Happiness on the right Meridien

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Updated: February 02, 2016 12:42 PM

Landlocked and tucked away amidst the mountains is this rather quaint and tranquil kingdom of Bhutan. This place seemed to be on the right Meridien for Starwood Hotels and Resorts as they went ahead and set foot both in Thimphu and Paro, with the Le Meridien brand. By Reema Lokesh

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Landlocked and tucked away amidst the mountains is this rather quaint and tranquil kingdom of Bhutan. This place seemed to be on the right Meridien for Starwood Hotels and Resorts as they went ahead and set foot both in Thimphu and Paro, with the Le Meridien brand. By Reema Lokesh

Your journey into the kingdom of happiness starts in the air itself, as there seems to happiness in the air, especially if you are seated on the right side of life (in this case it’s the aircraft). From the time the pilot announces that the flight will be passing over the magnificent Mount Everest till the time it fades away out of sight, you just can’t help but marvel at this splendid work of nature. It is time to land into Paro and the excitement of experiencing one the most tricky landings in the world gives you yet another high. Manouvering its way through the mountains, the flight lands effortlessly at Paro airport, which itself looks like a well designed princely abode. For those in love with photography, the airport in Bhutan is a visual treat, which can be captured without any restrictions. That’s when you realise, why Bhutan is truly a kingdom that is rare and revered, and yes ‘happiness’ is surely in the air, unadulterated. The journey begins with a rather warm welcome from the Le Meridien team at the airport itself. The half hour travel from Paro airport to the 78 rooms Le Meridien Thimphu, (Starwood’s foray into Bhutan) passes by some breathtaking views and panoramic landscapes. The well located Le Meridien Paro, Riverfront, also meets you en route.

Centre point

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It would not be wrong to say that Starwood seems to be well placed on the happiness Meridien, as the group strategically identified the right partners to make inroads into the kingdom of happiness, both with the Le Meridien Thimphu and the Le Meridien Paro, Riverfront. Le Meridien Thimphu, is the largest in the country and is strategically situated to get to any place, from shopping to sightseeing, in reasonable amount of time. The property offers its guests three distinct dining options, which includes an all-day diner offering both local and international flavours, a pan Asian restaurant that offers cuisine from South East Asia and a casual cafe outlet, which transforms into a vibrant lounge and bar in the evening. The property has also partnered with renowned American photographer Gray Malin, to capture moods and moments, expressions and experiences of the region with the Le Meridien story being tastefully intertwined through its intellectually captured picture talk. However, it wasn’t as picture perfect, when Starwood took upon itself to start operations at the earliest. They brought in an able leader Tim Bilfinger, general manager, Le Meridien, Thimphu, who got the property up and running in record time.

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Trials and triumphs

For Bilfinger, his brief was clear, the Le Meridien Thimphu, needed to be ready in record time and he was given six months to get it going. A general manager who is well travelled across the APAC region, from Thailand and Maldives to Dubai and Hong Kong, this may not be such a tough task after all. However, for Bilfinger, there were challenges galore. It was his sheer will and determination coupled with uncompromising team work that finally got the property up and running in the given time frame. Bilfinger was clear in his thought from day one. He states rather emphatically, “I had to lead from the front, get my hands dirty and work with a Plan B. I picked up the best from everyone and put them to test. During such times, focus on what is essential is paramount and the truth is that one has to get the work done as desired within the stipulated time frame.” He says it was critical for him to understand the challenges and circumstances and to ensure that the guest experience was untarnished. “I along with my team were up on the trucks to load and upload goods and material. I have literally spoken to every associate on the property. It was important to position the property right, which markets to pursue and at the right price point. There was so much and more that went into building this wonder,” adds Bilfinger.

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From educating the clientele in the region on the Starwood and Le Meridien brands to bringing in ILLY coffee and other international brands, the team under the leadership of Bilfinger, has worked diligently to showcase Bhutan as a well defined tourism splendour. With yet another property in Paro, both the properties aim to leverage each other’s strengths.

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The greatest challenge the general manager faced was to hire people for the job. He worked with people who had no prior skills in hospitality. He points out that it was also interesting to receive interest from two Bhutanese women to serve in the engineering department, which is not a typical department that require soft skills.

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“I finally requested the local tourism authority to get a bit aggressive in its tourism marketing and promotions, as a strong tourism body will give out a strong and positive message, which in turn would help the property to establish itself as a preferred MICE, wedding and leisure destination,” mentions Bilfinger.

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