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    Lifestyle Curators for Thailand + Southeast Asia

    Up to the Challenge

      /  HOTELS   /  Up to the Challenge

    2015 looks set to be a challenging year but Centara is more than ready to meet the challenge, says newly appointed Group COO Markland Blaiklock.

    by Percy Roxas

    With Thailand’s key drivers performing “softly,” says Markland Blaiklock, 2015 looks set to be a challenging year. “Many of the mature markets have been in decline for a few years now. Add to this, recent declines in visitor arrivals from Russia and China, which is further exasperating the market situation by demanding very low rates,” explains the newly appointed chief operating officer (COO) of the Centara Hotels and Resorts (CHR) group. Consequently, the group is now consolidating efforts to gain market share in the mature markets while also looking to increase activity in the newer markets to offset the declines.

    CHR is looking to expand its current portfolio of 76 properties within the region and beyond. Its properties cover all the major tourist destinations in Thailand, and they have hotels and resorts in Maldives, Mauritius, Vietnam, Bali, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Qatar, Laos, Oman, Turkey, and China. Centara also operates 36 Spa Cenvaree branches, together with seven of the value brand Cense by Spa Cenvaree. As well, the group operates three state-of-the-art convention centers in Bangkok, and two in northeastern Thailand (Udon Thani and Khon Kaen). The group is also currently developing its latest brand, COSI, an affordable lifestyle hotel brand designed for travelers who predominantly make bookings via the Internet and who want comfort and convenience at affordable prices. The first COSI is due to open in 2016.

    With the group’s far-flung business reach and its continuing ambition to become the largest hotel and resorts’ operator in Thailand, it seems obvious why Blaiklock was perfect for the job. His long experience, sterling credentials, and proven track record speak for themselves.

    Educated in England and France, Blaiklock started his career in finance – at Hilton International in Orly, France – and zoomed swiftly up to top positions in the hospitality hierarchy. Soon, he became assistant financial controller at Le Meridien, before progressing his career in hotels in Montreal, New York, Houston, San Francisco, and Vancouver, where he became Le Meridien Hotel’s resident manager in 1988.

    In 1990, he became executive assistant manager at Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort (Sabah, East Malaysia), and two years later, manager of Traders Hotel, Beijing. In 1993, he took the helm at Shangri-La Beijing as general manager (GM), and in 1996 became area manager for the Philippines and GM of Makati Shangri-La Manila.

    In 2001, he moved to Singapore, where he was managing director (MD) of Raffles City Hotels and Convention Center. Two years later he was the MD of the Raffles Hotels & Resorts itself (until 2005) before joining Wynn Macau as executive director of hotel operations.

    Blaiklock was appointed CEO at Grande Asset Hotels & Property, a publicly listed company majority-owned by the Lehman Brothers in 2007. In late 2008, he joined Sofitel Asia Pacific as senior VP, responsible for the operation of 54 Sofitel brands in the region, including the two Centara hotels, in Hua Hin and Ladprao, which until recently carried the Sofitel name.

    While Blaiklock has been to many places around the world, he says Thailand holds a very special place in his heart. He’s happy to be back. “I love Thailand, and so does my family,” he says, “I look forward to making more great memories in this country in the future.” At the moment though, Blaiklock’s eyes are firmly set on the job. As Centara’s COO, he is primarily responsible for the performance of the group’s 44 operating hotels and resorts, as well as the 32 properties under development. That’s obviously a tall order – even for a veteran like him.

    Blaiklock describes the group’s objectives as follows: “To enhance C1C activities to better engage our group’s loyalty base, to ramp-up our social media engagement with a new media production center, to enhance our mobile applications and take advantage of growing sales, and overseas, to further expand our portfolio and maximize existing core customers to support.”

    He said “Thailand needs to keep attracting its 28-million-tourists-per-year and devote new funding to a higher-spending audience with a more targeted, different communication. Perhaps it could redirect some of the money spent on niche tourism, as there is some overlap in these two areas. Too often, the communication is way too confused and inappropriate for a wider audience.”

    Hearing him speak and not mincing words left most of us wanting to get more of his valuable input on other topics. But we all know there will be time for that. In the meantime, it seems enough that Blaiklock proves to be more than just another media-savvy hotel executive. Here is a man who not only can “talk the talk” but also can “walk the walk,” to use a cliché. Quite charismatic too.

    And as a fellow-journalist puts it: “he seems just the man CHR needs for its wide-ranging expansion plans ahead.” Based on our first interview with him, we wouldn’t argue with that.