We didn’t expect that the COO of the brand that renovated a former Northern headquarters of the East Borneo Trading Company once played golf with Bob Hope
137 Pillars Hotel & Resorts, Thailand
We didn’t expect that the COO of the brand that renovated a former Northern headquarters of the East Borneo Trading Company once played golf with Bob Hope – almost breaking his nose – and prefers riding elephants to horses during polo matches. This gives you a window into the exclusive and inspiring world of 137 Pillars Hotel & Resorts and COO Christopher E. Stafford.
When we caught up with Christopher in Bangkok, he shared a few stories about growing up with luxury travel in Africa. An extravagant childhood exposed him to embassy dinners, exotic travel and great events when his family lived in Addis Ababa. He particularly enjoyed the great historic hotels he visited around the world especially in Europe, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
With the father stationed in Kuala Lumpur when the Shangri-Las and other hotel greats broke ground in Asia, he developed a passion for detail and a wonderful feeling of true luxury. But he learned the business from the ground up with his first job as a bellboy at the Park Avenue Hotel in Gothenburg Sweden, his hometown, when he was only
“I was fascinated by the comings and goings of famous people and knew I wanted to be part of this amazing world of hospitality.”
Thailand captivated Christopher on his first visit. He confided that the country welcomed him at a difficult point in his life and saved and inspired him at the same time because of the excellent hospitality he experienced. He began to feel attached to a place in a way he never had before.
“I have now been here seventeen years. It is my home. My wife is Thai. I love this country, its customs, and its people––they have all been very good to me. I have learned more patience, more about love and life in this country than anywhere. Thank you, Thailand.”
Inspired by the unique history of the 125-year-old Baan Borneo (137 Pillars House), a one-time Northern office of the East Borneo Trading Company, Christopher believes it combines all things luxury–– spaciousness, nature’s timeless beauty, and the architectural wonder of the teak house which embodies the warmth of home in an exotic setting with a unique heritage. Staying true to this concept, he is interested in building a brand with a pure focus on the traditions of luxury when the idea was just known as hospitality, rather than the definition of a business empire.
In Bangkok and Phuket, two luxury properties have been designed with modern buildings and ecological technology in mind. Each of the new properties features a Jack Bain’s Bar and the exclusive Leonowens Club for their invited members, forming the historical context that links 137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts to each other.
The Bangkok Trading Post Restaurant reflects the brand’s heritage, harkening back to the days when the East Borneo Company was a timber trading company. Breakfast and coffee at the Bangkok Trading post is popular amongst neighbours in the residential setting of the hotel and is also popular amongst the Japanese expats living in Bangkok.
137 Pillars Suite Bangkok’s Sukhothai Suites are perfect for both business and leisure travellers with a huge bathroom featuring a colossal bathtub ready to soak the day away with carefully selected Thai Panpuri bath amenities in jasmine and mint fragrances. Afterwards, enjoy your view of the residential Sukhumvit neighbourhood from your huge private balcony or sprawled on a daybed.
Quite simply, Christopher articulates the brand in three words – hospitality passionately curated – and endeavours to give individual and genuine attention to each guest to create a chance at a longterm relationship with their customer base.
Their heritage is firmly established in the annals of history at the Baan Borneo. When 137 Pillars House opened in 2011, the team became mesmerised at their strong feeling of connectedness to the Chiang Mai hotel.
“I knew then that with the greatness and kindness of our owners, the Thai staff and our international staff that we could build a culture.”
They developed this feeling into the 137 Pillars Roadmap based on trust and hope to create a timeless culture that delivers on an eternal promise of luxury. Set up to some extent on old traditions, but more importantly on staying relevant in the modern era.
And what’s more relevant than a good time? Luxury and fun seem to go hand in hand. When we asked Christopher for a humorous moment from his three decades in luxury hospitality he had plenty to choose from, but his encounter with Bob Hope was our favourite.
Seems the evening started playing night golf with the celebrity in the gardens of the Bali Hai Moorea, Tahiti, when Christopher was the General Manager. Later, Christopher and his wife had dinner with the Hopes in their suite, when his wife accidentally pushed the curtain off its hinges, and the rod landed on Bob Hope’s famous curved nose. Bob said, “Careful Madam! This nose is insured for 600 million dollars!”
Other than harrowing aprés nightgolfing dinners with famous celebrities, Christopher says his biggest challenge turned into a triumph when he along with his old friend, David Keen of Quo Design Group, convinced the owners of the benefits of extending the brand. Together they created a persuasive argument to make the requisite investment for the long term.
One of these investments involved contracting Wellness Consultant, Roger Moore, to design a blend of holistic and wellness therapies to enhance their ability to deliver a higher level of experience in the spa, incorporating the entire wellness spectrum. A unique Sleep Therapy will be deployed in all their suites thus, beyond the heavenly bed, they will also create conditions for blissful sleep.
Bangkok’s NITRA Spa & Wellness facilities will incorporate nature and Phuket will feature a rainforest element within the spa experience. Their products are organic and locally sourced with therapists trained extensively to cater to the individual, adapting treatments accordingly. They are also extending this individualised program to their fitness facilities replete with personal trainers and state-of-the-art equipment.
And last but not least, Christopher humoured us by answering some rapidfire questions:
Current reads? A Life’s Work, The King of Thailand, Under the Mango Tree by Maxwell Michel, and The Power of 48 by Richard Greene
Last download? “Our Last Summer” from Mamma Mia
In parting, he confessed to being a hopeless romantic and in love with Greece. Thank you, Christopher, we enjoyed learning more about the passion behind your inspiring journey that helped to develop the 137 Pillars Hotel & Resorts brand in Thailand. Please stay away from curtain rods, and we wish you well in your next polo match. 137pillarshotels.com
© This article was first published in June-July 2017 edition of World Travel Magazine.