Holger Groninger: In His Own Words
by Ben Reeves
General Manager, The Bayview
Born: Geislingen an der Steige, Germany
Family: Wife and two daughters
Time in Pattaya: 12 years
The relatively recent opening of the Florida-styled Wave Hotel on Beach Road has created quite a stir in Pattaya, with its unique approach—at least, unique for Thailand—to beachfront holiday accommodation. The Bayview, on the other hand, is a well-established brand in the town. Both are under the management of Holger Groninger.
Working in Thailand since 2001, he has faced many serious challenges to the tourism industry, including 9/11, the Boxing Day Tsunami, SARS, avian flu, severe flooding and two military coups. His belief in the need to constantly learn and adapt, which is an ethos shared by the Sukosol Hotels Group, has been integral to his success, as has his excellent management style. While he stands at the top of the hierarchy, he recognises that he is only there because of the mutually-supportive efforts of those beneath him.
How did you get started in the hotel industry?
“I wanted to discover the world. I read an article when I was about 16 years old about hoteliers and that you find German hoteliers all over the world. Since then, I thought: 'why not?'. The second thing was that I was quite talkative in school. I like to communicate with people. Working in a hotel means that you have to work with people. If you work in a hotel, you might also have the option to travel abroad and to live there and experience how a country is. When you are on a holiday you just see the surface, but when you live in the country you see the whole picture.
“After I graduated from school and did my military service, I started work in a small, family hotel in the German Alps. It was only about 50 rooms. I worked there four days a week and went to school on the fifth day as part of an apprenticeship. The position I was trained in was Hotel Kaufman—like “Hotel Businessman”—but, in the end, I had to work in all sections. I had to work in the bar, the kitchen, the restaurant, reception, accounting; I had to cover all fields.”
What brought you to Thailand?
“I went to work for a city hotel in Stuttgart for one year. I felt that there was something missing—maybe more knowledge necessary for management work. I went to university to study tourism for four and a half years, which brought me to Thailand for the first time. One of my friends had been backpacking here the year before and he told me that it was a super country; people very friendly, food is excellent, costs are very low, easy to move around and so on. I went the next year for four weeks, going from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, to Koh Samet, to Pattaya, down to Phuket, to Samui, up to Hua Hin—seeing most of the tourist destinations. This was the first time I was confronted with Songkran, which I celebrated in Samui. It was quite an experience!
“I kept coming back to South East Asia and, during my studies, I also had to do some practical training—going out and working for some companies. I worked for one of the big German tour operators—Dertour—as a trainee. They offered me the possibility of working in Thailand for about six months, but there was no money involved at all. If I wanted to work here, I could, but I would not be paid for it. Luckily, I got a sponsorship from a German society which supports people wanting to visit and learn more about different countries and cultures. This helped me to survive because living from just my savings wouldn't have covered the whole period. Even then, I was eating Kuai-tiao [noodle soup] almost every day because it was the cheapest thing I could find. Since then, I don't eat Kuai-tiao if I can avoid it!
“When I came back from Thailand to finish my studies, I decided that, if I had the choice, I would come back again. After I finished my studies, I first tried working for an international company in the hope of getting a posting in Thailand, so I worked for British Airways for two years. Unfortunately, they have about 40,000 employees and only one or two foreigners working in Thailand. My chances were quite low. Luckily, I then saw an advertisement in a German magazine from the Royal Cliff Hotels in Pattaya, looking for a Thailand-based German-speaking salesperson. I started working there in July 2001.”
How did you get from being a salesperson to General Manager?
“Experience counts for a lot in the hotel industry, especially when you are still young. It doesn't look good to jump between companies, working just for a short time each. So, I worked for Royal Cliff for about four and a half years. I worked for about a year in Bangkok, but I found that Bangkok was not my kind of city. My home town is a small village, so the scale of Bangkok is an issue for me. I started looking for a chance to move back to Pattaya. I found an opening at the Siam Bayshore Hotel, where I worked for six years before being promoted to GM of The Bayview in 2013. When The Wave was built, I also took over supervising that along with the Hotel Manager.”
What does the future hold for you and the hotel?
“The Bayview is part of the Sukosol Hotels Group, which has grown from just the Siam Bayshore Hotel in 1974, then The Bayview in 1981, then The Sukosol in 1992, The Siam three years ago and The Wave Hotel opened last year. The company is not standing still. They're always trying something new. They are willing to change and adapt. I see myself as part of that, too. I don't see any end to my project for the hotel and for the group in general.
“There are so many things to do. There have been so many changes and renovations at the hotel as well as internal changes. My future is here in Thailand. I like the country, I enjoy working here and its fun working for the group.”
What do you think the population of Pattaya is and how many of them are expatriates?
“I think there are maybe 200,000 to 300,000 people officially registered here in Pattaya, but so many people do not register when they move from their home provinces, so I think the total population may be 500,000 to 600,000. That's if you say that Pattaya extends as far as the Regent's School and down to the Ambassador Hotel.
“Pattaya is also a workplace for people who live further out. Some of our staff live in the villages out near Laem Chabang or Sattahip and commute into the city.
“As for expatriates, I think...40,000 people. That includes people who come to work in the factories around Pattaya, but doesn't include those who only come for a couple of weeks as tourists. It also includes more than just Westerners. Pattaya is a very diverse city. There are a lot of Asian expatriates here from India, Korea, Japan and so on.”