enhance the guest experience. The frequency of complimentary pool snacks was one of them. These small things make a huge difference to guest experience.
But what truly differentiates Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok is our people, affectionately known as ‘The Oriental Family’. They understand legacy and preservation because they live and breathe in every day as our colleagues before us have for the past 140 years. Service becomes intuitive and their pride is in passing their unique knowledge on to the next generation so that service excellence endures and prospers at the very heart of Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok. This achievement is a testament to their pride, personal dedication and commitment to simply being the best.
MVC: Why is the service here renowned as one of the best in the industry?
AH: We pride ourselves on the quality of our training and have our own Hotel School on property. The hotel has 1,230 staff and 368 guest rooms a ratio of 3.5 to 1, so we really are able offer outstanding, personalised service. We have so many long-service employees and families working here (at an average of 12-14 years per person), sometimes three generations of the same family. We know that our staff is proud to be part of our team, and we like to incentivize and reward them.
The legendary loyalty of our guests has transformed the clientele of this Grande Dame from being just ‘visitors to our property’ to becoming an integral and inseparable part of the hotel, from generation to generation.
The delicate balance of staying true to our heritage and preserving the mystique of a bygone era while being sensitive to our customers’ evolving needs has been the key to the hotel’s success for many decades.
MVC: Many GMs are like CEOs – at times elusive. Do you feel that it’s important for the guests to see you in the hotel, and to be able to speak to you?
AH: I start at 7 am and I make three visits to the breakfast terrace before 10am in order to meet as many new and returning guests as possible. Also, I am always in the lobby every day from 12 to 1pm and from 6.30 to 7.30pm, as well as obviously working behind the scenes the rest of the day. As GM you have to give your all.
MVC: What has been your top priority in the hotel?
AH: My priorities have always been with the people – the guests and my colleagues.
MVC: During your stay in Thailand, you have been very involved with charity work here in Bangkok. Tell me a little about your work.
The annual FANtastic Fundraiser bears a testament to The Oriental Family’s commitment to our local communities in which we operate and nurture. Since its inception in 2013, over 700 colleagues have gathered to run together at Lumphini Park and raised over 6 million Baht to benefit non-profit organisations, underprivileged schools and help those less fortunate than ourselves. We are very proud to have supported the Phra Dabos Foundation under the Royal Patronage of His Majesty, Lerdsin General Hospital Foundation and to fund scholarships at King Mongkut’s University of Technology, and our very own Oriental Hotel Apprenticeship Programme (OHAP), among other charities and institutions.
MVC: How do you feel about writing the last five years of the Mandarin Oriental’s History?
AH: I believe that our past will be our future, and I am proud to have been a small part of the Oriental story.
Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok is a seamless series of interactions with a unique sense of place, defined by outstanding cuisine; impeccable service; and a genuine and heartfelt will to exceed guests’ expectations by truly anticipating their needs in order to deliver an exceptional and unparalleled experience
The experience, coupled with the hotel’s legendary history and heritage, will continue to set it apart from everyone else in the city, in Thailand, and in the world.
MVC How do you feel about your next chapter after The Oriental.
AH: Being GM of the Oriental has truly been the most incredible experience of my life – such special times with phenomenal people. But five years have passed already and you recognise that moment when family has to come first. It is time for a different life in Scotland with my family.
What advice would you give to your successor Greg Liddell?
AH: Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok it is all about the pursuit of as close to perfection as possible and consistently achieving it, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, regardless of the circumstances. The Thai approach to hospitality is signified by compassion and kindness and especially for our ‘Oriental Family’, there is a profound pride in showcasing the very best of our hotel, of Bangkok, of Thailand, and all that the Kingdom and Thai culture have to offer. People work for people, so open and honest communication, a strong work ethic, a genuine respect for Thai people and a palpable passion for the Oriental that people can both see and feel in their hearts
On the 4 June 2018 Amanda returned to The Mandarin Oriental fold after a 12 month break as General Manager Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London and Area Vice President of Operations.
Fire broke out during Amanda´s first week, luckily nobody was hurt and the damage will be repaired and the incidence will form a part of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park´s history.
How do you feel about your new position Amanda?
‘I am beyond thrilled to be back in the Mandarin Oriental family and I relish the opportunity to reopen this icon as one of the finest hotels in the world”
We wish you well!