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Pattaya resort hotel welcomes guests with disabilities

Somchai Ratanaopath and his father, Mitr, considered it of much more significance than any other award they have received when one of their hotels was lauded by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, and this has also brought in more guests and positive media exposure for the hotel.

Six years ago, just beside the four-star, ship-shaped A-One The Royal Cruise Hotel, they opened the A-One Pattaya Beach Resort. This eight-floor building with a more contemporary design is clearly distinct from its stablemate. But what makes it really special is that it seriously took aged and disabled guests into consideration during its design.

"A hotel is a hotel _ a lot of rooms and facilities for people to live in," said Somchai, managing director of the A-One Hotel Group. "But we want to make it different, to make the hotel friendlier.

"When people come, they feel like they are staying at home. More than that, we want to do something for the handicapped."

At the reception, the height of the counter is tailored for wheelchair-bound guests to check-in by themselves. It has a special fire escape with a gentle slope for wheelchairs. The lift buttons are lower than normal for wheelchair people to reach, and every button has Braille text next to it.

Upon entering a room, you will find the beds and sofas are all at a height of 50cm, instead of the usual 60cm. The interior doors are all push-pull.

There are no thresholds between bedrooms and balconies, so wheelchairs can easily get through to the outdoor areas to enjoy the sea view.

Bathrooms are also designed according to the international standards for disabled people. An emergency button on the wall allows them to call for help from reception staff. Even the swimming pool is not very deep and has one side made of glass, through which people outside can see clearly into the water and provide help if something occurs.

This is also a hotel without steps. Every corner is accessible for the handicapped. However, the A-One Pattaya Beach Resort was not designed solely to serve the disabled _ it is not a care home.

"Actually, we don't want to advertise that it is for the disabled. It is a luxury hotel. We just made it like a home. Homes refuse no one," Somchai said. "When we travel with my parents, my mother is old now and sometimes has to use a wheelchair; a hotel like this is suitable for her. I feel comfortable staying in this room too. It serves all people."

Every hotel owner will have their own definition of "luxury" _ best locations, luxurious decor, first-class service, exorbitant prices, an air of exclusivity _ and A-One agrees with all these, but it has added a group of people who are supposed to be treated equally into its "luxury" elements.

"I think for every 100 rooms you maybe have one for disabled people. But here every room can serve them as well as other people. We are trying to combine them together," said Somchai.

elevator with braille button

Besides doing good, the family also has other ambitions. After years of dramatic growth fuelled in part by a sufficient supply of young labour, Thailand is now experiencing an ageing trend due to lower birth rates and longer life expectancies in recent decades. Especially in this season on Pattaya beach, there are far more retirees, both from overseas and Thailand, than young people.

"It is one channel we can reach that market. We are the only one in Pattaya, even in Thailand. If there was a group of aged or disabled visitors, they will think of us," Somchai said. "We may be more pricey, but we have to add the costs, you have to do something that is different from others."

Constructing continues. The family has expanded the business by buying more land. The A-One Pattaya Beach Hotel has over 580 rooms, and this will reach more than 1,000 when another three new buildings are completed.

For Somchai the key word is family. He is the eldest of six siblings, most of whom work in the family business.

"As you see, we are a family company, but we have one of the best occupancy rates in Pattaya," he said. "Normally, the whole year we run 80%; during peak seasons, it can be 95-97%, or sometimes 99%."

When Somchai was young, his father, Mitr Ratanaopath, the owner of the hotel, sent him to the United States to study industrial engineering. After the Royal Cruise hotel was founded, he came back and has been its managing director ever since.

"My father doesn't want to stop working. We still consult him on most things In the morning, he checks the takings, and my mother sits next to him, they always help each other like this. I run all the management, but if we want to buy a large piece of land, we will discuss it together," said Somchai.

"It is just the Chinese way," observed Mitr, who is 84.

A-One Pattaya Beach Hotel has grown with this city for more than 20 years. Despite financial crisis, political uncertainty and floods, Pattaya hasn't stopped growing. This strengthens the family's confidence.

"We've had difficult times, but we've passed that. While other hotels cut costs by reducing the number of employees, we have never considered that. We didn't downsize services either," he said. "Instead, we have always tried to hold out to the last minute. Pattaya will always grow, so will we."

Faced with so many competitors, the family chooses to be different. The strategy dates back to the first day the giant ship-shaped A-One the Royal Cruise Hotel was built. And considering there is a fast-growing community of expat retirees living in Pattaya, the luxury-disabled combined hotel is a smart move.

"That's the way we do business, we are not a chain hotel, and we never aspired to be one of them. So we have to try our best," Somchai said.

A-One Hotel's facilities

A-One Hotel won acclaim from the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security for catering specially to handicapped guests.

An A-One background

Maybe it was destiny. Manachart Paianan, A-One The Royal Cruise Hotel's PR officer, was strolling along Pattaya's main promenade looking for a job when a "big ship" caught his eyes. Of course he is not the only one who has been attracted by this cruise-shaped hotel.

On one side of the palm-tree lined main beach road is the azure ocean and sweeping crescent beach _ a stark contrast to the scene of chaotic and earthly life with numerous bars, hotels and shopping centres shoulder to shoulder on the other side. Compared to the newly built metropolitan style hotel chains, such as the commanding Hilton, you may think that the nine-floor A-One The Royal Cruise Hotel appears dwarf-like; however, you can easily discern some qualities which make you believe it is somehow a little different.

Twenty-five years ago, Mitr Ratanaopath, who owned a motel in Bangkok, came to Pattaya. By then, Pattaya had experienced a decade of breakneck development since it was declared a city in 1978. Tourists from America, Asia and Russia poured into Pattaya to enjoy the sunshine, sparkling waters, massages and indulge themselves in the city's notorious sex trade.

Mitr Ratanaopath, centre, and Somchai Ratanaopath, right Rich Thais who used to flock to the royal resort town of Hua Hin now came to Pattaya instead. The hotel industry flourished and became a lucrative business. The booming hospitality industry gave rise to the joke that every Monday there will be a new hotel opening.

"In the beginning, we bought land. However, we found that the hotels here are mostly built like forts, not matching the seashore at all," Somchai said.

"So we were determined to put something on the front of the square building which the architect had designed. We wanted to make it like a ship heading out to sea."

The ship idea proved to be a hit soon after the building was completed in 1988.

"It was easy for us to run advertisements and promotions, and we never worried about the sales," Somchai added.

The tremendous hull of the "ship" calls to mind the Titanic, but this is one vessel that will never sink. With snow-white sides and tall watchtower, basking in the breeze blowing in from the sea, the "ship" maintains a disposition of setting sail. If you are lucky enough to get a room with windows facing the sea, you can enjoy the imposing scenes of sunrise and sunset.

All the rooms are designed and decorated in a distinct marine style: deep blue bed sheets, red-and-white preservers hanging on the wall, pirate-style wooden chests, floors made of long wooden planks which you want to walk on to see if they really make creaking sounds, a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows presenting a splendid sea view, the aroma of lemongrass wafting through the entire space. Adding to the nautical theme are waiters and waitresses dressed in sailors' uniforms. The international cuisine offers the freshest seafood.

As most customers come from Asian countries like Korean and China, they also have two karaoke rooms on board.

More than two decades have passed, more resort hotels and retail stores have been erected on the beach, including Asia's largest beachfront shopping arcade, the Central Festival Pattaya Beach Mall. Compared to the newcomers, the A-One The Royal Cruise Hotel is "ancient", but it looks as new as before _ and different.

"We do renovations every year to keep it new," but Mitr and his family don't think that's enough.

Additional Information

Country: Thailand
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When: 06/8/2012

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