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27 Questions: Marcel Thoma, GM of The Upper House

Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. In our weekly 27 Questions column, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims and aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same amount of time it takes to sit through a 2-minute speed date.

Name: Marcel Thoma
Age: 42
Neighbourhood: Sheung Wan

Occupation: General Manager, The Upper House

Though The Upper House celebrates its 10th birthday this year, Swire Hotels’ sophomore property remains as dynamic and relevant as the day it first opened. Fresh, vibrant and perpetually buzzing, this is arguably the hotel that broke new ground in the global hospitality industry: now a benchmark for all that a luxury accommodation can and should aspire to be. Design savant André Fu often gets all the credit — The Upper House was the Cambridge-educated architect’s first (and by many accounts best) foray into hotel interiors — but a large part of the property’s appeal can be directly attributed to its General Manager — the impeccably turned out Mr. Marcel Thoma.

Our 27 Questions guest this week, Thoma has been GM of The Upper House since 2014. A graduate of the prestigious Lausanne hospitality management school, Thoma’s career — which includes stints at Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood Hotels — has taken him to properties all around the globe: from his native Switzerland to locales as far afield as Thailand and Mexico. An eye for detail and knack for languages — including English, French, German, and Spanish — has made him into one of the city’s hottest hotel personalities: so much so that, on any given day, The Upper House seems to be the sole province of the jet-set (we’re talking Klum, Katy Perry and Koons).

Despite a relentless daily schedule — which entails overseeing a team of hospitality professionals 200-strong — Thoma took some time away from his GM duties to share a few revelations with us: about his favourite fragrances; things he’d rather not tell his parents; and why there’s no such thing as a ‘typical Sunday’ if you work in hotels.

1. What is your life motto?

‘Always be positive.’

Marcel Thoma
Best known as one of the youngest GMs in Hong Kong, Thoma is a man of many talents: the 42-year-old hotel veteran is fluent in four languages; and has a strong interest in fine mechanical watchmaking.
2. What is the best meal you've ever eaten in Hong Kong?

There’s so many options to choose from in Hong Kong: most recently, my favourite meal was at Samsen in Wan Chai. They do great, casual, street-style Thai food.

3. What was your first job?

I worked in a spa in Switzerland when I was 16. I cleaned the sauna, the changing rooms and pulled duty as a lifeguard at the swimming pool.

4. What is your drink of choice?

Sparkling water or iced tea.

Marcel Thoma
Thoma attending the 2019 amfAR Gala earlier this year with House guests Heidi Klum (left) and Tom Kaulitz (right).
5. When was the last time you drove a car?

Two weeks ago in Ireland. I travelled there to attend a friend’s wedding.

6. Which phone app could you not live without?

I’m going to cheat a little and name three: Instagram, BBC News and Uber.

7. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Japanese cuisine.

8. What is your biggest regret in life?

Not studying putonghua earlier on.

Marcel Thoma

9. What do you hate most about living in Hong Kong?

The hot and steamy weather which we’re currently experiencing.

10. What is the top destination on your bucket list?

Moscow. I’ve never been there but have heard great things from friends who have travelled there.

11. How often do you prepare your own meals?


12. What is your greatest fear?

Being sick.

13. When did you last ride the Star Ferry? What were you doing/where did you go?

It would have been en route to attending a party at The Peninsula. It’s one of my favourite hotels in Hong Kong — it’s so historic and quintessential to the city.

Marcel Thoma

14. What is your biggest guilty pleasure?


15. What is one movie everyone should see?

The Devil Wears Prada.

16. What is your typical Sunday like?

There’s no such thing as a ‘typical Sunday’ if you’re working in the hotel industry — every day is different. Having said that, if I have the opportunity, I like to sleep in, go to the gym and have a delicious meal with friends.

Marcel Thoma

17. Which moment in your life would you most like to relive?

The time I visited London at the age of five or six. It was the first occasion on which I’d visited a big city and I enjoyed it so much.

18. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?

London or New York. I love big international cities: they never get boring and I can always find something different to do.

19. What makes someone a real Hongkonger?

Hong Kong attracts interesting people from all around the world. I’d say a ‘Hongkonger’ is someone who’s open-minded, adaptable and efficient.

20. If you could banish someone from Hong Kong forever, who would it be?

Nobody — Hong Kong welcomes everyone.

Marcel Thoma

21. What's your favourite childhood memory?

Growing up in Switzerland, running around in the garden.

22. What is one thing you've never revealed to your parents?

That I did very badly in maths classes!

23. What is your favourite scent in the whole world?

Angel by Thierry Mugler.

24. Who is the best teacher you've ever had? What is one important lesson that they taught you?

My mother. She reminded me to always have a good sense of humour.

25. What is your unique party trick?

Telling funny stories.

26. Have you ever experienced love at first sight? Tell us about it.

Of course! For so many different things: for watches; for hotels (such as The Berkeley London); and for people. Each case is different and can happen at any time.

27. Would you rather never be alone for a single moment, or be alone for the rest of your life? Why?

I don’t mind being alone occasionally but being alone for the rest of your life seems sad.

The Upper House
The Upper House, 49/F, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong
Randy Lai
Having worked in the Australian digital media landscape for over 5 years, Randy has extensive experience in men's specialist categories such as classic clothing, watches and spirits. He is partial to mid-century chronographs and a nice chianti.