For Michael Branham, the new manager of Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, the move from Bali to Thailand was an eye-opener in more ways than one.
Branham, in Hong Kong on a brief visit, caught up with Business Traveller Asia-Pacific to give his report card after four months into his new appointment.
The German-born executive has been with Four Seasons since 1997 and held management positions all around the region before taking the helm at the 98-room resort in northern Thailand.
He says his mission while general manager will be to enlighten his guests on the many delights to the city he has just discovered, but he’s also been adding his own touches to the resort. Just introduced Chinese-language brochures for a range of family, cultural, arts and culinary experiences at the resort are making life easier for guests from mainland China.
And the resort also recently launched its “Relaxation and Wellness” package including Spa journey, Detox Juice Workshop, Yoga session, Healthy cuisine and more.
Branham also admits to good fortune with his arrival at Chiang Mai as Thailand’s tourism industry revives, endowing record profits for the 98-room resort for the four months he has been in place.
He’s been busy, and says he has discovered in the jungles of northern Thailand a vibrant art community, coffee culture and strawberry fields nestled next to the jungle foliage. “There were so many things that I didn’t know,” he enthuses. “The longer I’m there the more I see.
“They have this art scene. A lot of local artists, but I did not expect to see so many Americans and Europeans, owners of galleries in New York and elsewhere, having their galleries there as well.
“There’s a great university there which is linked to galleries, so there’s lots of exhibition openings to give young artists a chance.”
A vibrant coffee culture also surprised the executive who has 25 years of experience with properties in the region. “There is a fabulous coffee community in Chiang Mai. Honestly if you’d asked me I would have thought Thailand is probably popular for tea. But they have fabulous coffee. Literally dozens and dozens of small coffee houses, all with their own blends from locally grown coffee.
“The people hang out there – the artists and locals. It’s almost like Carmel in California, lots of cafes – there’s Europeans and other internationals, and little villages with a lot of wealthy people from Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei and so on who all have their houses there.
“There’s a lot of culture with the old city and the temples, the royal family has a lot of projects there, and they invest in agriculture. For example, they have strawberries. Thailand and strawberries? But because of the climate – from October to April around 25 degrees Celsius, clear skies, warm but not humid – it’s actually perfect. In the mountains are strawberry fields you can visit. And honey as well, avocados, goats milk, all these projects, which our French chef loves.”
Branham confesses he did not expect this diversity from an area he thought would be dedicated mostly to mountain hiking and natural beauty.
“This is really different; 25 years in Asia and I did not expect northern Thailand to be what it is, and I’m almost surprised every week with something new.”