Dusit Thani Demolition: an Interview with Chanin Donavanik, Dusit International

For a long time, the Dusit Thani has been the most striking skyscraper in Bangkok’s landscape. Opened in 1969, it was considered one of the top hotels in town for decades. The hotel will be closed and demolished next year. Being part of the hotel developement since its opening, Chanin Donavanik, Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Executive Committee of Dusit International, talks with emotion about the end and renaissance of the prestigious property.

 

Why was the Dusit Thani Hotel different when it opened back in 1969?

Chanin Donavanik- At that time, structures in Bangkok were mostly two or three stories buildings, the highest structure rarely passed six to eight floors. But my mother Thanpuying Chanut Piyaoui wanted to represent the best of Thailand but also heralded a new era for our country. She fought with architects to be sure that our property would turn into an icon. ^I remember to quarrel with them over the height of the property. But she had in mind Wat Arun, which was an icon on the Chao Praya River. And its sleek silhouette was part of its iconic status.

What characterized the architecture of the property?

C.D.- The hotel wanted also to set up new standards in the Thai hospitality industry at that time and was the first contemporary five-star property by then with its six restaurants, its swimming pool, gardens and even a pet elephant!

The hotel had to be a true reflection of Thailand essence, a contemporary icon with a twist of local wisdom and design. Although it was designed by a Japanese architectural firm, it carries a distinctive Thai character. The triangle shape of the hotel, the spire evocating a chedi, the use of wood, gold coated and green mosaics or ogive-style windows were all reflecting our Thai culture. Dusit is indeed committed to be an ambassador of Thai art of living and culture, and we want to keep that in the future.

The Dusit Thani was very much the place to be seen for decades. Who impressed you the most among foreign VIPs?

C.D.- It is true that our hotel has been at the forefront of Bangkok social life for many decades. The property welcomed regularly members of Thailand Royal Family but also politicians, artists or sport leaders. My most vivid memory is about Deng Xiao Ping, China PRC leaser. He had such a clear vision about the future of China when he spoke about it. I was totally impressed.

What was your worst memory?

C.D.- Probably the time in 2010 when some snipers shot on the hotel window during the occupation of the Rachaprasong area by the so-called “Red Shirts”.

How many guests stayed at the Dusit Thani until now?

C.D.- It is difficult to say but one of our employees turned the counting of our guests into a hobby . And he told me that we saw in 48 years some 30 million people. We probably had between 300 and 400 weddings per year as well.

Why do you have to close the hotel and have it demolished? Would it not be possible to keep and integrate it into a more contemporary structure?

C.D.- We thought a lot about how to preserve this property which is really part of the history of Thailand tourism. Competition is too intense these days. 40 years ago, they were only three to four hotels with very high standards, now they are two to three dozens of five star properties.We suffer to be now an old property for the young generation which prefers to go to our competitors for private events…

The hotel design from the late 60s is very hard to adapt to new standards. Our rooms are to small- 32m2 on average compared to 40 to 45m2 for new hotels. Even if we reconfigure it, we will never reach the standards of Bangkok newest luxury hotels. To keep and redo the spaces inside the hotel would have been an extremely costly operation. I have to say I am sad to see our Dusit Thani to go but for the sake of the company, this is the best solution.

What will happen to the restaurants?

C.D.- Personal costs increased a lot in the last decade and it will be difficult to maintain the same number of restaurant outlets than we have. We need to find new ways to present our gastronomy. Especially as Bangkok culinary scene  changed a lot with an incredible choice of food and cuisines.

Some of our staff has been here for a very long time and a few them have expressed their desire to leave our company once the hotel closes…

Will the future hotel carry the spirit of the current Dusit Thani?

C.D.- We will try to preserve a lot from the old building into the new structure which will be spectacular and keep our aim to preserve our Thai essence. We will reintegrate the pieces of art and crafts designed in wood 50 years ago.

Our Thai Restaurant Benjarong will be exactly remodeled like the current one for example. We will try to preserve as much as possible of the art pieces that we have. Same for the trees in the garden. They will either be planted in some other properties or replanted in the garden of the future hotel.

How will the new Dusit Thani look like?

C.D.- The future Dusit Thani will open by 2022 and will be a new icon for Bangkok and incarnate again the best of Thai and Bangkok hospitality. It will be a true reflection of Thai values and culture. We will soon unveil its architectural design to the public…