At The Heart of Luxury Hospitality
Oliver Key’s prestigious career started with weekend and holiday work in hotels in the UK’s Peak District, detoured into art college, then moved to a rapid rise through some of the world’s most prestigious brands. Asia Dreams talked to him about his career and some of his memorable experiences.
Q: Congratulations on being appointed to this prestigious role. Would you tell us how you first got into hospitality?
A: I grew up in a popular tourist area, the Peak District in England, and worked weekends and school holidays in small hotels and inns starting with washing dishes to eventually working behind the bar. I chose to study graphic art at college, but didn’t really enjoy its static nature, standing or sitting down focusing on one thing at a time. I missed the constant energy of hotel work where things are happening all the time, so after two years, I went back to hotel work, then took a hospitality degree at the University of Surrey.
Q: Throughout your career you’ve worked for luxury brands, how did that come about?
A: Since I already had two years of university and two years of hospitality work behind me, while studying I won the plum industry year job at the Boca Resort in Florida, a five-star, five-diamond resort with 1,000 bedrooms, a big difference to a 19-bedroom hotel in the Peak District. I absolutely loved it and the contacts I made led to a job after graduating in London at The Savoy, where I stayed for three years. It was a baptism of fire; if your shoes weren’t shiny, you were sent home. The standards were very, very high.
Q: What made you decide to continue working overseas?
A: I developed a love of travel and great opportunities kept on coming up which have allowed me to see the world whilst working in so many amazing destinations. I’ve been lucky to work at some iconic hotels, including The Plaza Hotel New York and Fairmont San Francisco. That was followed by two years in Hawaii, then nine years in the Middle East, including opening the first Armani Hotel in the world in the Burj Khalifa. I joined Starwood in 2010 to open the St Regis Abu Dhabi, before moving on to Miami to run the St Regis Bal Harbour. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work for some great brands, great mentors and great hotels.
Q: Would you share some memorable experiences from your career?
A: I’ve met a huge number of VIPs right from the start. The Savoy is a hub for the political world and I remember walking arm-in-arm with Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister. I also welcomed Princess Diana at The Savoy not long before she passed away. At The Plaza, it was more glitz and glamour; we organised Catherine Zeta-Jones’ wedding to Michael Douglas and when I was running The Oak Room, Al Pacino came in to dine. At this level we are very fortunate to handle some of the world’s most interesting and elite people.
Other than this, it was amazing to open three hotels in the Middle East. It’s pretty much like having a baby, you nurture it from building site right through to greeting guests, which give a huge sense of fulfilment. Opening the world’s first Armani Hotel in an iconic building like the Burj Khalifa and seeing the fireworks on the first New Year’s Eve it was open was incredible.
Q: With so many exciting experiences behind you, what made you decide to come to Bali?
A: I liked the idea of working across four continents and had always wanted to work in Asia. I had heard the reputation of the St. Regis here, but I didn’t know much about Bali. Once I looked into it, I decided it was an amazing opportunity to bring my children up in a very culture-rich environment where there are so many diverse experiences available. So it was really a career and lifestyle decision.
Q: What can guests expect from you at the two resorts?
A: I will definitely continue the legacies of both these resorts. Both are extremely successful, although very different. They have phenomenal records with regard to service. With all the new openings coming up here, we need to stay ahead. We’ve recently renovated all 41 of the villas at The St. Regis Bali Resort and we’re planning renovations at The Laguna Bali to make sure the overall resort experience keeps up with the very best across the island. Ensuring we recruit and retain the right people to achieve our superb service culture is important; it’s easier to fight to gain the top position than it is to retain it, which we’re very mindful of.
Q: Did you always want to reach the peak of hotel management?
A: Yes, I’ve been lucky to work for some great general managers over the years who have been happy to mentor me. In turn, I try to mentor young people working with me who want to progress in their careers. I’m very proud that quite a few of them have gone on to become general managers.
Q: Amid these long hours, how do you relax?
A: I think it’s pretty easy on an island like Bali. The key in life is to have a decent balance, my two young children keep me grounded and I love golf and travel.