Options: Welcome to KL. What have been some of your favourite discoveries about the city so far?
Blaise Montandon: It’s just been slightly over a month since I arrived but I have visited Malaysia many times before, especially when I was living in Singapore and Bangkok. I love the diversity and vibrancy of this country. I am particularly impressed with how very lively Chinatown is now, filled with many interesting small bars and restaurants, and KL has a very authentic feel. It’s not sterile or overly polished, which I appreciate. Here, you can feel the country’s soul ... it’s very genuine. But it’s only been a few weeks and I look forward to discovering more. My priority, of course, is immersion within the hotel first and foremost. You need to understand your product and your people so that everything is done with purpose.
Tell us about some of your plans to adopt a resort-style approach to guest stays.
What we want when people come to stay at the Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur — be it for business or leisure — is to help them form and experience meaningful connections. This is especially so for the business traveller. They are on the road all the time and we want them to enjoy a stay that goes beyond checking into a room and eating from the breakfast buffet. Some ongoing experiences with meaning and good intent include our sustainability initiatives, chief of which is our beehive adoption scheme.
The stingless bee or kelulut, as you know, is very special to Bar Trigona (Trigona is the name of one of the largest genera of stingless bees). So this adopt-a-hive scheme is not only a unique and positive way to boost bee populations but also assist in the training of new beekeepers and the setting up of more bee sanctuaries. There is a one-year adoption fee per hive of trigona bees and guests will be sent a personalised certificate, a small bottle of bee propolis, quarterly videos and photo updates. You are also more than welcome to visit the farm, meet the farmers and, best of all, get a discount when you come by Bar Trigona for a drink.
You grew up in Switzerland, we believe.
Yes, in a very small town called Fleurier, near Neuchâtel, with a population of under 4,000. I am amazed by how many Malaysians know it due to a certain watch brand named Parmigiani Fleurier. It’s in the heart of Swiss watchmaking as the Chopard factory is not far away, as well as Piaget.
What made you decide on a career in hospitality versus joining the watchmaking industry?
I love nice watches but it’s not the industry for me. My great passions are travel and meeting people. I did not intend to live and work in my small village all my life.
So what are you wearing on your wrist right now?
Nothing today. I only wear watches in the evenings or at nice events. I do own two Piagets though; one belonged to my dad, the other my mum. And though one is my mother’s watch, it has a big dial and so is suitable for my wrist. Both timepieces are, understandably, very special to me.
You have worked all over the world: Singapore, Japan, China, Thailand, India, Morocco and, most recently, Vietnam. What have been some of your most memorable experiences?
Marrakech was particularly memorable as it marked the first time I worked with Four Seasons. But since my youth, Asia has always fascinated me the most. My first Asian posting was actually as an intern, with the Lai Lai Sheraton in Taipei. Can you imagine, me, a young lad from Fleurier in Taiwan? It was as good as going to the moon. Culture shock barely begins to describe it. I was the first in my family to visit Asia, and the travel to Taiwan then entailed flights from Geneva to Zurich, then Athens, Karachi and Hong Kong before finally arriving in Taipei. There were many fond memories, including the happy days when I could find potatoes and yogurt to eat (you must remember, this was Taipei in the early 1980s and, of course, I love Asian food more than anything now) and gazing at the lobby [of the hotel]. It was the first time in my life I saw such a lobby!
You are also a fan of the opera?
Yes, I love it very much, especially the music of Verdi and Puccini. I remember watching Aida at Verona’s ancient Roman amphitheatre which turns into the largest open-air opera house every summer but my favourite of all time is La Bohème. I also enjoy musicals very much and have a soft spot for The Phantom of the Opera, partially because I met Dame Gillian Lynne, the show’s original choreographer, when she visited Beijing in 2008, and Sarah Brightman, the most famous person to play Christine Daaé, when she was in Singapore. Oh, I must also mention having met the great soprano Montserrat Caballé when I greeted her in my capacity as director of sales and marketing of the President Hotel (now the President Wilson), Geneva.
And how do you like to spend your weekends here so far?
I have friends in KL, which is very nice, and to be honest, I have spent weekends shopping. As a rule, I bring very few things whenever I move to a new location. This time, I came with just a few boxes, some art and two pieces of furniture, including a cabinet which belonged to my grandparents. It is important to own a few things that remind you of your roots and heritage but I don’t need to own a lot of things to enjoy life.
This article first appeared on Aug 15, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.