The Oberoi and Pierre Berclaz: Seminyak, Bali


How well I remember on one of journeys in Bali in the early days going in search of Pura Petitenget. At that time the tourist strip virtually ended just short of Jalan Padma and the Oberoi was the top hotel and situated way north of the tourist hub. How things have changed since that time.

I can recall actually travelling along narrow paths through lush green padi fields on my way to the temple after passing the entranceway to the Oberoi and then having to walk the rest of the way to find it. The Oberoi was the elite hotel in Bali at that time. Andrew Charles, an expat in Bali, wrote an excellent article on the new general manager.

Pierre Berclaz: Managing a hallowed Bali institution
Andrew Charles, Seminyak, Bali

One of the constants throughout 26 years of the 28 year history of holiday resort The Oberoi Bali was Kamal Kaul, the former general manager, so when he was promoted last year to higher things within the Oberoi group a replacement was needed.

This is where Pierre Berclaz appears.

Almost everyone in Bali knows The Oberoi and those who have never been there will certainly have heard of it. It is an institution on the island and when it was first opened it stood in splendid isolation in the middle of rice fields and next to an amazingly beautiful beach.

What a bold step that was in 1978, as no one could have predicted how the tourism trade would have mushroomed, but The Oberoi is now surrounded by restaurants, villas and other hotels; its impact on the current tourism industry is very apparent.

Pierre, Swiss by birth and trained at the highly prestigious Hotel School in Lausanne, also has an MBA from Oxford University in the UK and an education from the Economic University in Fribourg.

Having worked at The Mandarin in Singapore, The Mirador Kempinsky at Mont Pelerin and The Lausanne Palace & Spa in Switzerland he eventually arrived at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem in his first position as general manager.

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He speaks very enthusiastically about his time in Jerusalem; he was on the eastern (Arab) side of the city and the hotel was originally a Turkish mansion built in 1860. Prior to the Intifada in September 2000 the guests were tourists and business people of all nationalities and religions.

"My children had begun to learn Arabic" he said, "but then things changed. After the Intifada the hotel guests were mainly foreign journalists but I related to them very well and often went out on assignments with them; I even had my own flak jacket and helmet!"

He tells an amusing story of how the BBC reporter Paul Woods wanted to book a room at The American Colony Hotel but there were no vacancies. Finally Pierre heard a room was available but instead of letting his staff call Woods, he decided to go out to Jenin, which had just been completely flattened by bombs.

He found the BBC car and knocked on the window to say: I've just come from The American Colony Hotel to tell you we now have a room for you."

Pierre who was relatively young to be appointed to such a prominent position at 39 years of age, came to Bali with his attractive wife, Joelle, whom he met in his own village in Switzerland, and his three young children.

When asked why he chose the hotel business as a career he replied "My father was also an hotelier and I think this must have been a major influence upon my choice of what to do with my life."

Asked why he decided to come to Bali his answer was that he did not originally have any plans to live and work in Indonesia but was very keen to work with The Oberoi group because of its high reputation.

"I am very happy to be in Bali" he affirmed, "but perhaps I might not stay as long as my predecessor did. For the present time however I'm optimistic, happy and healthy, and feel fortunate to have been given this great opportunity."

His aims for The Oberoi are not to change anything but to continue to have the proper "tools", meaning staff, money and infrastructure, to be able to manage the hotel as a first-class property and "reference point" in Bali.

After all when a hotel is recognized as one of the best in the world is it necessary to change anything?
Pierre says "The Oberoi is often imitated but has never been equalled; the bathrooms are still being copied but no other hotel has yet managed to meet the same standard."

He admits to being very well aware of the fact that he has assumed the management of the most celebrated hotel on the island and commented "taking over from Kamal Kaul, who did such a wonderful job for so many years, is a great challenge.

"My way of working is very different however and I will soon have to preside over a number of staff changes as many employees are nearing retirement age."

The fact that so many of the staff have been at The Oberoi for well over 20 years is testament to the fact that this really is a "family hotel"; many of the regular guests feel this too.

Maybe Pierre will soon have the same feeling and will want to stay forever!


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