Where are you going to spend your (next) vacation?
...actually, it is only a rhetorical question, and here's why: It has been around six months since I moved back to Dubai, so the only logic thing was to spend my first Eid holidays back home – in Croatia, known worldwide for its outstanding beauty, especially during summer. I even persuaded my friends to reschedule the dates for our sailing tour in the middle of July, so I would be able to use a six-day long break on the occasion of Eid Al Adha, when lot of UAE expats travel abroad either to see their families or to explore some new destinations they haven’t visit yet. Not to mention we all know “It’s getting hot in here”!
It seems to me that this year was all about making hard decisions, so once again, I had to choose between having “time of my life” along the most beautiful Adriatic coast, or in the little piece of heaven called Seychelles. I think we can all agree it was a really tough choice to consider.
Of course, my friends had a great time, but so did I.
But how did this archipelagic island country in the Indian Ocean end up in the equation in the first place?
Well, my little Seychelles (ad)venture happened thanks to Mr. Roland Georges, General Manager at La Digue Island Lodge, who I was lucky to meet through LinkedIn about a year ago, right after I lost my job at Hilton due to the COVID-19 crisis.
We had a couple of very interesting e-conversations, mostly related to hospitality and expertise in our field, while Mr. Georges kept on encouraging me to keep the faith and spark that even lockdown couldn’t shut down.
“Eventually somebody with your skills and background would be very desirable for our beach front resort at one of the most beautiful islands of the Seychelles. You present yourself very well and know what you are doing so would represent the brand very well.”, he wrote in one of his emails.
I was very honored to receive such a wonderful appreciation from the man of his title and professional achievements, especially in time when I was sending around 100 emails per day with my resume attached, desperately trying to get the new opportunity in luxury hospitality.
At that time, we didn’t know that my life will take me into completely different direction called Esyasoft Technologies, but eventually we did stay in touch, and started to exchange some business ideas, especially once I finally got back to UAE.
At the end of the day, Adorata Emirata was “born” right after I have sent my marketing contribution proposal to Mr. Georges, introducing him with my project and offering potential collaboration because one thing was sure – “once a hotelier, always a hotelier”, so just because my main focus now is on IT and my #smart company, doesn’t mean I still can’t flirt with hospitality industry.
Yes, it also meant one more challenge and obligation on my plate, but I also knew this was a great opportunity to finally showcase my scope of work, especially if I can mix business with pleasure, which is definitely my kind of “cocktail”.
I won’t continue this story in a way that will remind you of any other travel blog, filled with information that can be provided by our dear friend Google. I would rather introduce you to a person that stands behind this paradise named La Digue Island Lodge – which is by the way, the first and only place I have seen so far that actually looks better in live version, than on the photos. (Including mine – that will speak louder than words)
Once you get to the end of the following interview, I am sure many of you will get the idea where to spend upcoming winter holidays.
Apart being a perfect gentleman and a wonderful host, Mr. Roland M. Georges is a passionate hospitality professional, with a touch for delivering highly personalized experiences to distinguished guests with empathy and honesty, while delivering record results in his properties.
He was born on a small island, on top of a hill, surrounded by lush forest, with the perfect view of the Indian Ocean. From early childhood, he participated in the family business, servicing European and Middle Eastern guests, including Queen Beatrice of The Netherlands and the Shah’s of Iran family. Roland pursued a Hospitality high education in London, England, where he had the pleasure of producing 3,000 mince pies for the Queen's Tennis Club in a single day.
After relocating to the US, Roland's foundation of hospitality was amplified by the discipline of a large corporation, where he connected with guests, employees, and suppliers; led efforts in hurricanes, legislative changes, renovations, and new builds. The US Virgin Islands, was his introduction into a long stint in the Caribbean where he developed life-long friendships, coached many of his staff into leadership positions, and created many stories of success, hopefully mine as well.
While working as a Hotel Manager for Marriott in the USVI, he excelled at caring for guests such as NBA athletes, a US Treasury Secretary, Fortune 500 CEOs and the Saudi Royal family. Georges realized that his heart was in the Luxury market and set out on a quest to deliver the best experiences in the world. Over the following years, he worked with Raffles and Regent, where he personally managed the accreditation of his property into the Virtuoso travel network; welcomed Hollywood stars and TV personalities, attending to their every need and ensuring privacy; prepared the detail for secure arrival, events and meaningful exploratory trips for UN Secretary, Cabinet members and US Senators; received billionaires, providing custom-designed immersive vacation choices, such as radical sports or donations to local orphanages.
In the exclusive island of Martha's Vineyard in Cape Cod, vacation destination of the Kennedys, Clintons and Obamas, Roland worked closely with the Chamber of Commerce, Board of Trade, and various charitable organizations to provide the social support necessary for a community that grows seven times its population during summer season. Spearheading the two luxury hotels within Atlantis Paradise Island, home of the world’s largest open-air marine park, Roland was responsible for delivering flawless experiences to adult guests, families, corporate and private groups, as well as owners.
AE: What is the connection between you and La Digue Island Lodge? Why have you decided to manage this unique property and what are your key responsibilities? Throughout my adult life, I have followed the evolution of the resort and the island. As a teenager, I gate-crashed parties here, to enjoy the live bands at the resort. The property is a landmark resort, a local business, built by local artisans and furnished with local woods, grown organically, by incorporating old traditional homes, to become the largest resort on La Digue, where there is only one other full-service hotel of a smaller size.
The La Digue Island Lodge enjoys its most prized beach-front location, next to the National Park, in addition to having a lease of exclusive beach-front villas inside the National Park, home of the famous Source D’Argent beach. Once the opportunity to manage and promote this beloved property came about, the decision to join was an easy one.
AE: Seychelles are your home country; how does it feel to come back after so many years?
Love being back home after many years of learning and learning to operate in different countries. Delighted to have my family with me here in the hope that my son can experience the great childhood memories like I had. I am very excited about the future for the property and I see my role as a returning local to nurture and grow future passionate leaders in the industry to create a larger pool of capable local talent.
AE: Is there any special story behind the iconic Yellow House, and what was the guiding light when it comes to those amazing A chalets? The yellow house, which graces our resort’s logo, is from the early 1900’s; it belonged to one of the early-settler families, the Berlouis family, and was eventually acquired by our current owner, as the resort grew. The Yellow House is a stone and wood structure with 7 suites and a lounge area; guests can experience the authentic feel of the 1900's building, while enjoying unique suites with fully updated facilities. The Yellow House is a perfect home-away-from-home for friends and family reunions while providing privacy for other travelers.
Inspired by Tahitian A-frame waterfront homes, and their languidly cascading roof shape, the A-frame chalets were designed by a German architect and first implemented at the beachfront. The privacy and comfort of the chalets were such a hit with the guests, that the A-frame chalets are now the majority of rooms offered at the resort.
AE: What challenges have you faced during these COVID-19 times and what is your own “recipe” for a recovery? How is La Digue dealing with a current situation?
Similarly to others, we faced the challenges of closing down the business, while maintaining the resort, but in such a small island, with mostly Seychellois staff, we had a major social responsibility to the community, in supporting the local workforce and local businesses.
AE: What are the main changes you have seen in the sector? Can you predict any changes for the near future?
The main change we have seen is the shrinking of the booking window, due to so much uncertainty, and in the future, I see this much-shorter booking window becoming the norm. In that scenario, our bookings have grown consistently in 2021, as the travelling public seems to favor individual room layouts instead of room blocks, which allows for a more natural sense of personal space.
AE: What are your most memorable Seychelles moments?
Growing up, the thrill of going fishing with my uncles and exploring the underwater world of diving. As a young adult, the moment when I understood the incredible richness of nature around us, with such exotic endemic plants and peculiar species. That made me a strong advocate for its protection and management of all its resources. And now, every time I see my child learning to love this country, it is a memorable moment.
AE: What changes have you noticed when it comes to your target markets?
As Seychelles successfully vaccinated its population against COVID and became a prime destination, the country became attractive to several new markets, mostly serviced through our closest global hub, Dubai, along with other European and African direct routes.
With an increased number of guests from UAE and the region, we developed offerings that provide distinguished service, food and facilities for those from UAE and the region. In particular, training our personnel to provide polite yet friendly and informative experiences, which seem very much appreciated.
AE: On what level do you collaborate with the Seychelles Tourist Board or any other tourism entity? We are very supportive of the STB, which has now been brought under the Ministry of Tourism, and its initiatives, as we firmly believe that in promoting the destination, we all benefit and our different resort products will stand on their unique selling points to attract their guests. We are currently working with the Ministries of Tourism, Culture, Education and the British Embassy in hosting a celebrity Choreographer from ITV UK, conducting workshops and events with the local community and schools as well as promoting the destination. AE: Are there any new developments on the horizon for La Digue Island Lodge? Do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline? La Digue Island Lodge is going through a multi-year product repositioning effort. We are excited for the upcoming season and have created several new services and packages for the Autumn and year-end season, which can include spa treatments, diving, half-board, and other options. We have new group and wedding packages, including events at the most scenic beaches, followed by private sunset beach dinners, and many other tailor-made possibilities. Our exclusive setting allows us to organize rather private experiences for groups or multi-family groups who may want to cluster together during their stay.
A new sea wall created a perfect place for lounging by the ocean and enjoying the most amazing sunsets and cocktails. Our Spa facility has just been renovated and we have new offerings for spa treatments and relaxing experiences.
PADI Diving shop, with a new team of international divers, has been updated and fully equipped. Service items are being updated and a new butler service implemented for our exclusive beach-front Villas in the National Park. New garden suites have been erected and will become available in 2022.
AE: Saving the best for last - what are the qualities that make a good GM / a great leader in your humble opinion? What would you say is your leadership style?
I believe any hospitality leader must be a great listener/learner, espouse and model servant leadership, be fully engaged in the finances of the business, ensure delivery of value to all stakeholders, and find people who are smart, natural team-players, who have a great attitude and are passionate about the property. Set realistic goals and let the team execute, being supportive and encouraging. Always mentor and provide truthful advice to team members in order for them to reach their full potential.
Mr. Georges continues his quest to connect with guests, employees, business partners and owners, creating deep relationships that are the prerequisite for creating indelible memories, striving to bring to each person’s eyes that same spark he would see as a child, while staring at the Indian Ocean.
I already had that spark when I came to La Digue and met him in person for the first time, but Mr. Roland and all his staff made sure I leave this paradise with only one thought “I can’t wait to come back”.