Brits Abroad – Alex Willats
Alex Willats, acting general manger of the 517-bedroom Dusit Thani Bangkok, tells Janet Harmer how working overseas has helped broaden his skills.
Can you give me a broad outline of your current position?
I have day-to-day responsibility for the running of the Dusit Thani Bangkok, where I head 700 staff.
What are the chief challenges of working in Thailand?
As a major conurbation, Bangkok has the same logistical traffic challenges as many of its counterparts. Finding skilled local staff also poses a challenge. However, at Dusit we are dedicated to developing skilled staff through vocational skill training and have an educational wing to the company through our Dusit Thani College degree programmes.
How has the recent political unrest in Thailand impacted the hotel and your life?
Thailand has made good progress in recovering from the difficult political circumstances that ensued last year. Business has rebounded and we are also starting to see some resurgence in the leisure market. My family and I have integrated well into life in Asia, largely due to the easy nature of the Thai people.
Had you worked abroad elsewhere before Bangkok?
I was previously stationed in Bahrain. While it was a well-developed liberal country, it suffered political instability, lacked leisure opportunities and beaches, and had limited facilities for expatriate families.
What encouraged you to work overseas in the first place?
My parents worked abroad in Nigeria, Qatar and Indonesia and that encouraged me. In 2008, my wife and I decided it would be an opportune time to travel, explore different cultures and give our young son, who will be four next birthday, a broader upbringing.
How did you get your first job overseas and your current job?
I was approached for the position in Bahrain through a recruitment agency specialising in senior management positions in the hospitality industry. For the position in Bangkok, I was contacted by a head hunter who then put me in touch with the company direct.
How has working abroad enhanced your career?
It has given me opportunities to develop and broaden my skills professionally, as well as allowing me to experience and visit places that I may not have considered visiting. I also believe that having experience on three continents gives me a greater flexibility when considering moving somewhere else.
What do you like about working in Bangkok?
The people are accommodating and welcoming and the city is well developed and has tremendous variety and pace. It is a very easy city to fall into, despite the chaos of the streets, which is actually part of its appeal.
What do you dislike about working in Bangkok?
The heat and humidity takes getting used to. However, once you overcome this and the heavy traffic, it is just like working in any other major capital city.
What are the financial benefits of working abroad?
Most salaries are paid tax free to expatriate employees and there are also accommodation allowances. Annual flights and private healthcare are also offered and, in some instances, private school fees.
What advice would you give to anyone wishing to work abroad?
Insist on making a trip to the destination and don't take the job over the phone. If travelling with a partner and family, try to take them with you for your interview to help assess the location and facilities. Often your family will be alone for long periods of time as the working hours are no easier than the UK, so it is important they are happy with the destination. Remember that you are a guest in the country and need to be aware of cultural and religious differences. You must be prepared to adapt, not the other way.
CV Alex Willats
1991-95 Hotel management degree, National Centre for Hotel Management, South Bank University, London
â- 1995-97 Night manager, Churchill InterContinental, London
â- 1997-99 Assistant front officer manager, Millennium Gloucester, London
â- 1999-00 Front of house manager, Montcalm Nikko, London
â- 2000-03 Front of house manager, Millennium London Mayfair
â- 2003-05 Resident manager, Lowry, Manchester
â- 2005-07 Executive assistant manager, Ritz, London
â- 2008 Hotel manager, Claridge's, London
â- 2008-10 Executive assistant manager, Diplomat Radisson Blu, Bahrain
â- 2010 Consultant hotel manager, Al Areen Palace & Spa, Bahrain
â- 2010-present Resident manager, then acting general manager, Dusit Thani Bangkok