Leading with Passion, Innovation and Experience
A respected general manager, thought leader and innovative thinker, Asia Dreams talked to Clive Edwards about working in the AYANA family, one of the world’s most successful independently owned resorts and the new AYANA Komodo Resort, Waecicu Beach in Flores.
Q: What drew you into a career in the hospitality world?
A: When I graduated university with a degree in management studies in Jamaica, my father suggested that I work in the hospitality industry. I started out as a management trainee with the Sandals Group and enjoyed myself so much that I couldn’t believe I was being paid to do this.
Q: What did you most enjoy about the job in those early days?
A: It’s actually still the same thing I enjoy now – the interaction with the guests, working with people and focusing on creating memorable moments for the guests.
Q: Prior to working in Bali, what was your most exciting role to date?
A: This is my second stint in Bali. Prior this I spent a year working in the corporate office in Atlanta, which was very rewarding. AYANA is an independent hotel within the Capella Hotel Group, so I had the opportunity to work with Horst H. Schulze, who is an icon in the hospitality world and has such history, information, knowledge, passion and drive. In my role as corporate director, I was able to influence the direction of all the hotels within the group, facilitating change and alignment with the various general managers, while not being involved with the day-to-day operations. It’s very satisfying to see improvements you have brought about coming into fruition.
Q: You’re on your second stint working in Bali, what brought you back?
A: I was asked to hold the fort here in Bali during a management transition as I had experience as acting general manager here before moving to the corporate role.
Q: What’s the difference between working for an international chain and an independent hotel resort?
A: The speed of decision making. We are very independent and don’t have to deal with much bureaucracy, which allows us to be very entrepreneurial minded. While we have a structure in terms of culture, philosophy and processes, the implementation is up to us. This allows us to be very responsive; we can come up with a plan, gain the owner’s approval and immediately implement it. In such a dynamic industry, this this is a great benefit.
Q: Can you give me an example of this?
A: Our PR team can make a decision today about how we’re going to position ourselves, how we’re going to conceptualise and launch a specific campaign and put it on my desk, it gets signed off and tomorrow it can be actioned. So for us it is just concept, approval, action.
Q: What, in your opinion, defines luxury in hospitality?
A: Ten years ago, luxury was defined as how ornate a hotel lobby was, the thread count of the sheets, the flat screen TV – the tangibles. This has changed with more commoditisation of luxury goods. To me, today’s luxury is time, coupled with the ability to personalise experiences. Recognise me immediately, understand who I am, do it for me right away – that is all today’s luxury.
Q: What do you think is the most under-rated aspect of AYANA Resort and Spa, BALI, The Villas at AYANA, or RIMBA Jimbaran BALI by AYANA?
A: We have a very visionary owner and great partners who have given us a great product. What is underrated is how we do things and why we do them. We analyse our data very carefully, even small percentages – if there are 37 complaints from 4,000 room nights about a certain topic, we work out how to resolve it and ensure alignment throughout our team members so that we see things similarly with a common culture that binds us together.
Q: You’ve recently overseen the opening of AYANA Komodo Resort, Waecicu Beach. Why did the group choose to open a resort there?
A: It is a pristine location with such amazing natural beauty. There’s a sand bar and completely clear seas that remind me of the Maldives, there’s a cave which is almost prehistoric with stalactites that make you feel like you’re perhaps the first person to see them. It is a true beach resort, so we have a range of boats as well as the hotel. Our traditional phinisi is called Lako Di’a, or safe journey in the local language, Lako Cama is our fast boat so you can easily take in the local sights, and Lako Taka is our whale designed glass-bottom boat. The whole project is very much in line with our owner and group’s desire to develop Indonesia.
Q: What impression do you want guests to take away from a visit to this new hotel?
A: We want them to fall in love with the sun, sea and sand, to experience the local fishing village where people jump into the water to sell you their lobsters and you bargain right from the water. Things like that are disappearing. We have beautiful water facilities. We want people to be thrilled by the facilities that we provide, the stunning resort, our dining outlets, our boats – our speed boat gets you to Komodo Island in an hour, which is much faster than other boats. We want people to be thrilled by the level of service; the people of Labuan are so willing to serve.
Q: Do you have any advice for budding hoteliers?
A: Practice the double platinum rule: treat people better than they would expect. As a hotelier become an expert in a few areas; dig deep and go further than the superficial in a few fields and see how you can contribute in those areas. That coupled with the double platinum rule means success is written.