Weekly Local Biography

  Lorenz Ferrari

One of the well known figures around Chiang Mai is a man with a name very close to Enzo Ferrari, the founder of the famous motor car firm. However, Chiang Mai resident Lorenz Ferrari went to great pains to assure me that he was in no way related to the eponymous Enzo.

Lorenz was born in Austria in south Tyrol; however, his birthplace is now in Italy, as they shifted the borders, but Lorenz was also quick to point out that he is Austrian and not Italian (like Enzo).

His family were all simple farmers in the wine growing areas of south Tyrol, and it looked as if Lorenz would also end up tending the vines. Lorenz himself had no idea what he should do, but some relatives suggested that the hotel business could suit the young man, because “Hotel people get fat tips!” So the decision was made and Lorenz was sent to Switzerland to become a hotel person waiting for fat tips! “This was the correct decision for two reasons,” said Lorenz. “First I had no clue what I wanted to be and secondly, I was brought up to be obedient.”

There was another reason that was the correct decision, but Lorenz did not know this at the time - he had a repressed travel bug, and the hotel industry allows (and even encourages) travel. After training he went to Vienna, to start at the bottom. “I was a bellboy and I did get fat tips. But tips are not the reason to be in the hotel industry. If all you think about are the tips you will neglect your career,” said Lorenz all schoolmasterly with advice!

Around this time, the large international hotel chains began to enter Europe, and Lorenz could see that by joining one, this could mean travel abroad for a young hotel worker, and his next stop was Vancouver, British Columbia.

The travel bug was not yet satiated, and buying an old VW, he drove 10,000 km to Central America. “This was a trip I had always wanted to make,” said Lorenz. The trip to San Salvador was worth it, as he was offered a job there by another international chain and he took it, staying there for 12 months.

If it were exotic countries that he was after, Lorenz got them! After San Salvador he went to Ghana with the same international chain, where he spent two years, before the travel bug bit again. This time he wanted to see the exotic East. Thoughts of Singapore and Hong Kong filled his head and he duly departed for the Orient.

However, he stopped off at a place that he knew very little of on the way. This destination was called Bangkok. He was offered a job in one of the major hotels there and that was it. “Thailand? I started to fall in love with it.” He never did get to work in Singapore or Hong Kong!

He stayed there in Bangkok for four years, before being lured to Pattaya for the pre-opening of the Orchid Resort for the Ital-Thai Group. From there he was sent all over Thailand to carry out feasibility studies for the company, including one on a property in Chiang Mai called the Rincome, then becoming the Amari Rincome after the addition of 55 new rooms, a coffee shop and the lobby.

That was thirty years ago, and Lorenz began to recount Chiang Mai as it was then. “When I arrived in 1973 we had to come by car. All around the Rincome Hotel were fields. I thought to myself, how am I going to fill this hotel? Chiang Mai had no Night Bazaar, no hi-rise buildings, no condos, no tuk-tuks, only cyclo’s. There was no superhighway or shopping centers, only one department store. There was hardly any traffic and no nightlife. There were two international style hotels, two guest houses and two western style restaurants. No one knew what Chiang Mai was going to be.”

Indeed, no one could have predicted the growth of the northern capital, when the first air services took two and a half hours to link Bangkok and Chiang Mai and there were six telephone lines to Bangkok. “It used to sometimes take all day to telephone Bangkok, and overseas calls could only be made in the Post Office.”

Despite all the problems, Lorenz did manage to fill his hotel, while the fields around it filled with buildings. HM the King would stay in Chiang Mai for a few months every year and Lorenz would welcome all the visiting ambassadors and VIP’s who would come up to pay their respects. “Chiang Mai was a very pleasant place and business was going the right way,” he said.

However, the winds of change were coming. He was receiving offers to go to Bangkok, but he wanted to stay in Chiang Mai. He could also see that the hotel business was changing. As tourist travel became cheaper, mass tourism would change the life for hoteliers. “It wasn’t my idea of the hotel business. I was trained in the times of giving personal service. I didn’t want to be an administrator so I left and opened a restaurant.”

He ran his restaurant (Le Chalet) for 14 years and then decided to take what Lorenz described as, “A well deserved retirement.” In this he could spend more time on his hobby of collecting art and antiques from the region, but he does everything now with a measured tread. “I don’t want to be over ambitious. I don’t want to put myself under pressure to do something. I have achieved what I wanted to do. I am at peace with myself. I have stayed single - I went close (to marrying), but my guardian angel stopped me! I like my freedom.”

However the travel bug is still there, and a trip to Korea is in the offing. And after that? Who knows, but Lorenz Ferrari has not stopped yet!