What motivated your career choice? Tell us more about your early years.
I’m originally from Colombo, Sri Lanka – and at a very young age I knew I wanted to see the world, experience new cultures and most of all be led by passion and excitement to be the very best. My family upbringing and background, my childhood and adult education was an excellent platform for my career as a Hotelier. My mother is a Hotelier, trained at Trust Houses, which during her training was a leading Hotel chain in the UK and Europe. My father was involved in a number of national and international businesses.
I received my Bachelor of Physical Education from the Australian College of Physical Education in Sydney, and shortly after graduating started my career in hospitality, first as a Health Club Supervisor at Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, and now – over two decades and 13 properties later I had the privilege and honor of leading the best loved resort in Hawaii.
International exposure to the most diverse cultures is a must for the experience of a senior hotel executive. Your career has almost spanned the entire globe.
My extensive experiences to date – with an emphasis in luxury hospitality, I feel has prepared me for this next chapter with Auberge Resorts Collection and I’m honored to be at the helm of the Mauna Lani. For the past two decades, I have been honing my skills at 13 luxury properties – both city hotels and resorts around the world – always with the goal of delivering exceptional guest experiences and programs to enhance and exceed expectations, and all anchored by capturing a sense of place within the destination. From Damascus to Sydney, to Beijing, the cultures and people were each entirely unique and incredibly special. My own upbringing has also exposed me to diverse cultures, as my mother is from the United Kingdom and my father is from Sri Lanka. From Sri Lanka, our family was fortunate to travel extensively, which probably contributed to me pursuing a career in hospitality.
Additionally, as a life-long learner, the hotel industry has allowed me the most incredible opportunity to become immersed in different cultures and customs, and work alongside the most amazing and innovative individuals, and really foster a deep understanding of the countries I’ve lived in. No matter the location, as a hotelier, it’s vital to be engaged and interested in the host country and culture. Most recently, I opened Four Seasons Hotel Beijing and it was one of the company’s most highly anticipated openings and was met with extraordinary enthusiasm and groundbreaking results. Through this experience, and my understanding of the different markets – and most importantly different cultures, I hope to continue to enhance our business strategy in this key visitor market.
Recruiting and nurturing talent are essential skills for a leader in any industry especially in hospitality. What has been your approach?
I’m a firm believe that the secret to success in the hospitality industry – and any company for that matter, is the employees. Auberge Resorts Collection attracts the best of the best and most importantly, those that embody ‘service from the heart.’ Our team has been carefully recruited and handpicked for their genuine warmth, expertise, knowledge, commitment, and passion. They are also innovative and driven – all qualities found in leaders. I’m a firm believer that you can teach any type of skill, but you need someone who is genuine and passionate. As a vice president and general manager, this is what I look for in my team, and my recruitment approach.
You have worked both for established hotels but you are also familiar with opening new one, either a newly built or renovated structure. This involves expertise and knowledge of not only liaising with architects, designers and builders but with local and regional authorities. Tell us more.
My extensive experiences to date – with an emphasis in luxury hospitality, I feel has prepared me for this next chapter and I’m honoured to be at the helm of Mauna Lani. For the past 20 years in the luxury hospitality industry, I have been honing my skills at 13 unique properties around the world – always with the goal of delivering exceptional guest experiences and programs to enhance and exceed expectations. I’ve overseen just about all aspects of the hotel industry – from rebranding properties to entirely new builds.
Having worked my way up in the industry, first as a spa attendant, and two decades later, I have experienced and managed all aspects of the industry, and have liaised with a variety of partners. Each property is different, just like each destination is very different, therefore I’ve always had a unique approach for the various hotels I’ve managed. Each property also has a unique vision and goal of what they would like to achieve.
In the Maldives, we aspired to becoming the best Resort Hotel in the World. That is what we were adjudged by Conde Nast Traveler magazine. In Beijing, it was building a new Hotel and getting it operational. In Ko Olina Oahu, we rebranded a Marriott Hotel to a Four Seasons Hotel. In Mauna Lani it is renovating an existing Hotel with the objective of being the “finest and best loved resort in Hawaii. My approach to the challenges was firstly to get an in depth understanding of the vision my employers and principals had for the new project. In developing the vision and making it realistic and workable I work with them.
A hotel General Manager is often both a brand ambassador (for chain hotels) but also an ambassador for the respective property. This is not only about building reputation but also delivering consistency in the guest experience at all levels, whether it is about accommodations, wellbeing or dining. Is there a recipe for success?
For me, my personal success and growth is not just about running a luxury resort. It’s also about learning and understanding the culture and spirituality of the destination. Throughout my career, I have been extremely fortunate to have wonderful mentors that have encouraged me, challenged me, but most of all believed in me. As a vice president and general manager, I weave this into my team’s culture – it is who we are, and what we do. This ultimately contributes to our success and delivering consistent results.
No matter the length of stay, room category, or room package, each guest is just as important as the next – and every guest should experience our genuine service; and most of all – be “wowed” by our unique experiences and intuitive team.
Another recipe for success, is to set goals – both for myself and the team. In leadership, whether you are managing a team of two or 2,000 employees, setting goals – both for yourself, and for your team, is critical. One year from now, where will you be? What will you have accomplished? Even five years from now, where do you hope to be? In my role as General Manager, I ask myself these questions regularly, and set goals for myself. I would not be the GM of a five-star luxury resort, if I didn’t ask myself these questions – or set goals for myself, both in my career and personal life. Goals provide a benchmark for monitoring your success.
How important has been, in your experience, working for major international luxury hotel chains in contrast with independent or privately owned hotels? Are there major differences in the operation of an urban hotel versus a resort one?
In my experience, ultimately whether working for a major international luxury hotel chair or an independent hotel, the goals are the same – deliver exceptional service, strive for excellence, and have a dynamic and passionate team in place. Independent hotels tend to evoke a very strong sense of place, curating aspects from a local team level, thus creating one-of-a-kind experiences that really speak to the personality of the specific property. Larger, global hotels often have an overall consistent brand voice woven throughout the majority of the properties, which is also beneficial for loyal brand followers. There’s value in each approach and a specific audience for each as well.
Like most successful companies, each one started small, eventually growing the brand and reputation to a larger, global company. Once a company achieves a certain size, it’s important to have systems and best practices in place to achieve strategic results and performance expectations.
Your career path has now taken you to Hawaii for the opening of a sizeable world class luxury resort in Hawaii? How many employees do you anticipate the resort will employ? Tell us more about the project and the process leading up to opening.
It’s safe to say – no matter where you are from in the world, Hawaii is an iconic destination that most people dream about visiting, let alone calling home. I am very fortunate to be doing both. As mentioned, I grew up in Sri Lanka, and Hawaii feels like I have returned home – from the tropical air to the white sand beaches.
Therefore, many factors were involved in my decision to move back here, the obvious being the rich culture, diversity, natural beauty, and genuine warmth of the community – all factors that attract visitors to the Islands. I also saw an incredible opportunity to introduce a new era of wonder and luxury – unlike any other in Hawaii, to Hawaii Island and to the Auberge Resorts Collection. This will be the brand’s first resort in Hawaii, and the largest in the portfolio. I’m very much looking forward to leading an exceptional team and playing a vital role in enriching the visitor experience.
Mauna Lani is set to debut later this year. It’s a phenomenal property and located on 32 oceanfront acres, surrounded by royal fishponds, natural lava plains, indigenous gardens, and bordered by the most beautiful beaches. The area is an inspiring spiritual haven that captures a distinct sense of place deeply rooted in rich cultural traditions. I feel, nowhere in the Hawaiian archipelago is the land more powerful, more sacred, more alive, than this storied and natural place of wonder.
Mauna Lani will feature 333 contemporary guest rooms and suites, five private bungalow residences, six extraordinary restaurants and lounges, three distinct pools, a signature spa and wellness haven, and interactive Holoholo Kids Circle. Therefore, our team is extremely focused on creating unique experiences and offering the very best. From the curated dining aspects to developing the holistic spa and wellness experiences, all areas are carefully and thoughtfully being developed.
What inspires you outside your work and career? Your family must be a key source of energy and motivation but also an essential balance.
Travel has always inspired me, however by biggest inspiration is my family. Having traveled across the globe and having lived on four continents, as a father, I’m inspired by how my children witness the world and how travel has shaped them. Whether it sparks curiosity, compassion, or excitement, travel allows us all to be enriched, be immersed in other cultures, and connect with people and places on a deeper level. I’ve been fortunate to travel with my family, and share in these types of experiences together.
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