Vol. II No.23 Saturday 7 June - 13 June 2003
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Weekly Local Biography

 Michael Kemp

 

The general manager of the Regent Chiang Mai Resort and Spa, a Four Seasons Resort, to give him his full title, is Michael Kemp, an Englishman with twinkling eyes and a keenly developed sense of humour. He is a man who characterizes his own description of a hotelier, “The right person with the right character.”

Michael was born in the UK, near Manchester, which could hardly be described as the Chiang Mai of England. His father was middle management in a chemical factory, which could also not be described as being part of the hospitality industry; however, his mother ran a small family bakery and young Michael had to take his turns at helping light the coke fired ovens and do deliveries after school and at weekends, with his elder brother and sister.

School was not his passion in life. “I didn’t seem to fit,” he said with another twinkle, “I went to A levels, but I didn’t get any!” So after secondary school, where could he go? With the Bakery business at home, and his elder brother headed in that direction, the family idea was that Michael should head in that direction as well. Brochures from the Blackpool College of Bakery were given to him to study, but Michael spotted that this college also had courses in Hotel Management. This looked better to the young man. “You didn’t have to get up early as you had to do as a baker!” So for those noble reasons, he commenced his three year training in Hotel Management, completing his training with good grades and a wish to travel the world.

During the time at Blackpool he had also done vacation work in a steak house chain, and contacts made there got him a position as the assistant manager in a small hotel. He was also 21 years old. The assistantship lasted six weeks at which time the manager left and six weeks out from college, he was suddenly a manager and stayed there for two and a half years.

Having been to Europe on holidays he still had this burning desire to work overseas, but his next posting was only over Hadrian’s Wall. Up to Scotland where he spent the next three and a half years hiking in the heather, rather than the ski slopes of St. Moritz.

However, the owner of the hotel bought two properties in Jamaica, and Michael was off and running to the warmer climes. His owner wished to develop hotels and Michael was caught up with the enthusiasm. With his scant knowledge of hotel development, Michael described his initial foray as being “like jumping off a cliff.”

He survived the jump and many more after it, spending fifteen years in Jamaica, running exclusive hotels for the rich and famous, mentioning Noel Coward and Sir Paul McCartney as a couple of his regular stay guests.

During this time, he also met up with the personal assistant to the head of the Regent Group, a young American lady named Karen. They were both busy people, but would meet up every year. From this annual get-together, they decided that perhaps they should get further together and eventually they were married in 1988.

The relationship with the Regent Group was further enhanced with the post of GM of the Regent of Fiji being offered that year as well. This was after one of the coups, in which Fiji began to rival Thailand of the post war period, and it was a struggle to get consumer confidence back to restart the tourist economy.

Michael stayed with the Regent of Fiji for eight years and enjoyed the climate and locale immensely. However, even island paradises have to come to an end one day, and for Michael it was when the owners of the hotel decided to sell out, and that meant everything. This was the opportunity for Michael and Karen to regroup and decide where their next move would be. In the interim, they took six months off and went to America.

America was a real holiday, including driving from northern Idaho to Key West in Florida, doing the sightseeing and things that all holidaymakers do. However, like all holidays, it does become necessary to return to the land of the workers!

For Michael and Karen, that was a return to the Regent name, coming here for the opening of the Regent in Chiang Mai in January 1997. It is probably unfair to ask a GM to compare his hotel with previous ones, but for Michael he was forthright in his answer, “All places are very different, but this (Regent Chiang Mai) is the place with the most advantages.”

Part of the attraction of living and working here in the hospitality industry comes from working with the Thai people themselves, according to Michael. “Thais are so concerned that people enjoy themselves. This is very special,” said Michael.

He and Karen have no children, “We were a bit past it by the time we got married. When you’re running hotels it’s like having an enormous family. It’s not something you can switch off when you lock the door of the office.”

That concept of not leaving the worries behind when you lock the office door extends into Michael’s private life as well, leaving little or no time for hobbies. His spare time goes into just keeping in touch with friends all over the world.

He firmly believes that to be a hotelier you have to be completely committed. He does perceive a shift in the industry from ‘service’ to ‘profit’, though he was quick to point out that service is still the number one priority in his resort. “It’s a time consuming business,” he says, but he also believes that, “For the right person, with the right character, you can only enjoy it.”

Michael has enjoyed his life, and is thinking about retirement in the not too distant future, however, I cannot see him away from hotels for too long!


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