the owners of the Four Seasons Resort, Chiang Mai, began
planning a celebration of the resort’s tenth anniversary, Bill
Heinecke said, “Let’s do something for the community.” So
with that as a mandate, the new general manager, Andrew W.
Harrison, began looking around and meeting with people in the
Mae Rim area.
What they did for the community was
spectacular. They gave 126 scholarships to needy children; some
are orphans, some simply too poor to afford uniforms and books.
They threw a big pizza party for the children of Viengping
Children’s Home. Many of these children have physical
disabilities, some were abused, and some are HIV positive or
have already been diagnosed with AIDS. They cleaned and painted
an area temple where the monk who is in charge has cancer. And
they’re planning a trip with the Thai 5th
Special Forces Medical Unit to Chang Dao to provide medical care
to villagers in need.
The “something for the community” is
quite an accomplishment for somebody who has only been in
residence since November 2004, but Andrew found it, as he does
many things, “a fascinating challenge in an amazing
Although born in a small principality similar
to Monaco, Andrew grew up in Yorkshire in England and considers
himself a Yorkshire man. His mother owned a catering business,
and that probably laid the groundwork for his future choice of
professions. It was not uncommon for her to ring him up when he
was at the university and ask for his help in handling a big
wedding reception or corporate party. And he usually responded
by bringing friends with him, especially for the larger affairs.
There was another influential person in young
Andrew’s life who may have had a different but equal impact on
his future, a celebrated British television personality named
Alan Whicker. Alan Whicker hosted a travelogue called Whicker’s
World, and Andrew said he was mesmerized by the adventures
and commentary of this traveling gentleman. Alan Whicker always
traveled in the grandest manner, stayed in the finest hotels,
and experienced the most amazing sights.
Many years later the grown up professional
Andrew would meet Alan Whicker at the Four Seasons in Bali, and
later would have lunch with him during the handover in Hong
Kong. Mr. Whicker obviously never gave up his love of travel,
and certainly never downgraded his choice of accommodations.
Peter Mayle’s book, Acquired Tastes, comes to mind.
In 1984 Andrew won a travel scholarship to
study the cuisine of Pakistan with the idea of developing Indian
restaurants in five star hotels worldwide. Then, as now, Indian
cuisine was popular with many people, and Andrew took advantage
of this study opportunity to travel throughout the South Asian
region. The list of countries is impressive; suffice it to say
he covered the region from top to bottom, and took home a world
of information on food. But he also absorbed the cultures, and
began a lifelong world adventure that shows no signs of slowing
We talked about travel in Southeast Asia
twenty years ago, taking taxis and buses through areas that
didn’t see too many Western people. It occurred to me as we
talked that it would be easier to ask Andrew where he had not
traveled rather than where he has. Just take out an atlas and
have him point. No matter where his finger may land, he’s
probably been there and most likely with friends or family. And
if he’s been there, he has a charming story to tell about it.
In addition to a love of travel, Andrew has a
gift of languages. While he is a native English speaker, he is
also fluent in French and German. He learned enough Russian
while working in Moscow to occasionally translate for friends
and colleagues, and speaks a smattering of other languages. He
plans to study Thai as soon as the Songkran holidays are over.
Managing a five star resort is an intense
job. The Four Seasons Resort consists of beautiful residences as
well as the hotel rooms, gardens, rice fields, water buffaloes
(yes, water buffaloes), restaurants, swimming pools, tennis
courts, workout rooms, the world-recognized Lanna Spa and a very
fine cooking school.
But managing the resort is not limited to
managing the physical resources. There is also human resource
management, and the resort has a ration of 1:1 staff to guests.
Relationships with guests are paramount in the life of a general
manager. Guests at the Four Seasons come from all over the world
and have expectations of their stay as varied as their cultures.
Andrew says that you have to have a passion for the work, and
that you have to have a family that understands and supports
He met his wife, Francette, who certainly
understands, in 1991 while both were working at a five star
hotel in Moscow. Francette is French and also multi-lingual.
Nakita, their nine year old daughter, was born in Singapore and
has lived in hotel properties in Bali, Kuala Lumpur, the United
States, and Chiang Mai. She attends international school and
speaks English and French. She is currently studying Thai. She
has adapted so well to life at the Four Seasons that she has
begun to make suggestions, observing that Dad may want to add
another bench here or there. The gift for languages and the
ability to adapt to many cultures and countries apparently runs
in this family.
For a long time, the Four Seasons Resort was the only five
star property in the Chiang Mai area. But times are changing as
Chiang Mai is being developed into a world-class tourist
destination. I asked Andrew about the competition that the Four
Seasons Resort is facing. He said that it’s exciting to have
other companies, to manage the competition, to learn and grow.
For Andrew Harrison, managing a five star resort is as natural
as breathing. “Every morning,” he says, “you wake up and
there’s something different.”