Signature Media’s Group Editor & CEO, Cathy Wagstaff, chats with with Mark Thomson, Director of Public Relations and Communications, Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas, about getting closer to the details of a destination, giving back to local communities, and Vietnamese coffee.
Tell us about your role within Minor Hotels
As Director of Public Relations and Communications for Minor Hotels I handle the overall media and global PR strategy for Anantara Hotels and Resorts as well as supporting the hotel/resort brands AVANI, Elewana, Tivoli and Oaks Hotels in the Asia/Pacific markets.
My main areas of expertise at Minor Hotels incorporates new hotel openings, implementing the brands’ corporate social responsibility programmes and building brand awareness for all five brands in the Asia/Pacific markets, including China and Russia.
How do you describe the Anantara brand? What makes Anantara stand out? Who is the traveller who would choose to stay at Anantara properties?
Anantara creates journeys of inspiring, surprising moments and enjoyment, elevating all senses and connecting with the environment and culture of each one of its locations. The brand puts the sense of anticipation and excitement back into the world of luxury travel and hospitality. It brings travellers closer to the details of destinations and the local fabric, be it the escape of a pristine white-sand beach or the heart of bustling city neighbourhood.
Anantara itself attracts discerning travellers seeking luxury with a sense of indigenous discovery. By infusing authentic cultural experiences and interactive journeys guided by gurus, Anantara satisfies guest desires to connect deeply and personally with their travel destinations.
Tell us about your career progression. What attracted you to the industry initially? Is this the same as what interests you about it now?
I discovered early on that I really enjoyed writing so it an obvious choice to go on to study journalism which I graduated from in the early 1990s. My ultimate plan was to see the world and sustain my travel with my degree. I was lucky to get the right jobs working in marketing and public relations roles in the UK, Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand (where I am still based today). My clients included Motorola, Ford, Boeing, Dell Inc, Habitat UK, Unilever, Visa International, Bank of Thailand and Bangkok Bank. I have always been interested in travel so when an opportunity arose to work for Anantara I jumped at the chance and hounded my now boss for months to get the job. I started with Minor Hotels, the parent company of Anantara in 2010 when we only had 12 resorts. The company has now grown to 154 hotels and resorts in 22 countries in only a few short years. The job allows me to travel to some of the most exotic locations in the world as well as meeting some amazing people along the way – two of my favourite things.
What have been some of the highlights of your career?
Perhaps career highlights isn’t the right wor.d but the areas that I’m most proud of have been where I have able to help implement the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility programs. An example is Anantara’s Dollar For Deeds programme where money raised goes back to helping the communities we are situated in such as a children’s cranial facial hospital in Bangkok, helping domestic and wild elephants in SE Asia, releasing turtles in Phuket and coral rejuvenation in the Maldives.
How would you describe your management style? What do you value professionally?
Working in such a multicultural environment needs different approaches to different needs. I have to take into account cultural perspectives, language barriers, different educational backgrounds, personality traits and varying value systems so I have learnt to have the ability to customise each approach on a person by person basis, based on the situation at hand. I also want to keep my team motivated and to also keep their energy levels up so I always try to maintain a positive attitude at all times which I find keeps the office with an equal balance of productivity and playfulness. The thing I value the most professionally is commitment to the job at hand but again this comes down to leading by example. I’m more than happy to getting my hands dirty which not only earns the respect of my team, but also instils that same hardworking energy.
During your 2015 visit to Sydney, you mentioned that Anantara sees Africa as the new Asia. Does this hold true today?
It still rings true today. A lot of travellers that have done SE Asia and Europe are looking for something extra-ordinary, so Africa is an obvious choice. We have already been in Tanzania and Kenya for a number of years with the Elewana collection consisting of 14 resorts which takes the African experience to a new luxury level where you can be camping in five-star tented camps, to staying in treehouses and hilltop coffee plantations. We have also introduced the AVANI brand into Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia and Mauritius. The Anantara brand is currently in Mozambique and Zambia with upcoming resorts in Morocco, Tunisia, Tanzania and Mauritius so growth in Africa is a big part of our company strategy.
In which country or region would you next like to see the Anantara brand make its debut? Is Anantara in Australia a possibility?
I’d love to see the brand move into South America one day. I think with the luxury experiences that the brand is so well known for would suit places such as Peru, Chile, Argentina and Venezuela. We have two Tivoli hotels in Brazil so cross fingers it will happen one day.
[When it comes to Australia] never say never. We have invested a lot of interest into the Australian market since buying the Oaks brand of hotels and resorts in 2011. We are launching our AVANI brand with the opening of AVANI Broadbeach Residences on the Gold Coast early in 2018, just in time for the Commonwealth Games so we are always looking for opportunities to introduce our other brands such as Anantara into the Australian market.
What is your long-term vision for Anantara?
We are aiming to grow the Anantara brand to 50 hotels and resorts by 2020 and with new projects in Morocco, Tunisia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania the UAE and Vietnam we are well on our way to surpassing that.
What sort of travel experiences do you seek out? Where is your favourite place to go for a personal holiday? Where in the world would you still like to go?
With my job I get to go to some of the most exotic and stunning locations in the world such as the Maldives, Bali, Thailand, etc so I like to seek out the slightly unusual and more off beat when I go on holidays such as a tour of North Korea, pygmy elephant spotting in Borneo, tea picking in the ancient tea trails in Yunnan and celebrating Thingyan in Myanmar, just to name a few.
I want to go EVERYWHERE!! I went on holidays to Serbia and Montenegro last year and this sparked my interest in that part of Europe so I’d liked to go back to visit Albania, Bosnia and that area. I also plan to go to Kazakhstan later in the year so I’m very much looking forward to that however nothing beats coming back to Australia and seeing family and friends.
What does luxury mean to you?
Luxury to me is simply something that is unique which makes me feel good no matter at what cost.
What’s the best coffee experience you’ve ever had?
I totally got addicted to Vietnamese coffee when I lived in HCMC a few years ago – if I didn’t have that strong coffee mixed with condensed milk by 10am I’d start getting a little jittery for the rest of the day.