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Hotel Corner

Meet Marcel Thoma, General Manager of The Upper House

Swiss-born Marcel Thoma is one of the youngest and most dynamic general managers around, leading the team at The Upper House by Swire Hotels. He represents a new generation of hotel managers, with an intimate understanding of luxury and a wanderlust that can’t be tamed…

 

I grew up in Switzerland and though I would define it as the most beautiful country in the world, it’s also the most boring because there’s nothing happening! (Laughs)
 
My first time in Asia was for a hotel internship in Bangkok at 19 years old. I remember the first day I landed: it looked very cloudy from the plane so I thought it was cold outside but when I got off I was shocked to find it hot and humid!
 
 
 
 
After graduating I got a job in New York. One of my friends there was with Swire in Beijing, and he told me to apply at their new hotel in Hong Kong. I didn’t know anything about Swire – it’s not famous in the States – but I went for it anyway.
 
It’s my sixth anniversary in Hong Kong this month. I still think it’s one of the best places on earth… amazing and fascinating. You have everything here: nature, the city, and some of the best restaurants in the world. I love the people, the efficiency, the safety, and the mix of east and west…  
 
 
It’s great to have a brand name but sometimes your reputation can work against you. These days many high-profile guests want to fly under the radar, so they head to more anonymous properties where they’re left alone.
 
 
“Hong Kong is not for everyone. Some people don’t like how fast-paced it is while some thrive in the intense environment”
 
 
During the street protests last October we had to cancel our 5th year anniversary celebration. It was a little bit of a sad moment as the team were really looking forward to it and a lot of hard work had gone into the preparations. A thousand guests had been invited!
 
 
 
 
Some of the funniest questions I’ve been asked: “Where is Chinatown here?” or “Where can I find the Japanese mafia?” Haha!
 
This year my top places to visit are the new Aman Hotel in Venice and the Maldives because I haven’t been yet. I also got invited to Nihiwatu Resort on Sumba Island, Indonesia – a couple of hours east of Bali. It looks like paradise.
 
I’m lucky to be in the hotel and travel industry. There are so many amazing places to work, and the job can take you anywhere. But ultimately I hope to stay in Asia. 
 
 
 
 
I love the beaches of Hong Kong and swim quite a lot in the summer. In the fall and spring I like to hike, which is great when you get bored with shopping and eating. Dragon’s Back is convenient and pretty; everybody can do it in just a few hours. You can’t do the same in Beijing, Shanghai, or Tokyo!
 
My favourite neighbourhood is Sheung Wan. It’s a good mix of new and old; there are so many fresh cafes and restaurants there, but it manages to stay very local. 
 
 
 

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