On May 31, 2009, a remarkable era will come to an end. Kurt Wachtveitl will retire after 41 years as general manager of The Oriental in Bangkok. (The corporate types with their dreary mania for uniformity insist that it is now called the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, but for those of romantic disposition it will always be simply “The Oriental.”
On numerous occasions, we have arrived in Thailand jet-lagged and more than a little grumpy. Things would begin to improve the second we stepped into the lobby. There was infallibly a sense of grace and order; the orchid displays were always dazzling; and the staff members exquisitely polite. And then striding toward us would come a lean and energetic figure, attired in a crisp tropical suit. The soul of hospitality, Kurt would wring us by the hand, and welcome us back to The Oriental as though it were an event that he’d been personally looking forward to for years.
In the evening, at cocktail hour, there he’d be again, gracious, smiling, meeting, greeting and somehow finding time to check that dinner reservations had been satisfactorily arranged and that hotel cars were waiting.
Kurt Wachtveitl became general manager of The Oriental at the age of 30 with a résumé that already included stints at the Beau-Rivage in Lausanne and the Hôtel des Trois Couronnes in Vevey. Prior to attending Lausanne Hotel School, he had studied philosophy at the University of Madrid and the history of art at the Dante Alighieri School in Rome. And I suppose that was his secret. He was a great hotelier, but he was also a cultivated man of wide-ranging interests and sympathies. This combination enabled The Oriental to remain consistently the best grand hotel in the world throughout the 30 years of Hideaway Report’s publication.
— Andrew Harper
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