Weekly Local Biography

  Wim Fagel

Wim Fagel had been the general manager of the Amari Rincome Hotel for only five weeks when I did this interview, but he smiled broadly and said, “I am home.” He looked so relaxed, I believe him.

Wim was born in Holland in a town close to Amsterdam. His father was a financial controller and his mother was entrenched in that noble profession known as ‘housewife’ looking after Wim and his two elder sisters.

He attended government schools in Holland and described himself as a middle of the road student; however, he knew where he was headed - and that was towards the hospitality industry, and the hotel business in particular.

The stimulus for this was travel. In Europe it is relatively easy to visit ‘foreign’ countries, and the young Wim found that he like the excitement of travel and the challenge of new horizons. He was told that the hospitality industry would suit him (and it certainly appears to)! In addition, he was taught French from the age of eight, English from the age of twelve, and German one year later. A sound basis for an international career.

When he finished his schooling at age 18 he went immediately to hotel school in Amsterdam, which took up the next four years of his life, including a 12 months stint in Germany as part of his practical training.

By then he knew that this was his future direction and he began on one of the many bottom rungs - for Wim this was as a night telephone operator in a hotel, followed by time as the night auditor. “It was not computerized as it is today and I worked from 10 p.m. to 7.30 a.m. I chose the front office jobs because in hotel school you don’t learn the front office positions, but one year of working at night is difficult,” he reminisced. Interestingly, while he was there, the banqueting supervisor was a young man called Marc Dumur - the same Marc Dumur whose shoes he has just stepped into at the Amari Rincome. The world for hoteliers is a small place.

Finishing his year of nights, he had also formulated his plans for the future. He wanted to be the GM of a hotel and gave himself 10-15 years to do it. However, “I knew I had to have experience in all departments.”

It is this requirement for GM’s to be knowledgeable in all the different areas of responsibilities in an hotel that drives these young executives onwards. Most of them move on from hotel to hotel every couple of years. It is not, as most people not in the industry would imagine, that the hotel business attracts a group of peripatetic nomads, but it represents the quickest way for a player in the hospitality industry to gain a very broad-based experience. In Europe especially, with the rather rigid system of advancement, if you stayed at the same hotel you would be waiting for the person on the next rung up the ladder to retire before you too could move up.

So he moved through hotels, moving steadily upwards through front offices, services, night offices, small hotels, larger hotels, big hotels until he became an executive assistant manager in a large hotel in the south of Holland. With the departure of the GM, Wim became the interim GM. It was 10 years since he had left his training course, and he had managed to get his toes in the managerial waters. He was on target.

Following this he was seconded to the head office of the chain he was working for, but this was not to his liking. “I was not happy. There was nothing in it for me. The whole day in the office seeing nobody.” It was obvious that Wim Fagel was a people person.

He moved on to be the GM in a hotel in his hometown for the next two and a half years. The local boy makes good kind of story, and he did make good, mentioning with pride the 92% occupancy rates that he had achieved through imaginative marketing plans to the local industries.

Despite being ‘back home’ Wim was not totally happy and began looking elsewhere. “I became tired of all the rules and regulations in the Netherlands. I saw an advert for an MD in Nepal. I had to look it up on the internet to see where it was!” He got the job and resigned from his home hotel.

This was something new for Wim. “Nepal was a bit of a culture shock. There were cows on the street. The first few months were very difficult for me, and I didn’t speak the language.” However, not only were there societal changes, but Wim was forced to address other changes too. “I had to change my management style too. Previously I had been very tough. I had accepted the job and signed a contract for two years. It was another land, another culture. I found they wouldn’t change for me - I had to change for them. Nepal was my first country in Asia.” Of course, for the Asia old hands, this need to change to local needs and customs is nothing new!

His contract was extended to four years in Nepal, and during this time he became fluent in Nepali and Newari (another Nepalese language). During this time he also suffered from the global downturn in tourism, caused by wars, terrorism and contagion. “After four years I wanted to leave Nepal. Four years in one hotel is a long time in the hotel business.”

However, he did not want to leave Asia, and approached the Amari group, receiving the Chiang Mai appointment. So here he is, doing one of his many hobbies - work! “It’s a kind of a hobby as well, as otherwise you can’t survive,” he said. His other hobbies, for the spare time GM’s don’t get, are jazz, baseball and reading detective novels.

Welcome to Chiang Mai, Wim Fagel.