29 January Landmark’s individuality sets it apart
Francis Zimmerman is mixing the best of Canadian and Thai hospitality as he manages one of Bangkok’s most prominent independent hotels, The Landmark. His moral and hospitality compass has been defined by his Canadian values and they mesh quite nicely with the world-renowned Thai hospitality and service standards.
A Vancouver native, who grew up in Calgary, Francis jokes that he became a hotelier by birth as his father Fred Zimmerman was a well-known executive chef for the Westin Hotel Group, based in Calgary for a quarter of a century. To spend more quality time with his sons he would bring Francis and his brother Andre to the hotel on the weekends and put them to work. Francis remembers dunking chocolate cherries for about five hours one Saturday when he was eight – the result, there was more chocolate on him than on the cherries.
As such, Francis early on learned a love and passion for the industry, as did his brother who also became a chef. Fair and honest, Francis’ father taught him a great deal about work ethic and leadership skills. He was a tough, old-school chef who had immigrated to Canada from Switzerland (his mom had immigrated from Finland).
At one point, Fred was listed as number 32 of the 100 reasons why Calgary was so great. He became the first North American chef to win the gold medal of distinction at the World Culinary Olympics. He just turned 79, and was an active member of the Canadian Culinary Federation for more than three decades.
Francis started in the kitchen, and then moved to the service side of the food & beverage industry. Honing his cooking skills early; they have won him many friends including his wife as he says, “Who doesn’t like to eat?”.
After graduating with a diploma in hotel and restaurant administration from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) he moved into the front office.
He likens being the GM of a hotel to being the mayor of a city. “There’s no boredom working in the hotel industry,” he says, “but it’s not for everybody, it’s hard work. In life, you have to find the one thing that makes you tick and motivates you and it didn’t take me long to figure out what I wanted to do. But you must be people-oriented because in large hotels you are dealing with thousands of people a day.”
Francis has run large-scale city hotels as well as resorts and notes that in many city hotels guests are traveling on a company’s expense but in resorts guests are mostly traveling on their own expense, so expectations are different.
Francis recalls that six months into his first overseas posting in Kota Kinabalu he had a “eureka” moment; he was starting to go crazy because he thought that the staff he was working with just weren’t getting it, but he soon realized that it was he who wasn’t getting it as they had been brought up in a different culture. Over time, he developed a system he calls the “50-50 approach” whereby going into any new culture or situation he brings in fifty percent of what he believes is important and dumps the rest, primarily preconceived notions, coming in with an open mind to learn how things work in this new environment and the best way to get the most out of his people.
Asked what’s special about the Landmark, Francis says, “The hotel is well-known, as we will soon be celebrating our 31st anniversary, I have never worked in a hotel that had such strong customer loyalty. Every day, I look at the arrivals and notice there are at least 8-10 guests who have stayed here hundreds of nights. To those repeat guests, the Landmark is a second home: we have extensive histories on our repeat customers and we try and meet their needs and expectations well in advance of their arrival. Emotional connections provide the strongest memories and that’s what we hope to provide.”
“Our location, at the start of Sukhumvit Road, certainly helps and I give a lot of credit to the foresight of our own Managing Director Khun Jatuporn Sihanatkathakul of the Landmark Lancaster Hotel Group for building here.
“Without a doubt, we have some great employees here, and that solid foundation, helps me sleep better at night. Having a pool of well-experienced hospitality professionals at this hotel is a huge benefit. It’s more difficult to recruit good staff these days because you must realize good Thai staff are not just coveted in Thailand but also in hotels and resorts all over the world.”
Future plans? “We have recently completed a renovation to all guestrooms and no food & beverage operation is successful unless there’s local patronage, so we are finalizing plans on a new unique and dynamic food & beverage concept for our ground floor and basement.”
How does being independent help you? “In the last 3-5 years, there’s been a tremendous consolidation in the hotel industry, and major chains have done a good job of integrating but what’s the sense of difference there? What truly makes them stand out? Are you getting a unique experience by staying there?
“Our staff is fast to act, the independence has created a true entrepreneurial spirit, they are not dependent on a hierarchy of approval.”
Final thoughts? “We are a large independent hotel with a unique service offering, and we will work on building and fostering the Landmark name moving forward. We are called the Landmark for a reason, and we need to capitalize on that. We have tremendous momentum behind us, and a tremendous opportunity in front of us.”
FRANCIS’ WORK EXPERIENCE
Francis has been in Asia for over two decades first coming to the region to work at the Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort in Kota Kinabalu as Director of Rooms (1996-98). After stints in Xian, China, as the Shangri-La’s Golden Flower Hotel’s Executive Assistant Manager and then in Bangkok as the Resident Manager at Le Royal Meridien & Le Meridien President Hotels, he took his first posting as GM at the Le Meridien Hotel in Jakarta, a position he held for five years (2003-2008).
He then returned to Bangkok as the GM of the Bangkok Marriott Resort & Spa – Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort & Spa, a post he held until 2012. Staying with the Minor Group, he became Director of Operations and GM of the Anantara Sathorn, a position he held until May 2013 when he became the Area General Manager of North Thailand for the Minor Hotel and the Group & General Manager of the Avani Atrium Bangkok. In June 2016, he became the Managing Director of the Next Story Group (Formerly SilverNeedle Hospitality) before assuming his current position as GM of the Landmark Bangkok in September of 2018.
The Landmark Bangkok is an all-around impressive hotel offering 31 stories of elegant and spacious accommodation comprising 399 rooms, including suites. Our accommodation and in-house restaurants are of the highest international standards, while the service is sublimely Thai.
The hotel facilities include a business center with private meeting rooms, 25 recently upgraded meeting rooms with capacities for 10 -1000 delegates, along with Fitness First Platinum Landmark, Viva Jiva Spa, outdoor swimming pool, and WiFi. A wide range of gourmet dining possibilities is available in a choice of seven outstanding restaurants.
Guests have a choice of four room types, including the Premium and Premium Corner rooms, the Deluxe Suite and the Executive Suite. These range in size from 36-85sqm. All rooms feature state of the art design, along with deluxe in-room amenities, superb services, and facilities, a convenient Media Hub for multi-media connectivity and a 40-inch High Definition television set.
Other highlights include an exclusive Landmark Blissful bed for a truly comfortable stay, refreshing Rain Shower and guests can also easily adjust a room’s temperature and lighting thanks to the bedside Elecon Room Control system.
The Landmark has reaffirmed its position as one of Bangkok’s most enduringly popular hotels. Part of that success is due to its convenient location on lower Sukhumvit Road in central Bangkok, close to Nana station on Bangkok’s Skytrain system, and easy access to all the important expressways. The hotel is also within easy distance of the main business, shopping and entertainment areas as well as the Bangkok International Trade Exhibition Center (BITEC), Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre, and IMPACT Convention Centre.
Sister hotels include The Landmark London, Royal Lancaster London, K West London, Basil St. Apartment London and Lancaster Bangkok.