Well we are starting off 2018 with a really exciting One Coast magazine, if you’ve got this far you will not be disappointed. Our “About Her” interview catches up with another beautiful personality from Bangkok, Wimintra J, founder and Editor in Chief of Hotelintel.co, a B2B online publication focused on the hotel industry.
Wimintra, welcome to One Coast Magazine, would you tell us where you were born and where you went to study?
I was born and raised in Bangkok, and graduated in Political Science, International Relations, from Kasetsart University. I’m currently taking a Micros MBA in Hospitality Management at Hong Kong PolyU, which is an online course. Hopefully, I get to complete the MBA next year.
What did you do before founding Hotelintel.co?
I started off in business development for a recruitment company, and always enjoyed doing B2B, meeting people, making connections, and selling them something. After that, I started a uniform business because I found myself wearing white shirts to work every day and wanted a really nice white shirt, so I started to sell 100% Egyptian cotton shirts. One day a friend of mine who owns a restaurant asked if I could make shirts for his staff, so I did and I thought this was better than selling B2C. I then started to look for a place to promote my uniforms and came across an online platform for hotels. I helped them out by writing for them in exchange for the chance to get lots of hotel industry contacts to sell uniforms.
As it turned out I didn’t sell all that much but spent most of my time interviewing people and travelling. In the long run that didn’t quite work out so later I started Hotelintel.co on my own – although I do still make uniforms but that’s a separate business.
Already being successful in your previous work, what gave you the prerogative to go out on your own?
I’d like to say I have rich parents with a strong business background, but I don’t, so it wasn’t easy. Even today my mom still asks me why don’t I go get a job at some government office and live happily ever after. Instead I took risks, and to be honest there were times when I thought mom might be right. But then I know what I want – I always want to be my own boss. Plus, I wouldn’t last too long in an office setting, I wouldn’t fit in with the whole lemming culture, do what you are told, listen to the eldest, don’t ever ask questions. So, I pushed through. It didn’t take a lot of money to get started, and I didn’t build the whole thing all at once, it started bit by bit. Another thing is my partner has always been supportive. He sometimes believes in me more than I believe in myself, and that helps a lot.
Explain to us a little about the concept of Hotelintel.co?
Hotelintel.co is built with the concept of forming an intelligence community. I want it to be a community where we can share news, insights – intel. From the website, it’s an online publication with VDO interviews, podcasts, and so on, but there’s more to it than just the website. People come to me and ask if they should hire this person, or use that product for their hotels. Some hotels will ask us to do surveys for them, or help writing their own promotional material or website content. I also get to do lots of keynote presentations and PR training for hotels. (Sometimes they’re curious why I don’t pick up their news so they ask me to talk about it, which is really good. There aren’t a lot of hotels like this – the rest are either too proud or too ignorant to ever learn about media.)
We also help suppliers improve their products because honestly, I don’t want to endorse a bad product to my community as it will reflect badly on me. I learned that lesson in the early days when some company paid us to write about them and it turned out their product was just so bad that nobody in the industry would use it.
Our revenues are mostly coming from advertising, but rather than just publish other people’s news or write about it, we pride ourselves on doing market research for our clients and we love to be creative, so we do a lot of videos and events for our clients as well.
How many people work for you now?
Four wonder people. And a few millennial freelancers.
Where would you say your success lies in this business?
On a personal level it’s in determination. You need to know what you want and go for it. You don’t know where it will lead but you just do it, try it, make mistakes, and fix it. When people see you are determined to do something, they want to help. They want to be part of you, support you, I got to where I am today because of help from people. When I first started, I didn’t know anyone – I still remember it was Franck Cloven, Robert Rijnders, and Michael Thomas whose help connected me with other people who agreed to have me interview them. From those beginnings I have come to know so many other amazing hoteliers I’ve interviewed, including people like Bill Heinecke.
Another thing is to be fair to other people, your clients, your employees, and your business counterparts. You can mess up but you must always be a ‘fair’ person, and then people will want to work with you.
You are well known and very respected for being outspoken, a trait not normally associated with Thais in general and especially not a female. You are notorious for getting to the facts and talking straight to everyone, whether it’s the CEO or the room maid, this must have at some point have caused a bit of a stir and if I know you there will be one good story for you to tell us?
Maybe some of my stories might not be suitable for public consumption – but it’s true that I like to ask questions. I think it’s important to be honest and to respect other people’s time so a direct approach can be a good thing. In an interview you want to give the interviewee a chance to tell their side of the story, so it’s not really causing a stir to try to get an honest insight.
But one thing I refuse to do is to follow the Thai “Pee” and “Nong” hierarchical structure, because it mainly serves to put people in their place and respect should be earned. I remember one lady the same age as me who would always insist on calling me Nong Wimintra, basically trying to put me in the lower position. I always referred to her as “Khun”, because Khun makes everyone equal. That’s another reason why it’s better to use English in business.
What are your plans for the future?
I want Hotelintel.co to be successful on a global scale. We could move our office to Shanghai or New York and I can see my editor working 23 hours a day!!!
Being well travelled, what is your favourite city?
Hong Kong will always be my second home. I’ve spent a lot of time there so I know my way around and have a lot of friends there. But Shanghai is my new favourite city to do business. On a three-day trip to Shanghai you get more business done than in three months in Southeast Asia.
You base your business out of Bangkok, what makes this city so special for you?
Even though I said Shanghai is a great place to do business, the cost that comes with it is also high – although still less than Hong Kong and Singapore in my opinion. Thailand being my home country is automatically my first choice. It’s also a natural way of setting up a business as well, being a local doing business in your own country is always better than the other way around.
Tonight, you and your partner Stuart are going for an evening drink, then a dinner for two, where do you go and what do you choose?
We eat out every night because we are both lousy cooks. Usually we go to Oskar for dinner because it’s close to home and the food is very good. On special occasions we like to try something new and our first selection always has to be a place that serves black and blue steak. There are only a few places that can pull that off properly – I’d say Cocotte is our favourite place to go for steaks.
If there is one thing in the industry you could change, what would that be?
This is a people business. It takes people to do business. Without people you can’t do business. Without business you can’t pay people either, so treat people fairly, not only your employees but also the media and your suppliers and contractors because one day these people could also be your guests.
Hotels pride themselves on being in a people business but there are plenty of times when hoteliers mistreat their own employees or their suppliers just because they aren’t guests. But don’t forget that these people can influence others and might well be potential guests one day. There are stories I’ve experienced or witnessed which are outrages, and sometimes I’m tempted to write about it – but usually I just post it on my Facebook.
Another thing is that everyone is trying to do business, so hotels and PR agencies shouldn’t always expect free things from the media. You can’t always barter your rooms with the media. Can I move into your hotel for a year and you can have a whole year’s worth of advertising because now I can’t pay my bills and my staff and have nowhere to live? Everything has a cost. It should be a win-win situation for everyone. Sometimes you win 20-80, sometimes you win 50-50 – it depends on what you want and how good at negotiation you are, but there should be something for everyone and not everything free.
We all are here for business so let’s do business and don’t always try to screw each other. And one last thing, can we please stop being fashionably late?
Thank you for your time Wimintra, I look forward to seeing you again in Bangkok soon.