Weekly Local Biography

  Arie J.M. de Keijzer

The general manager of the Rydges Tapae Hotel is an affable Dutchman, Arie de Keijzer, a man who believes in “fun” and has spent a lifetime chasing it!

Born in Den Helder, a Dutch navy base, his father was a naval officer, which might explain some of Arie’s wanderlust. His mother ran a group called the Experiment in International Living (EIL) whose motto was “Expect the unexpected,” a very wise counsel, particularly in Thailand!

His introduction to the hospitality industry was through an uncle who ran a hotel. Arie was nine years old, and had to stand on crates to be tall enough to work in the kitchen. “I started my career behind the dishwashing machine,” said Arie. “I enjoyed the kitchen and had fun with the cooks. I got paid money too, and that I found most interesting!”

By the time his secondary schooling was completed, he knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to stay in hotels, but get out from behind the dishwasher. That required hotel school, but there was one problem. He was too young. However, his mother came up with the answer - EIL, and the ‘too young’ Arie went to America as an exchange student in Michigan for 12 months. Arie to this day does not know what he was exchanged for, and his mother didn’t say!

He returned and began his four year hotel school course, while still living at home. For Arie this was a less than ideal situation. “I was a difficult kid. I wanted to move out, but my father said I would be allowed to leave after 12 months if I passed. I never worked so hard in my whole life!”

After successful completion of his course, Arie was not snapped up by the hospitality industry, as he had a prior commitment. This was called national service, and no potential employer will take on a national service recruit knowing that they will be spirited away, and the employer has to take on the responsibility to accept them back afterwards.

So boots and battledress came next and the catering corps? No, in true army fashion, the hospitality graduate was put in the motor pool driving trucks. Mind you, Arie didn’t complain. “I thought it was exciting. I had freedom to drive on the road, and freedom is very important to me.” He also managed to arrange to ‘live out’ and spent the evenings working behind the bar of a local hotel.

Just before he was due to complete his ‘nasho’ he was offered a post as the banqueting supervisor in a five star hotel in Amsterdam and he wriggled out of the army gear and into a cummerbund and dickie to commence his hotel experience. He stayed there for three years and was promoted to assistant banqueting manager, but his career did not really take off until he managed to get himself into the position as a management trainee with the Renaissance group.

The rationale behind this was interesting. It offered potentially good employees a ‘fast track’ towards becoming a general manager, rotating them through the various departments in hotel management, while at the same time, keeping the good employees under the Renaissance umbrella. This was what Arie wanted and he set himself the goal of becoming a GM in Europe before he was 30 years old.

Nevertheless, the way to get there was the usual grind. Front office and night auditor in Frankfurt, sales and marketing in Koln, the usual. However, he was then asked if he minded a stint in the Middle East. He didn’t mind in the least and spent 12 months in Bahrain as an assistant food and beverage manager before returning to Europe as an executive assistant manager (EAM) in Baden-Baden in Germany. Two more shifts and he was in Leipzig. His position? General manager and he was only 29 years old. He had made his first goal with 11 months to spare.

He stayed for two years in Leipzig but the all-pervading drabness of Germany started to get him down, despite his cherished GM status. “All those dark grey/brown dirty cities,” he said.

In those days he could travel with two suitcases and when he received an offer to go to Burma (Myanmar) he had them both packed very quickly. The posting was for an EAM, but he took it, just to get away from the monochromatic grey of Europe - and the weather. It was a five star hotel and for Arie, the Asian experience was fascinating. “It was my first chance to work in Asia. The excitement of the unknown - I had loved in Europe, America and the Middle East. Different continents means different cultures, and I’m up to three now.”

He enjoyed the expat life in Burma but was lured by the offer of a job in a resort hotel in Phuket. “This was my first resort hotel, and I went there as EAM, with the idea that I would become GM after 12 months.” Unfortunately, Arie’s dream run ended on the golden sands of Phuket after a few months. Irreconcilable management differences meant that he moved on, and up to Bangkok, as he had by now started to enjoy Thai life even more than in Burma. “I was unemployed for the first time in my life!”

Living as part of the ‘idle poor’ did not last long, though at one stage he had begun to think he would have to return to Holland. Salvation came with the post of GM at the about-to-open Rydges Thapae, and he obviously relishes the position. “There is no greater pleasure than assembling your own team, one by one,” said Arie. And that he has done, with Rydges Thapae now in the top three in the market, he says with pride.

Chiang Mai suits him, “I’ve never had a house and garden before. I’ve got a little bit of everything here.” I think we’ve got Arie for a while too!