Nikolaus Priesnitz, Former General Manager North Thailand, Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort & AVANI Riverside Bangkok Hotel
- 3 Aug 2017 12:00 PM
Mr. Priesnitz is a passionate hospitality professional and business strategist with diverse hotel and resort management experience. With over 27 years in the industry, Mr. Priesnitz started his career as a culinary apprenticeship in his hometown Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany and through the years had worked in some of the world’s best destinations.
He's a confident hotelier with a proven ability to identify and capitalize on opportunities for growth and building customer loyalty. His experience spans from pre-openings, turnarounds, to rapid growth development in a highly competitive market.
Advocating sustainable community development within the properties by implementing environmentally-friendly practices in today’s business world, Mr. Priesnitz takes a holistic approach by incorporating the people (the team and the local community), the planet and the profits to drive positive importance to cost saving measures and one that aspires a healthier lifestyle for current and future generations.
In this current role, Mr. Priesnitz believes that Anantara as a brand is all about the experiences travelers have, creating stories and memories that last a lifetime. In his own words, he says “We are determined to develop unique, destination specific touchpoints that impact the senses, at times not recognized in the moment.
‘Life is a Journey’ is reflected in all we do and how we manage our business and engage with our guests just as much as how we live our personal lives. I am very fortunate that in my current position a primary task, besides managing a very large portion of our MINOR Hotels business, is the growth development, training and mentorship for future leaders. Making a difference in their lives and being part of their professional path is great satisfaction”.
Living by the mantra ‘The reason why we have not accomplished what we think we deserve is because we have not tried hard enough’, Mr. Priesnitz is a hands on team leader, who likes to get his hands ‘dirty’ to ensure that only the best will do when it comes to service delivery.
How do you feel about your current assignment in Bangkok?
I have been in Bangkok for three and a half years now. We came here from China, 'we' being my wife and three children. Well, every assignment is unique, and is what you make out of it.
Whenever I have transferred between hotels, I've been fortunate to have always worked at properties with 'soul', that have a personality. For instance, I believe that when you walk into this hotel, which may not be the newest or the flashiest hotel….it is still a very contemporary property with character.
As you can see our Kasara Executive Lounge which we have just renovated, a lot of thought has gone into its layout and design. The Kasara Executive Lounge experience has been specifically designed to meet the desires and needs of travellers accustomed to exclusive privileges and luxurious experiences. Equally, over the last three and a half years we have managed the opening of the modern hotel, AVANI Riverside Bangkok Hotel next door and we have worked hard to give that property both personality and soul, and build a dedicated team there.
Here at Anantara, which is a very well established hotel in Bangkok, the existing team has a strong sense of ’buy in’ to the property and to the guests. Accordingly we have a lot of returning guests here who appreciate the property for exactly what it is, a riverside oasis in Bangkok. And this is the identity which we always aim to preserve, as we did when constructing the neighboring hotel.
I live in this hotel and rarely has there been a day over the last three and a half years when I haven’t stopped to appreciate how beautiful this resort is, especially the gardens and how we allow it to naturally evolve. Over at AVANI, we gave great thought to providing a roof-top experience that even exceeds guest expectations, and makes them really say wow! Overall the results are excellent, and this is greatly reflected through guests feedback on Tripadvisor. Having said that, naturally we can’t delight every guest but we try!
How long have you been an expat, and where also have you lived abroad?
I was at boarding school during most of my childhood, and at that time wanted to be a city-planner. When leaving school, my mother helped me to get some work experience in a hotel, because she knew the owner. The chef there asked me if I wanted to become an apprentice, and I said that was not exactly what had in mind.
I told him I was not sure because I didn’t know what that career entails. He replied that there is nothing more important for a young woman than a man who knows how to cook. After thinking about it for around ten minutes I said that he was onto something, and becoming a chef seemed to be the right way to go.
Soon came my military service in Germany, and afterwards I decided to explore the world, so I went to Spain, then I worked in Switzerland, after that I worked in the Emirates, then in Florida, before returning to Germany where I opened my own restaurant - I was only 25 years old. It was a 240 seat seafood and steak house, and we sold it when I was 27.
At that stage I really needed to go out and see what the world holds for me. So I started to work on board cruise ships, Norwegian cruise lines, sailing from Buenos Aires in Argentina at that time. Since then I have always travelled with work, and have never lived in Germany since, it has been 18 years now.
I changed job from being a Chef to F&B management, to a director then back into hotel operations. I studied before going to live in Guam, - which was a fantastic experience. Still hardly a week passes that I do not think of Guam. It is really beautiful, and I was really fortunate to start my career with Hilton there.
After about two years I became the GM at Hilton Guam Resort & Spa. A year later I was the VP of Operations. Next Hilton gave me the opportunity to build a brand new hotel in China, and I spent two years there. At that time I met the very charismatic, driven and entrepreneurial Chairman of Minor International, Mr. Bill Heinecke. It was then that he offered me the opportunity for an interview in Bangkok, where I also met 6 or 7 of the company’s senior leaders.
Following that encounter he gave me a book, ’The Entrepreneur: 25 Golden Rules for the Global Business Manager’ and on the first page he wrote, ’Your time is now’ - Will Heinecke. I returned to my job with Hilton in China but soon decided to leave and join Minor Hotels in Thailand. Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort is our flagship property, and so we are ’exposed’ more than the others on how well we perform, and how we manage this prized asset. The interesting part is that once the company’s senior management team understands what you are capable of, you are pretty much left alone to get on with the job.
When you first arrived, what surprised you most about Thailand?
Asia as a continent it’s so extremely diverse, as it has every nationality and every culture, and I would say each holds on to its own identity, as does Thailand.
What I was very aware of at the start here, and what I would say every expat should do at the beginning of any assignment: shut-up and listen. We should not try to be the smart one who has come to change the world because those people we are leading have seen many expats come and go before, many of them taking unrealistic ideas with them.
As an expat it’s essential to understand that you have to live in their local environment for the duration of your assignment. So number one: show respect. Try to get to understand the culture. Try to get to understand what makes people tick in the work environment that you are engaged in.
For many of us that is a little bit tricky to fully accomplish because in many ways we have time-limited assignments. Mostly expats have two years, so you give yourself a month to understand, than you work on a strategy the next few months, on what do you want to change, then for the next 6 months you implement your plan. For the second year you enjoy the ride, and then you go off. In such cases what we all need to realize is that the team has to do the same all over again with the next smart guy that comes to lead them.
Knowing this, I feel that I approached this job a little bit differently here. I knew we are travelling with family, with young children and that actually we were not looking for a 2 year assignment. Fortunately, soon after we arrived I was asked to present a five-year plan.
So, what was most surprising to me in Thailand is that I entered into a culture that is extremely proud; it’s a country that stands strongly by its history that has a tremendous connection to the Thai Royal Family. This is a country that was extremely resilient to the various major factors that seriously impacted the country over recent years. I was here in 2014 and I could see how the country bounced back immediately. The local mentality is that it already happened; we cannot change it now, so let’s go forward.
Is that Thai attitude connected to the Buddhist religion would you say?
Probably, and what I think it is very connected to the main religion here is the absolutely amazing fact that Thais are truly very happy people. Thais do not necessarily need to be openly religious, it is important for them to have family close by, to be healthy, to work, and to enjoy the environment. To be respected is key here, no matter whether you are rich or poor.
Thais really enjoy a good laugh.
Thais enjoy spending time with foreigners, making them aware of their culture, and their beliefs, and why such things need to be respected. And this is something an expat here better take very seriously because just as much respect is given to you as an international manager, just as quickly you can lose that respect. If that happens it will be very, very difficult to regain their respect and confidence in your abilities.
Friends are in Bangkok for just a few days, what must they absolutely see and do?
"There is no question about the need to visit a temple while in Thailand. I love the Kings’ Palace. And you cannot leave Bangkok without trying the street food, and you must go to China Town for food in the evening. Talking about night time, there is a whole range of engaging night life opportunities that one can really enjoy here - without any obscenity.
Many people misunderstand Bangkok, and visitors need to be open-minded to get the very best out of Thailand. This is a unique destination with much to offer a visitor…one just needs to be adventurous and willing to explore, and the experience can be very rewarding”
If someone wrote a autobiography about your life, what would the title be?
24 hours per day is not enough. That pretty much sums it up.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose, and why?
There are two destinations actually, New Zealand and Bali. My wife is from Bali, and we have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to invest in a beautiful piece of property there.
New Zealand, because it reminds me of where I come from in Germany, a very small town near mountains and lakes. Also because of the culture there, as I have been very fortunate to experience life in Hawaiii and in Guam, New Zealand has close ties to Polynesia and Maori cultures, and I find this very attractive. I enjoy countries where the culture is based on family values, as I am a real family man. For me family and friends are what matter most in life.
Also, New Zealand is a country where you still have the opportunity, similar to this hotel, to go out and be on your own a little bit. I do enjoy city life but I am extremely happy when I am back in ’my oasis’. It is great to go out and have everything at your fingertips, but for you can’t beat having the chance to give your soul a little bit of freedom, and let your eyes travel far and wide, and that is what I enjoy tremendously about New Zealand.
Overall, I miss the four seasons in Thailand, as I love to see the leaves change color. I don’t mind ’bad weather’ at all, and believe me when I say that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
What has been the biggest achievement in your life so far?
Besides my tremendous passion for this industry, and the incredible hours invested in it, my greatest achievement is - without any question or doubt – is that I have been able, so far, to have my children brought up as respectful, considerate, open minded, and worldly individuals. They can fit into any social environment, and make no judgements about other people if they are poor or rich, about skin color, gender, religion, and I am proud of this.
What could you say is your personal motto that stays with you throughout?
Be honest to yourself.
Escape From Budapest To A Riverside Oasis At Anantara's Bangkok Resort