My friends and business associates know how much I love travelling on business and for vacation with family. Recently my wife and I visited Malta, the Land of Honey.
I am not going to dwell on how wonderful a tourist spot Malta is, but I certainly must write about Hilton Malta and the Blue Elephant restaurant in it.
We remember a person, place or an incident for two reasons: when we are either very delighted or thoroughly disappointed with that place or person. In Hilton Malta’s case, we were very much delighted with the experience we got there.
Well, my wife and I have been at the Hilton Hotels at several other destinations before, where we always get the satisfaction worth our money, and more importantly, we get the satisfaction that boosts our celebrating mood. This time we stayed at Hilton Malta, number 3 of 32 hotels in Saint Julian, Malta. The staff at the Hilton Malta was more than cooperative; they were so friendly. They made everything seemed special.
The Blue Elephant in Hilton Malta made our visit even more enjoyable. As a tourist I enjoyed dining there, with Thai cuisine, Thai royal decor, the service and all that, but the professional in me kept wondering how well Blue Elephant could be if given the right treatment to the promotional aspect of the business, especially online.
While searching for information about this Blue Elephant Thai restaurant, I have not been given any clarity. The Brand does not seem to have the dominance in having the online presence that a restaurant having 35 glorious years of history behind it, with over 12 restaurants in different cities around the world, is expected to have.
The restaurant’s official website that is made to reflect the regal ambience seems colourful but not very modern or convenient to navigate.
The Glorious History:
A Thai national living in Brussels, Ms Nooror Somany Steppe, started Blue Elephant restaurant serving Thai cuisine, with the help of her Belgian husband Karl Steppe and some partners, in Brussels in 1980.
With the experience she had had at her sister’s restaurant that served authentic Thai food in Thailand and in Brussels, combined with the knowledge she gained globetrotting, Mrs Steppe opened a restaurant in London in 1986, and, after establishing a name for herself there, she expanded it to become a chain of restaurants with over 11 restaurants in the top cities around the world. Chef Nooror Somany Steppe has had the privilege of working with Associate Professor Srisamon Knogpan, the expert in Thai cooking, appeared on TGN Channel’s “The Best of Thai Cuisine” TV show.
Chef Somany Steppe has gained so much recognition that she is the recipient of ‘One of the Most Creative Chefs in Asia’ of the Hospitality Asia Platinum Awards (HAPA 2008 — 2010) .
The Blue Elephant has one of the best catering services. Whatever be the occasion, Blue Elephant provides exquisite service with not only the aromatic Thai cuisine but also with entertainment in Thai traditional way — Thai dancers, magicians, etc.
Following in the footsteps of the chefs of international repute, Ms Nooror Somany Steppe also opened a cooking school, The Blue Elephant Bangkok Cooking School and Restaurant, at the majestic Blue Elephant Building, Bangkok, Thailand, and the private cooking classes at Phuket Cooking School, Phuket, Thailand.
Brand Identity Missing:
The cuisine may be authentic and physical presence may be apparent, but the online presence is not so authentic. There are so many “Blue Elephant” restaurants, with little tails added, like Blue Elephant Thai or Blue Elephant Trail or Blue Elephant Royal Thai, Blue Elephant Royal Thai Cuisine, or some other.
On Zamato, you are not sure which Blue Elephant you have arrived at.
Where is the authenticity that shows that you are visiting ‘the’ Blue Elephant? You are not given clear-cut idea that you are visiting this Blue Elephant Website, and not some other Blue Elephant!
The logo or image looks much the same as any other ‘supposedly’ Thai restaurant. In addition, the landing page of the website is not all that impressive. There is nothing to stir visitor’s curiosity, and the text is not so interesting. There is no story that keeps the viewer curious or interested in.
Let’s take the case of Hilton. When you type Hilton in any search engine, you get Hilton hotels. Does that mean there are not any other businesses with the name Hilton. No. There are several other businesses with the name Hilton. For instance, Hilton Vehicle Leasing, UK; Hilton Finance Corporation, Phoenix, Arizona, USA, and many more.
Where’s the Story? Where’s the authentic Stamp of one and the only Blue Elephant?
Here we have some samples of “Blue Elephant” restaurants:
Blue Elephant Cooking School, Blue Elephant Building, 233 South Sathorn Road, Kwaeng Yannawa, Khet Sathorn, Bangkok 10120, Thailand — opposite Surasak BTS Sky Train Station.
Blue Elephant Restaurant, 8200 Stockdale Hwy Suite M-1 Bakersfield, CA 93311; Phone: 661.833.8190; Fax: 661.833.1536, USA
Blue Elephant Thai, Sushi & Italian Restaurant, 2012 Wasson Road, Cincinnati, OH45209. USA
There is no “blue” in the Blue Elephant!
Virudhaka, the King of the South…
blue in color and carries a sword and scabbard. One of the Four Guardian Kings, the protectors of the four cardinal directions and are almost always found at the entrance to monasteries and temples.
Having the name elephant for a Thai business establishment is understandable because in Buddhism an elephant has a special place as Buddha was believed to have entered his mother’s womb in the form of a white elephant, and, consequently, in Buddhism the elephant stands as a symbol of mental strength, and the white elephant signifies royal majesty and authority.
And the color blue represents health and wisdom; Medicine Buddha is also portrayed in blue for this simple reason; besides, color ‘blue’ is associated with the Akshobhya Buddha and the healer ‘Blue Buddha’; and the King of the South, Virudhaka, one of the Four Guardian Kings, protecting the four cardinal directions, found at the entrance of any temple or monastery is blue because color blue represents tranquility, purity, healing and wisdom, among other things.
If we go further back in time, color blue was regarded as the auspicious color for Saturday, the day King Vajiravudh was born. The Thai national flag has a broad blue stripe, double the size of the other four stripes, running parallel in the middle.
Keeping accidents and weather condition aside, most of us become sick as a result of what we eat, how much we eat or what we do not eat. Therefore, ‘blue elephant’ is an apt name for a Thai restaurant because there is the sacred elephant to represent Buddha and the color blue to protect the diners from disease and stupidity.
However, when we look at the name ‘Blue Elephant’ from a marketing perspective, which, for a business, is more important than religion or sentiment, we see that it is not so ‘blue’ (wise) to have a name for an international chain of restaurants.
As Active As a Baby Elephant:
All these shortcomings do not mean that ‘our’ Blue Elephant is not doing anything to be the apple of the media and the food world’s eye.
With the support from the Thai Trade & Commerce Ministry’s DIPT, the Department of International Trade Promotion, the pleasant looking Masterchef Somany Steppe with her daughter Chef Sandra takes the Blue Elephant to almost every international food show, exhibition and competition, giving live cooking demonstrations and lectures. She has been at Milan food festival. She was there in South Africa. She gave a lecture at a university in South Korea. She showed her presence at Japan food show.
In May 2015, the Blue Elephant participated in Tutto Food, Milan, a world food exhibition, with a booth of its own, by invitation from the Thai Embassy. In the capacity of the ambassador of Thai cuisine, Ms Nooror Somany Steppe, with assistance from her daughter, Sandra, a chef in her own standing, supervised the live cooking sessions, and made the occasion a grand success.
Chef Nooror received “Thai Select” certificate from the Thai Ministry of Commerce at the Thai FEX– World of Food Asia 2015 trade fair in the Food & Beverages industry.
Adding a Pinch of Humanity:
The euphemism ‘seeing pink elephants’ may mean drunken hallucination, but Chef Nooror’s “pink” anti-cancer and health & beauty menu is to benefit the unfortunate Thai women with breast cancer. This menu with a pink ribbon is to be offered to the diners in the month of October 2015 to mark the World’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October 2015, and the entire revenue from this ‘pink’ menu will be sent to Queen Sirkit Centre for Breast Cancer.
Blue Elephant participated at the Taste of London, a fundraising event for the Thai Children’s Trust, the largest charity in the UK caring for sick, orphaned, disabled, and destitute Thai children.
What’s to be done?
Changing the name after all these years is not at all ‘blue’. The remedy should be such that it should not upset the flagship but must make the flagship stand apart from the other ships of the fleet. How? The answer is in Hiton Hotel.
Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc, of which Hilton Hotels is a part, has 100 years of grand history, with about 4,400 hotels, 730,000 rooms in about 97 countries. However, as the number of its subsidiaries grew to 12, each with its own name and logo, the parent company noticed some slackness in revenues in some of the daughter companies. People, especially those new and young vacationers or businesspersons, may not know that DoubleTree is a daughter of the parent Hilton. (Isn’t that why we have family names after our first/given and second/middle names to show which family root we are from? LOL) Those business executive who are loyal to Hilton may not be aware that Embassy Suites, with a different logo, is a part of Hilton and so may not consider staying at the Embassy Suites.
To overcome this obstacle, the think tank at Hilton, back in 2011, came up with a clever way: that of adding “by Hilton” after the daughters’ names so that everybody knows that they are a part of the Hilton family. So now we see, mostly outside of the USA, the phrase “by Hilton” tagging behind some of the subsidiaries of Hilton, e.g. ‘Curio’, a collection by Hilton; DoubleTree by Hilton; Embassy Suites by Hilton; Canopy by Hilton; Homewood Suites by Hilton; Home 2, Suites by Hilton; and Hampton by Hilton. The management is happy that the “rebranding” worked well.
Therefore, I believe Master Chef Nooror Somany Steppe can overcome Blue Elephant name problem with the same clever idea of adding ‘by Nooror’ or ‘by Steppe’, or by any other name or words she feels comfortable with so that her blue elephant stands apart for those lesser blue elephants.
Hoping to find the Blue Elephant rebranding done soon, let’s wish Master Chef Nooror and Chef Sandra a larger and healthier Blue Elephant!