A New Chapter Begins For Wachtveitl
By Yeoh Siew Hoon ~ thetransitcafe.com
Saturday, 7th March 2009
After 41 years with one hotel, legendary hoteliers Kurt Wachtveitl is retiring - Yeoh Siew Hoon recalls his words in 2006 and a world where retirement is being reinvented.

The first thing that crossed my mind when I read the news of Kurt Wachtveitl's retirement was, "Wow."

Who can believe this day has come but come it has and I am sure Wachtveitl, 72, must be happy that it has. He must have gotten so tired of the many times he's been asked in the last decade, "So when will you retire?" People are pesky that way.

He and the Oriental Bangkok go back a long way, more than most married couples – except I believe his own marriage to Penny. This year was his 41st with the hotel, he must be the longest serving general manager of any hotel anywhere although I wouldn't be able to swear this on my heart but if you do know of someone else, let me know.

In true Wachtveitl style, he announced his retirement at a dinner at the hotel's Le Normandie restaurant Tuesday evening, saying with dessert, "I decided tonight to retire." According to reports, his guests thought he was joking but when he continued, they realised he wasn't.

The man to step in his shoes is Jan Goessing, who's been with the Mandarin Oriental for 14 years.

Now I am not going into a summary of Wachtveitl's career because for me, retirement marks a new chapter in a man's life, and not the end of it. After all, if you look at the definition of the word "retirement", it means "the state of being retired from one's business or occupation" or "withdrawal from your position or occupation". It doesn't mean withdraw from life.

In recent months, years, I have met several industry folks who have "retired" and most have struggled with it. I remember interviewing Richard Hartman, who came out of retirement from InterContinental Hotels to join Millennium & Copthorne, and he said, "I had never intended to retire from work. I don't know what I'd do. I was born working."

He added, "In Britain, you are supposed to leave your job at 60, take a cruise to Patagonia, come home to tend your garden and do your crossword puzzle and wait to die. I can't do that."

One former chief executive of a major tour operator said the hardest part was waking up and not having a schedule of things to do. "Suddenly your diary is empty," he said.

Another chief executive who retired early this year is looking to embark on a road adventure – something he's always wanted to do but never had time. Still another is planning to write.

Earlier this year, a conference called "Reinventing Retirement Asia" was held in Singapore. It's a big issue in this little island because by United Nations projections, by 2050, the median age in Singapore will rise to 54 years, making it the 4th oldest population in the world.

The majority of the world's older population already lives in Asia (54%) and by 2050, again according to the UN, the number of people aged 60 and above in the world is expected to triple.

So people are not only living longer, they are also working longer and the conference discussed ways and means by which governments, societies and businesses need to adapt to this changing demographic.

American social entrepreneur-turned-author, Marc Freedman, who spoke at the conference, said that in the US, millions of older folk are flooding fields such as social services, health care and education, and finding both meaning and money in it.

"Despite the recession, there is an opportunity to bring together untapped resources and unmet needs in a way that benefits older people, industries short on talent and the broader society trying to adapt to demographic changes," said Freedman, who wrote "Encore Careers".

He believes that "an entirely new stage of work and life is being crafted between the end of the middle years and the onset of true old age in the late 70s".

And he also believes there is a need for people to take a sabbatical, what he calls a mid-life gap year.

So back to Wachveitl and his upcoming sabbatical. When he accepted the HICAP Lifetime Achievement Award, he called himself a dinosaur from the old European school.

And when he was asked when he would retire, he said it depended on one's health. "I have reached full maturity. It's great to meet the rich and famous but when the moment comes when I have to retire, I would study history, art, literature, philosophy and keep basic values like honesty and respect for others.

"To give pleasure is the most serious business," he concluded.

Here's to more great years of giving pleasure, Kurt.

Yeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com

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