Michael Nurbatlian strode across the lounge, all welcoming smiles, and asked me if I needed a coffee or tea. That set the tone for a relaxed and engaging chat, with a contrasting backdrop provided by a turbulent Andaman Sea, its breakers pounding the granite boulders beyond the vast infinity pool. For this was Kata Rocks, one of Phuket’s iconic resorts, with its 34 sky villas, perched on a rocky promontory directly overhanging the infinite ocean.
'Infinity' is a keyword here. For the sky is literally the limit in terms of the resort’s aim to please its exclusive clientele; Michael's position is marketing director of 'Infinite Luxury', the cutting-edge design and development company which operates the flagship resort.
He has come a long way in a relatively short space of time; proof that youth – Michael is 30 – is no barrier to giddy heights when you have the passion, the application and the intellect to go with the ambition.
Michael has an unusually cosmopolitan background. A member of a distinguished Armenian family who moved to Beirut in the late 19th century, his father – whom he refers to as his 'best friend' – was the Lebanese Ambassador to Thailand. So it was hardly a cause for surprise that Michael should decide to pursue his career here.
Schooled in Switzerland, he thinks in French and speaks impeccable English, but the culture with which he identifies most closely is that of Buddhist Thailand and oriental philosophy. He also speaks Armenian and Arabic.
Originally he thought about becoming an architect, for Michael has a lifelong interest in the visual and arts, but decided on marketing after a BA in Political Science at the American University in Beirut. Then followed an MBA – the qualification which has unlocked so many doors for so many future CEOs – at the prestigious Glion Institute of Higher Education in Montreux, Switzerland. The topic? "The Impact of Digital Branding on Guest Loyalty in Luxury Hotels in Thailand." After that, Phuket – with its high-end hotels and life-style resorts – was a natural destination.
Michael has broadened his professional experience with remarkable assiduity. First at the Millennium and Copthorne Hotel chain starting 2008, then at Indigo Pearl (2010-11), followed by a spell at Intercontinental Hotels (2011-2012). A longer period (2012-2016) found him with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group – at the Legendary, 140-year-old, The Oriental Hotel – as the Director of eCommerce and Digital Marketing.
Only in post here for three months, Michael is clearly a Kata Rocks devotee. He waxes enthusiastic about the state of the art spa with its eight treatment rooms, sublime aromatherapy, innovative chromotherapy (or colour therapy) and water bed treatments for spinal ailments. And we visit the temperature controlled wine cellar which features hundreds of prestigious bottles and has a unique system for enjoying a glass, by deploying a credit card to select wine from one of the many brands on display. A technological marvel.
Working with a team of five dedicated Thai marketers, Michael's primary concern is to develop guest allegiance to the image of 'Infinite Luxury', by ensuring that its flagship Kata Rocks consolidates its role as a luxury resort leader through brand and digital marketing, PR strategies, by developing better distribution systems, by refining search, booking and reservation engines and even exploring the emerging Chinese market. Glancing upwards at a TV showing silent images of great cuisine and views, he opines that at this exalted five-star level, this is an effectively subliminal way to go – above strident discounts and hard sells.
The team issues its own monthly 'Kata Rocks Journal', which keeps readers alongside with the website, up-to-date with upcoming events, activities and promotions. Obviously, there is also a Facebook page. ‘Infinite Luxury' has also branched out into the area of designing, yachting rendezvous, and is also realising and managing luxury property projects by offering its expertise to interested investors. In Michaels' capable hands, the brand will surely continue to grow and flourish.
Michael's range of personal interests is eclectic. A keen supporter of animal rights and wildlife protection, sustainable development and environmental issues, he puts his money where his mouth is, having eliminated meat from his diet and following a predominantly plant-based lifestyle. Unsurprisingly, he is a keen keep-fit enthusiast, a contributor to various charities and an assiduous member of Rotary International.
Like so many of us, Michael fears for the future of a nature endangered by the global 'apres moi, le deluge' ideology. He argues, with conviction, that Phuket Island needs a policy of systematic regulations based on long-term urban planning, instead of piecemeal projects involving 'soft' targets which do little to protect or preserve our fragile natural environment. Perhaps, Michael agrees, businesses too could do more to encourage sustainability.
Not short of self-belief, Michael is a frequent speaker at conferences and hospitality industry events, where his expertise in the fields of luxury branding, and his experience of digital marketing strategies to increase customer engagement and brand loyalty, can reach a wider and interested public.
Judging by my experience today, he has no difficulty in captivating and engaging an audience – of one or a hundred.