Over the last 30 years, he’s added a dozen hotels and restaurants across 12 countries to his professional portfolio, but it’s Thailand, specifically Phuket, that stole his heart.
Christopher Adams, the General Manager at Dream Phuket Hotel & Spa and Dream Beach Club, reveals to us what is it about hospitality that makes him tick and what is it about this island that makes him never want to leave.
30 years in hospitality sure is impressive, but how did it all begin?
I’m 51 years old and I started my career when I was 16, in New Zealand. I started as a kitchen steward, washing dishes, and then I got a chef’s apprenticeship, after which I worked in the kitchen brigade between New Zealand and Australia. From there I worked my way up to the Executive Chef position, which took me about nine years.
I was fortunate enough to become kind of like a celebrity chef in New Zealand. I worked as an Executive Chef for one of the best hotels in Christchurch, called the Heritage Hotel at the time, and they had a lot of celebrities staying there, so I looked after people like John Travolta, Elizabeth Taylor, Chris O’Donnell, Neil Gaiman… I got to meet all of them, talk to them, which was fun. Also, during my time there, I entered the premiere cooking competition in New Zealand, with about 250 to 300 hotels and restaurants competing, and I was fortunate, or unfortunate, to come second two years in a row. Not long after that, my GM at the time decided that my personality wasn’t really suited to being stuck in the kitchen, and she encouraged me to move more to the front of house.
How did that feel? Was your GM right?
It was out of my comfort zone, for sure, because when you’re in the kitchen, you’re all about creativity, and when you go front of house, you’ve got to hone your communication skills and be able to communicate with a whole different level of clientele. But I enjoyed it. I loved it. And I did want to go higher in the hospitality industry then Executive Chef, and I knew that the route to get to a GM position or higher was easier through the front of house. So that was also my inner drive – I wanted to advance my career.
Do you remember those first weeks or months after the shift?
I remember that I kept trying to hide in the kitchen, I didn’t really want to go front of house. But, eventually, I got more and more used to it and the more I spoke with the customers, the more I enjoyed it. I think once you have guest interaction and once you get feedback directly from them, it’s infectious. You are helping deliver good experiences to the guests and then they’re giving you positive feedback.
You sound like the definition of a service-minded person.
Yeah, that’s true. I think a service minded person appreciates the fact that a lot of the guests and customers save very hard through the year, to have a two or three-week holiday, so you want to make sure that when they have this holiday that they worked so hard for, they have the best possible experience. You want the customer to be happy.
Tell me a bit about the places that this career has taken you to.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked in a number of countries, I think it’s 12 by now. Once I got that front of house experience, I started moving to different countries. I worked in Fiji, Vanuatu, Vietnam, the Philippines, China, Thailand… and Thailand is obviously the one that’s close to my heart, I’ve been here for almost 12 years now.
What is it about Thailand?
Oh well, my wife’s Thai, so that’s one thing. But also, Thai people are naturally hospitable, and pretty much everybody who comes for a holiday here, it’s like a paradise to them. So, you know, we live in a paradise! I like the weather, the food’s fantastic, the people are very easy to work with and that makes my job a whole lot easier.
Where did you arrive in Thailand from?
The first time I visited Thailand was many years ago, as a backpacker, and it was always a country that I wanted to come back to. When I moved here, I arrived from China – I opened three restaurants and bars for a group of investors in Beijing, and then I applied for a position in Koh Samui and was fortunate enough to get it.
Has Thailand changed a lot since these backpacking days?
It’s very, very different. When I arrived here for the first time, pretty much all the roads were dirt roads, a lot of the hotels – if you can call them hotels – were huts on the beach, and it just had a beautiful natural feeling about it. It was just a beautiful, natural, clean place.
How many years have you been in Phuket?
Five and a half years now. First, I worked with Outrigger Phuket, and then I did the opening for the Dream Hotel and the re-branding for this beach club when it changed to Dream Beach. And then I left to work in Lao.
What made you come back?
When I left, it was kind of like unfinished business, both the hotel and the club hadn’t reached their potential, which is why I come back. Throughout last year, we’ve been working hard to get back on track to where it should be and we’re getting there.
What vision do you have for Dream in Phuket?
The overall concept for both the hotel and the beach club is our catchphrase, which is “Live the Dream”. We want to create experiences for the guests where they feel like they’re on a movie set; they’re in a dream location, to give them the best possible service and the best entertainment. And fortunately, in our location, we give them stunning views already. We’ve done a lot of additions to get us there, we’ve just added a Jacuzzi section, and then, going forward, we’ve got a lot of promotions coming to entice Phuket residents. We’ve just developed residents cards with a 10% discount, from April 1st children under the age of 10 eat or drink for free at both the hotel and the beach club; we also do Soul Saturdays which is a comfort style brunch, and we’re going to offer a 50% discount to all the residents to come and enjoy that. Also, we opened seaside dining, down on the beachfront, we’re putting in a new bar down there, we’ll move the DJ booth there and we’ll have a lovely area for seaside dining – because the sunsets here are stunning!
If somebody came here a year ago and then they came back now, would they feel the difference?
I think so. I think a year ago we were just a typical beach club, but now we’re really focused on a variety of entertainment. We mix and match all sorts of entertainment options, sometimes even on the same day. And it really works. We could have a DJ, and then we could have an opera singer, and then we have our break dancers, and then we have our resident jazz singer… So, it’s really about not just being a typical DJ Beach Club, but an entertainment venue.
Also, we’re encouraging all our entertainers to interact with and engage the customers. I think entertainment should be more engaging, the customers should almost be a part of the show, so they’re not just sitting there, but can become involved. Which is why our entertainers move among the guests and perform among them. And it’s working, you can really see the enjoyment, especially on our Sunday brunches. it’s a really interactive party on a Sunday, and we want to extend that to other days.
What do you do in Phuket when you’re not at work?
I like fitness, a lot, so I go to the gym five times a week. Sometimes, depending on the time of year, I get up at 4:30 in the morning and I’m at the gym by 5:00 AM. Most of the rest of my time is around family. When my staff asks me: “What do you do on the weekends?” I say that I do my second job, I’m basically a taxi driver. I’m driving my wife somewhere or I’m driving my daughter to tennis or swimming or dance lessons. And then it’s the usual – we like going to the movies, trying out new restaurants, trying out new clubs.
Is there anything that you think Phuket is missing, something that would make your life here better?
I would like to see more beach clubs; for Phuket to become a beach club destination. I enjoy beach clubs and know a lot of people that do. We have a few beach clubs here, but we cannot compete with a place like Bali, where people go specifically because it’s a beach club destination. I think Phuket has the ability to do that.
But for myself? I love Phuket and I want to retire here. I liked the fact that you’ve got good nightlife here, good shopping, good beaches, beautiful people, great food. So, I will retire here and I will spend my days swimming with my daughter.
What still gets you out of bed in the morning? What keeps you excited about your job?
I love going to work. Particularly here, at Dream. There are very few jobs where you actually love getting in the car and driving to work. But I really do love the people I worked with, they inspire me everyday and I hope I inspire them a little bit too. I love the service industry, I love trying, every day, to deliver the best possible product and service to our guests. I get great fulfilment from it.