Suwannee Asawanopakun, Director, Procurement & Projects at One&Only Reethi Rah Maldives, digs deep into the true function of procurement, and how a luxury hospitality business is thriving as we move past the worst of the pandemic…

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An award-winning luxury hotel business, One&Only Reethi Rah Maldives offers its customers a level of bespoke service that’s become synonymous with its name. In a reflection of its gorgeous island location, the operations at the One&Only Reethi Rah resort have to be absolutely pristine at all times, meaning procurement is very much at the core of every request and decision, no matter how big or small – even during a global pandemic.

For the Director, Prcocurement & Projects, Suwannee Asawanopakun, the work One&Only Reethi Rah has done to turn the resort into what it is today has been the crown jewel in an exciting career path towards luxury hospitality. After completing a degree in business administration, Asawanopakun began her career in sales, in Thailand. Three years later, she took on an export sales position with a leading hotel supplies manufacturing company. She was soon promoted to a Regional Sales Manager position in charge of the Maldives, Mauritius, and the Seychelles, at which point she moved to the former location.

After five years of supplying for hundreds of resorts, Asawanopakun decided she wanted to be on the other side of the conversation, having been drawn into the glamorous world of hospitality. So, she took on a role as pre-opening Purchasing Manager for an ultra-luxury Maldives resort.

“From there, my procurement journey started,” she says. “It was an amazing experience, to see an empty, sandy island become an ultra-luxury resort. I took a bigger role as the Director of Supply Chain Management for a group of international hotel chains in Maldives, and soon after, I had the opportunity to be part of the number one resort in the Maldives – One&Only Reethi Rah. There have been so many exciting resort development projects since I started, while handling a dynamic and enthusiastic team.

“Procurement isn’t just buying and bringing goods to the island – it’s become a part of my life, sharpening my thinking and decision-making.”

Procurement: the reality

This is something Asawanopakun is passionate about – the perception of procurement. More specifically, the incorrect perception of procurement. “Traditionally, procurement professionals are thought of as ‘number crunchers’ who work extremely hard to achieve the highest-quality product or service for the lowest cost,” she explains. “However, procurement has become a more strategic function within the organisation, focused on adding value, increasing margin, and maximising the outcome – not just minimising cost.”

Put simply, procurement is so much broader than some people think – it touches every part of the organisation it operates within rather than simply being a background function which ticks along at a single speed. However, by Asawanopakun’s own admission, the role of procurement in a resort or hotel operation isn’t immediately apparent. 

“Procurement occupies a place of singular importance,” she says. “It services not only to supply the organisation efficiently, but to produce value through optimal quality of goods and services as a function of internal and external customer service. Procurement costs are a core part of the profitability performance of a hospitality business.” Essentially, procurement is the function which keeps hospitality running smoothly, and, ultimately, gives the end-user the luxurious, customisable service they’re there for.

The One&Only experience

And this is, of course, the case for One&Only Reethi Rah. The procurement team needs to constantly forecast demand for everything at the resort; for example, it has hundreds of varieties of dishes in the restaurant, and procurement needs to ensure all ingredients are available and fresh. Additionally, it needs rapid turnaround for any special requests, because at a luxury resort, saying ‘no’ to a guest is not an option. 

“Far from the image of the cost-killer, the procurement function plays a growing strategic role in the sort,” says Asawanopakun. “Procurement manag-ement has become one of the company’s main performance drivers.”

Flexibility under pressure

Despite all the pressures of maintaining a resort like One&Only Reethi Rah, procurement is almost always smooth sailing. According to Asawanopakun, if all stakeholders work as a team and things are well-planned, there are no challenges besides those few circumstances which are out of anyone’s control. The main potential issue is geography, with Maldives being a low-lying garland of tropical islands and a lot of the food the resort needs being sourced from all over the world. Sometimes, bad weather can interfere, and that’s when procurement has to move swiftly to solve the supply issue at minimum cost. 

Being able to operate in such a swift and agile way is thanks to the way One&Only Reethi Rah’s procurement is structured from the very core. “Procurement at One&Only Reethi Rah is simple yet complex,” Asawanopakun explains. “It starts by identifying and planning the business needs, the stakeholders, timeline, and budget. We engage with our Head of Department to identify their needs in terms of products, specification, budget, and required period. Procurement team will 

then source for all the suitable products with best cost from reliable sources across the world. Evaluation is done and agreed, and negotiation is another important process for best total cost. Shipping modes are decided based on cost and transit time, and import documentation must be prepared as per customs regulations. Then everything is unloaded and checked, before the procurement process is analysed using an established system of KPIs. This will help in assessing the efficacy, cost efficiency, speed, and overall success of the whole process. 

Collaboration and communication

“Procurement isn’t just a simple, routine job – it’s a customised routine job which we need to focus on and pay attention to, while loving what we do.”

For Asawanopakun, the twin keys to keeping this moving like clockwork are collaboration and communication. They ensure each departmental team understands exactly what purchasing does and how we work together effectively. It goes far, far beyond finding specialised products or the best price – it also includes presenting and agreeing a strategy, working closely with internal customers, having the Head of Department’s expertise, calculating risk, health and safety – the list is endless.

“People deal with people, so the key is to gain respect from the teams. They must see that our knowledge and strategy will drive value to the business while making their job easier.”

Continuous improvement

There’s always room for improvement. In fact, One&Only Reethi Rah is consis-tently striving for better, because that’s how a business remains agile. And a major element of that is the procurement function. “Procurement is changing faster than ever in every way,” says Asawanopakun. “The key drivers for our continuous improvement and innovation are attention to detail, focus on quality, IT infrastructure, brand consistency and compliance, cost management, and a two-way partnership. We build lasting and trusting relationships with all stakeholders. We encourage innovation and proactive cultures to our internal customers and procurement team. 

We’re also focused on CSR and sustain-ability, which compel our resort and suppliers to find new and innovative working approaches.” 

Much of this comes down to synergistic thinking through the best possible communication across all the One&Only Reethi Rah teams. They each get to apply their valuable skills, and be proactive and self-motivated to speak up about their own ideas, because it’s a business that values collaborative ideas. “We never stop identifying the opportunities for improvement, wherever we can,” says Asawanopakun.

Supplier relationships

And synergy is more than what happens within the organisation and with the end-users – synergy with suppliers is vital. Especially when, as mentioned before, supply to the Maldives can be disrupted by the elements. One&Only Reethi Rah has to have strong relationships with all parts of the logistics network to make sure problems don’t arise. “Suppliers are effectively our partners in shared success,” says Asawanopakun. “The more effective our supplier relationships are, the better the chances we’ll be able to take advantage of valuable opportunities. We make our suppliers feel that they are part of our team and success. We work with all partners with openness, fairness, and clarity.” 

With this clearly being a success story, you may be wondering how COVID-19 factors into what One&Only Reethi Rah has been doing for the last 18 months. Largely, the hospitality industry had ground to a halt across the world for much of 2020 and into 2021 – so how has the resort been affected? 

“When we first learned we were heading into lockdown, supply chains felt the pressure,” Asawanopakun admits. “We had our in-house guests staying with us during lockdown and service can’t be compromised. It reached a point where all movements were frozen.” One&Only Reethi Rah had to get a special permit to send its cargo boat to the capital of Maldives to collect goods, as flights were cut off. Supplies were limited, and sourcing had to be shuffled around to suit the small number of countries that could supply to the area. So there was less movement, longer transit times, and higher costs – but, as soon as lockdown was eased, business not only went back to normal, it was busier than ever. The downside to that was that there were still shortages, but Asawanopakun and the procurement team learned a lot. 

“We learned to be alert all the time, keep updated with the daily situation locally and worldwide, think outside the box, plan ahead, work as a team, and never take anything for granted.” 

As well as strengthening the way the One&Only Reethi Rah teams operate, there’s been another big benefit to the events of the pandemic: “We know who our trustworthy partners are,” Asawanopakun says. “Most of our supplier relationships have become stronger; we’re communicating more and they have been working hard to give us the most accurate information. This truly was a situation that no-one expected and I believe everyone tried their best to maintain a decent business relationship.” 

Through thick and thin, and as the world slowly opens up once more, One&Only Reethi Rah is continuing to supply incredible service in a stunning location – and it’s stronger than ever.

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