These influential female hoteliers aren’t just balancing the scales in a male-dominated industry—they’re reshaping the entire landscape
It’s never been easy going for female hoteliers. Male-slanted stereotypes have turned hotel management into a role often pigeonholed for men. But now more than ever women are making their mark, and at the highest levels of the industry. Take the four women we’ve profiled, for instance—all in charge of big-name Bangkok properties worth millions of dollars.
These four leading lights have not only excelled at esteemed hotels, they’ve opened eyes to the potential of all people, regardless of gender or race. Here are their stories of success.
Hotel Manager of Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok
“A calm approach and listening a lot—that comes across in any culture,” Saraid Carey, Hotel Manager of Grand Hyatt Erawan, begins after a pause. It’s not easy to explain how one has achieved so much in a notoriously grinding industry, in a different country no less, and especially not when asked to do so on the fly. But this self-professed foodie and former not-for-profit professional manages to sum it up simply: “It’s about being a leader, point blank.”
Carey has had plenty of time to cultivate her leadership skills. At 21, she got her first job in hotels, working behind the scenes in banquets at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne. From there, she climbed the ladder all the way to assistant manager of the property before leaving to try her hand in sales and events for the Starlight Children’s Foundation, an organisation that benefits seriously ill children. “That experience solidified my obsession with food,” she says, adding that a large part of her job involved arranging charity dinners featuring celebrity chefs.
While she refers to her work for the foundation as “a really rewarding five years,” the position posed plenty of challenges, too. “Everything I learned in Hyatt was global and structured, but in a not-for-profit, you have to turn an idea into something incredibly special, and you have to do that with nothing,” she says. “I learned a lot about cost and profitability.”
That hard-earned knowledge of how to run a business with little—or even no—budget has proven advantageous in her work at the Grand Hyatt, the chain she returned to in 2010 after receiving a phone call from a former colleague, who invited her to return to the Melbourne outlet as director of sales and marketing (“Essentially training wheels for GM,” she explains). Two years later, Carey was offered a position in Bangkok, where she continues her rise to the top at the only hotel brand she’s ever worked for.
This straight-shooting, glass-half-full, and incredibly likeable manager has never let her authority alter her worldview. “You have to listen to people to form truly deep connections,” she remarks as she describes how each day starts and ends with meetings while always prioritizing guests. And yet, despite her ostensibly non-stop schedule, she still finds time to do yoga, go for walks in Lumphini Park, and explore the city’s food scene.
“I’ve been to Sühring seven times already,” she divulges, and then laughs. “We’re just so lucky here.”
General Manager of The Banyan Tree Bangkok
Front-desk workers everywhere should have one woman to aspire to: Nopparat Aumpa, or ‘Kai’ as her friends call her, started her career 26 years ago as an entry-level employee; today, she’s general manager of one of Bangkok’s most prominent brands, The Banyan Tree.
“I always say, ‘If something doesn’t challenge you, then it doesn’t change you,’” Kai remarks. “I have always had high hopes and never stopped challenging myself.”
Those challenges began at the reception desk, before Kai was given a shot at a career-track position at the Westin Banyan Tree in 1996. That very same year, she won the Thurston-Dupar Inspirational Award, a recognition given by Westin to employees who demonstrate exceptional service to guests. The following year, she won the Service of Legend Award. If her journey to the mountaintop wasn’t already in motion, this second award sealed the deal.
“In Thailand, we still occasionally hear about gender stereotyping,” Kai replies when asked about her perception of women’s rights and opportunities in the traditionally patriarchal world of hotel management. As not just a woman, but a Thai woman, in command of a major five-star property, Kai stands in a uniquely influential position. And she realizes as much.
“I want to inspire women today. Gender should not be a hindrance to their goals in life. It’s how you set your roadmap, and how determined you are for it to happen, that makes the difference,” she says. For its part, the Banyan Tree brand has championed equal opportunities for men and women, with women in key management roles at properties in Morocco and China as well as Bangkok, including Banyan Tree Ringha, a hotel that Kai herself helped to open in 2005. (Kai, owing to her reputation for leadership, also launched Banyan Tree Mayakoba in Mexico and Banyan Tree Samui, where she was resident manager for a year).
Having risen the ranks and represented only one brand throughout her career, the self-made Kai shows no sign of slowing down now that she’s at the helm of this landmark hotel.
“The journey has not been easy,” she admits. “There are a number of challenges in the hospitality industry—political unrest, global crises, national disasters, and the like—but in the long run, if you set your goals in the right direction and work hard for them, nothing is impossible.”
General Manager of W Bangkok
Tina Liu left and came back again. Though radically oversimplified, that line nevertheless sheds light on both her beginnings in Thailand’s hospitality industry and her ascension to her current position as General Manager of the stylish W Bangkok.
Born into a Thai-Chinese family in Bangkok, the go-getting Liu spent much of her youth in the United States, until a summer internship at the Mandarin Oriental cemented her rosy view of hotel life. “I knew in high school I wanted to explore hospitality. That was the only time in my life I could predict the future,” she admits. “Once I got into it, I thought, ‘This is it!’”
After graduating, Liu landed an entry-level job at the Shangri-La. “It was the ‘university.’ Wherever you went after that, you would run into someone from the Shang,” she says. In the 90s, almost all the five-star properties lined the river, bar the Dusit Thani and Hilton Nai Lert. “There used to be boat pick-up service from the airport, and VIP check-ins on helipads.” So her next job at the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit was, at the time, “considered out of the way.”
Liu would leave to work at the Peninsula in New York for three years before returning to the Sheraton Grande. Eventually, fate would reset her course for Koh Samui. “I am not an island girl,” she declares. “Samui just came at the right time. I’ve never worked for the next position. I’m a true believer in doing the best you can do where you are. It’s a quality journey, not the destination, that I look for—and quality journeys always seem to lead to the best destinations.”
Such as the W, the first design hotel to open in suddenly red-hot Sathorn. This pivotal property came calling in 2015. Clever, cool, and well-spoken, practically the embodiment of the W in her own right, Liu sees the brand’s bravado and initiative as its greatest strengths. “Our company has been proactive in pushing the open mind to view talent,” she says. And when it comes to putting women in the most prestigious positions, she adds, “[The W doing that] helps make other companies see that it works. Why close ourselves off to potential?”
She certainly sees potential all around her, from her employees to the elegant House on Sathorn next door to the very neighbourhood the hotel calls home. “People don’t always realise how much is here; we have everything within our radius,” she says, name-checking the clique of cool bars and restaurants on Sathorn 10 and 12, as well as the riverside and Lumphini Park, where she goes running to unwind from the week’s work.
“The good thing about this industry is you have lots of friends at sister hotels [to talk to] at the end of the day,” says Liu. “The ironic part is, come Friday and Saturday, I want my time. I just want to stay in with a good glass of wine.”
General Manager of Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok
“As I say to anyone who inquires, hotels must be the fastest career path of any industry in the world,” jokes Amanda Hyndman, General Manager of the Mandarin Oriental. Considering she went from hired hand at a café to working in hotels for 31 years, the past 25 as a general manager at hotels around the world, her one-liner has more than a few elements of truth.
Born in the UK, but perhaps by now a citizen of the world rather than one specific country, Hyndman went from being the youngest ever general manager of the Copthorne Hotels in Aberdeen and Glasgow, respectively, to taking the reins of Hilton, Millennium, and Waldorf properties. And all that before she even worked in Asia.
Having come to Bangkok after a two-year stint in charge of the Mandarin Oriental in Washington, DC, Hyndman sounds perfectly at home in her position. “I believe, ‘What is for you won’t go past you,’ and I would truly love to see out my career at La Grande Dame,” she says, referencing the more than 100 year-old hotel’s time-honoured nickname.
While she admits that the industry “is a passion,” she says her family is fully supportive of her pursuit of it. That pursuit includes walking the Terrace three times every day between 7:30 and 10am to meet guests at breakfast, leading lobby duty from noon until 1pm every day, greeting the repeat and VIP guests arriving and departing, going back on lobby duty from 6:30 to 7:30pm, and then giving her best effort to do the rounds of all nine restaurants. Between that and the e-mails and phone calls she has to field, she carves 40 minutes out of her afternoon schedule to hit the gym and manages to sneak in four circuits of Lumphini Park on Sundays. A passion indeed.
Despite the daunting schedule, and even in the face of uncontrollable events, Hyndman remains steadfast. “There have been many economic hurdles [since I started in the industry]—the first Gulf War, the London bombings, H1N1 in Hong Kong, and a couple in Thailand in recent years. But, as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” she declares.
Other Leading Women of Hospitality in bangkok
A social media maven and incredibly bright mind, Leanne Hucker leads the charge as Director of Sales and Marketing at The Siam, the riverside’s most luxurious boutique property—and seems destined to rise to even higher heights before long.
As one of the most successful hoteliers in Bangkok, Choo-Leng Goh, General Manager of Plaza Athénée Bangkok, has helped turn this Royal Meridien property into the world’s first ISO 20121-accredited venue for sustainable events. Singaporean by birth, this family woman is fluent in Thai, as well as three other languages.