How different is the hospitality industry in Fiji?

Working and living in many countries can lead to a multitude of ever-lasting memories. As we have noticed, careers that unfolded in numerous places often result in many lessons, great times and priceless experiences. The alumnus of this week is a Dutch enthusiast of water sports that was willing to share with us a couple of memorable moments that he enjoyed so far. After having graduated in Amsterdam in 2009, Yvo started his career in Curacao, determined to find out whether working abroad would fit him. Today, he oversees multiple properties in Fiji and enjoys its mesmerizing beaches in his free time.

What did you do after finishing your studies?

I stayed with the company that offered me my second internship – the Renaissance in Curacao. Since the hotel was in the process of pre-opening, my internship took nine months instead of six. My Director of Food and Beverage at that time was the one who motivated me to stay and so, I worked there for two years and a half. I opted for Curacao because I was not so sure that I wanted to work overseas so Curacao offered a certain extent of familiarity.

Looking back, I am happy that I stayed with Renaissance because I was only 25 years old, managing over 40 people and therefore, saw the theory that we learned in school put into practice. Moreover, I was lucky to have a good mentor – my boss at that time.

Could you tell me a bit more about your role as a hotel manager at Marriot? 

First of all, being a hotel manager now is completely different than two years ago. Traditionally, the job mainly revolves around creating synergy between the different departments of the hotel and managing the relationship with the owners. A good hotel manager needs to know how to show the owners that the management team in the field can be trusted.

Since the outset of COVID-19, the hospitality industry started to cost more money than it used to generate. Our occupancy decreased the most in 2019 - from an average of 82% to 2%. The phenomenon resulted in having to ask for additional funding from owners. The development of certain markets is also to be taken into consideration to be able to forecast the moment of recovery and surge in demand. The extended period of dramatically decreased demand inevitably led to redundancies. Out of around 1.200 associates in March 2020, we, unfortunately, had to let go of 800 associates. It is devastating to have to sit down with someone with whom you have been working for years on end and have to be the bearer of bad news. The decision to terminate contracts was the hardest decision that I have ever had to make in my career. However, desperate times call for desperate measures.  

What is the biggest problem or obstacle that a hotel manager can encounter?

Balancing the wishes of stakeholders and corporate can be challenging at times. However, having a long-term structured strategy helps a lot. For instance, if you want to ask for a renovation, you need to prepare a thorough explanation through which you clearly state the possible repercussions such as the impact on ADR or RevPAR index. Even though the hotel is doing well and does not seem to be needing a renovation, tables can turn if you can explain how much more money could be generated through the renovation. Many times, being a hotel manager is about reasoning, argumentation, and selling your idea, especially since you might have to convince stakeholders that do not come from a hospitality-related background and thus, needing additional insight.

We noticed that you worked in numerous countries. How was that for you?

Since my grandparents are originally from Indonesia, I grew up with stories, influences, and food from their country. I was always intrigued about living in a tropical country. This is how I decided to see if I would like to work overseas. After that, we moved back to Europe, but we quickly realized that it was not what we wanted so we went back. However, after a couple of years, we asked ourselves if this is where we see our future and we came to the conclusion that the answer was no, as we were looking for something more dynamic. From that point, we kept looking for new places and ended up working in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and now in Fiji.   

You filled many F&B positions. Is it a passion of yours?

This is also a result of my Indonesian background. Since every celebration revolves around food, I grew up with this amazing cuisine! When I was young, I started working in restaurants and I became intrigued about the administrative side of restaurants. I think that F&B positions require a lot of attention and motivation since you could have the highest position but still be involved to a certain extent in the day-to-day operations whenever needed. In Asia, the importance of F&B departments is different than our hotels in Europe since the department often contributes 50 to 60% of the overall revenue. In addition, the overall quality of the hotel is often judged in the local market based on the quality of their restaurants and F&B outlets.

Is the hospitality industry different in Fiji than in Europe?

Since the Australian market is the biggest here in Fiji, this strongly shapes the industry here. The willingness to spend money on certain types of accommodation or F&B experiences is considerably higher than in the European market. Sustainability, on the other hand, is much less developed in the Pacific region in comparison to Europe. There is still room for a lot of improvement and initiatives. For instance, insulating buildings or implementation of solar panels is not so common here whereas we all know how common that is in Europe.

There is also a difference in terms of talent and human resources. Since there are so many European institutions, such as our school, that prepare individuals to work in hospitality operations, the supply is somehow covered there. In contrast, due to the lack of proper training and education in this industry here, it often takes internal training programs to develop individuals for senior roles and to build the knowledge levels that are required to operate according to international standards. This has an impact on efficiency as sometimes you need more people than is actually needed for a one-man job. Moreover, since Fiji is a partly tribal society, the traditional tribal rank can interfere at times with the workplace hierarchy and reporting lines.  

What achievement are you most proud of?     

During my time in Fiji, three of our properties hosted the Asian Development Bank Conference which gathered over 3.500 attendees from over 76 countries. The total preparation took over one year! From purchasing stationary and banqueting equipment to building extra meeting rooms, we prepared ourselves and planned the event in detail since it was their first meeting ever of such magnitude in the country. Being part of the process and eventually leading the execution of the event was one of the most fulfilling moments of my career. I was happy to hear that everyone was even more satisfied with the accommodation and service provided by us than the one that they had in bigger cities in the past years. Seeing everything fall into place after so much preparation was an unforgettable feeling.

What do you consider your biggest failure?  

I was in Fiji for two months and we were alerted that a category I cyclone was about to hit the region. Nevertheless, since we thought that the weather did not seem to worsen, we decided to end the day and go home. To make a long story short, I woke up at around 04:00 because of the wind and rain to look out of the window and discover that the streets were flooded. Naturally, I went out of bed and started making phone calls. Our hotel was cut off from the mainland due to the incredible amount of water. Because we had around 1500 guests in-house, 60 staff members tried and reached the hotel. They were the ones in charge of running breakfast, lunch and dinner for our guests as no one else was able to reach the property. That was the most disastrous workday that I have ever had in my life but in the end, the guests appreciated our efforts so there is also a good side to it. Nowadays, whenever there is a cyclone alert, a team of employees always stays in the hotel just in case we encounter the same situation again.  

What would your advice be for a person that just became Hotel Manager?  

Find yourself a good mentor that knows how to support you! Do not take a job because of the tile and if you doubt the support offered by your organization, you are already in trouble. Also, mind the gaps between different roles whenever you plan to change jobs.