Mona Narukatpichai is at the helm of the new Hotel IKON Phuket. As the face of the new hotel, she tells Doyenne.sg about creatively running a family business and how she competes with the new wave of tourist experiences sweeping over Phuket.
“In the digital world, the name has to be great for online search. For us to be boutique and modern, you really have to brand yourself well in order to be found.”
Luxury hostels and designer hotels are gaining much popularity in Phuket. With heritage Chino-Portuguese enclaves, trendy fashion stores, and specialty ice-cream parlours, Phuket is focused on tourists from the niche travel sector. New additions like a container market, hedonistic beach parties, and forest adventure ziplines attract tourists from all over the world.
So when Mona Narukatpichai told us about Hotel IKON Phuket, I had to check it out and find out how her hotel competes against the rest of Phuket.
Located on the mountainside, Hotel IKON Phuket overlooks Karon beach. The boxy architecture stands out from its lush green surroundings, which is dotted with exotic Thai restaurants and relaxing massage parlours. It is a boutique hotel that offers a modern respite for smart travellers.
I went during the long National Day weekend with my friend Anna, ever glad to be taking a breather from the startup grind. When we entered our room, its minimalistic aesthetic had a soothing effect over us.
White, airy, and full of light, the clever storage designs offer plenty of space for two. The room is also equipped with a thoughtful selection of bathroom essentials – great for the scatterbrained traveller!
Running a family business
Hotel IKON Phuket is part of Mona’s family business. When she was completing her MBA degree, her parents came to visit. The prominent Narukatpichais, who own both the Hilton and Pullman resorts in Phuket, broached the topic to Mona: “We have a new hotel. Can you run it?”
“It was not a normal dinner,” recalls Mona. “They said I had a choice, but I am the eldest daughter – so why not give this a try? The new hotel has to be an icon of the family business. I had to do good and offer something fresh to the scene,” she says.
As we speak, I can’t help but reminisce the first time I met Mona during our heady university days in Melbourne. She was the artsy kid dressed in voguish vintage who interned at Harper’s Bazaar and wandered around Paris with her trusty camera.
Now, barely in her mid-twenties, Mona has shifted from her indie, carefree nature to asserting herself as a young hotelier, ready to continue her parents’ legacy.
Modern, boutique hotels have always struck a chord with Mona. She often checks into non-chain establishments to better experience local cultures and check out unique designs when travelling.
“I spent a lot of time branding the hotel,” she begins. “It was a classic case of old meets new generation. When the building was ready, the concept wasn’t. I looked hard at the floorplan to see how I could build the brand. Clearly, it would not be classic Thai. Many elements are influenced by my travels, like the cafés in Melbourne or food from the United States.”
Besides ensuring that every aspect is seamlessly integrated, Mona brings technology and creativity to the table. Stepping away from traditional agencies, mass tour groups, and conventional travel discounts, Mona pivoted the business strategy to building an online presence.
Within a few months, the digitally-savvy millennial found an audience through Facebook, Instagram, and even hotel booking sites. Soon, bloggers picked up on it and began publishing reviews, and Hotel IKON Phuket reached full occupancy by its pre-opening.
“Are your parents happy with your results?” I ask. Mona pauses, and reveals, “They will never be satisfied. I grew up as the eldest in a Chinese family. They don’t compliment me, but it is flattering to hear that they are proud of me from someone else.”
“Let them hear our name. Every no brings you closer to a yes. When they know enough and gain interest, they will try it out.”
Every no brings you closer to a yes
Nearing the end of the interview, Mona purses her lips and reflects on her growth thus far. She admits that the kind of pressure at work cannot be described. “This is my brand. My baby. As the face of IKON, I feel that this is a good representation of myself and my family. When you stop, the world doesn’t. It is important to stay positive.”
Mona nods in agreement as we talk about word-of-mouth being the best form of marketing: “I always tell my team to talk to as many people as possible. Let them hear our name. Every no brings you closer to a yes. When they know enough and gain interest, they will try it out.”
Finally, I asked the young hopeful one last question: “What do you want to be remembered for?” Clearing her throat, she replies, “I want to be creative. I have always been hardworking, but creativity is important in any industry. Disruptive technologies will be there to challenge us to do things better and faster, but to be successful, having new and useful ideas is a more important trait.”