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Hotelier Focus: Jonas Amstad, General Manager at LUX* South Ari Atoll

The Edition sits down with leading Hoteliers in the Maldives, bringing readers exclusive information on what goes on in the minds of leading business people in one of the fastest expanding, and most exciting industries of our time.

Rae Munavvar
22 January 2019, MVT 08:34
Jonas Amstad, the General Manager for LUX* South Ari Maldives. PHOTO: LUX*
Rae Munavvar
22 January 2019, MVT 08:34

Jonas Amstad, the General Manager at LUX* South Ari Atoll, is a career hotelier, having worked in a variety of establishments all around the world.

He sits across the table with an air of quiet confidence and a kind smile, every bit of him emanating the kind of self-assuredness that follows emerging victorious after decades of experience in dealing with every imaginable obstacle.

We couldn't wait to find out what inspires this businessman, and how he manages LUX* South Ari with such apparent ease and does it so well.

Tell us a little bit about your background, and how you first dipped your toes into Hospitality?

My grandfather gave me my first job in a hotel, and I suppose you could say, I found my fit.

During school holidays, weekends and public holidays, I would go work and help out at the hotel, and earned my first few bucks, and that’s how it all started. Later I made an apprenticeship as a chef, master chef and basically self-taught my way to the stage where I am now.

I didn’t really go to hotel school; what I know, I taught myself.

These days you find job advertisements looking for a General Manager where they look for a 25-year-old who has an MBA or PhD – yet the fact is over 50 percent of CEOs of the Forbes 500 companies do not have an MBA. Jack Ma doesn’t have an MBA, neither does Richard Branson.

But you know what they do have? They have experience and they work with the people.

Richard Branson always said, “It’s all about finding and hiring people that are smarter than you”. And that’s what it is really.

So you could say I grew up in hospitality and, perhaps, grew into the industry. For me, once I began my first job in a hotel, there was no going back and there was never anything else to consider.

With roots in the food and beverage department, what led your shift to management and operations?

I think I had the right mentors, very good GMs who pushed me in the right direction. Especially that of one man, Stefan Bollhalder.

He followed the exact same route, having started out as a chef by training, and grew through his experiences working in many different hotels, eventually getting promoted and educating himself to the last position he reached: Managing Director for Madinat Jumeriah.

He was my GM, became a mentor and today I am proud to call him my friend. We’ve stayed in touch over the years. I suppose he inspired me at the right moment, and pushed me to think and move in a different direction.

Today I am where I am because certain people like him pushed me to the right direction. I, of course, try to do the same as much as possible, when I see my younger colleagues I push them because one day, someday someone will have to take over my job and I always hope that when that day comes, it will be handed over to one of my old colleagues who I have worked with, because then I know that I have fulfilled my purpose.

Having worked all over the globe, how does hospitality in Maldives compare to other islands and the rest of the world?

In this business particularly, you work in different countries with different nationalities, with different cultures and different religions, and so on. I don’t think there is ever any bad country or bad nationality; there is only the matter of bad people.

So I never really faced big problems in any country that I have worked. Some countries may be slower or have a more relaxed way of doing things but that doesn’t mean anything is bad necessarily; it is just their culture.

For me, I’m basically an immigrant. I’m an immigrant here in Maldives, as I was in every other country I worked in. So I have to integrate myself into the country and into the culture. I think that is important that you adjust to local habit and respect certain rules and regulations of that particular country.

Investing in western countries, of course, there are many things that are more open. I worked in the Middle East as well for example, where I cannot do the same as I would do in Europe. But that’s all part of the day.

Obviously there are similarities in this business. Those of us who have been in this business for this long, we are in it for the experience, for the growth. When you first go to a new country, it is not easy. In the first 12 months, either you love it and you continue to do it, or you hate it and you’ll never do it again. I obviously loved it because I have been doing this now for 28 years.

A brief look at Jonas Amstad, General Manager at LUX* South Ari Atoll. IMAGE: AHMED SAFFAH / THE EDITION

Every destination is different, and Maldives is as well. I first came to the Maldives in 2014. I was working for Shangri La Hotels, for a second time actually. When they said they were thinking of sending me to Maldives, I looked at my list of what I’d done so far, and I said never worked in Maldives, ok fine let’s go!

So although I’d been to Maldives for holiday, I’d never worked [here] before but I thought, look, I’ve survived Russia, Middle East – why shouldn’t I survive Maldives. And then I came and I liked it.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I was then promoted and moved to China – but I’m back again so, I definitely enjoy it here!

Life here isn’t just sunshine and blue skies obviously. We aren’t here on holiday, but it is a beautiful place to be, that’s for sure. We are here to make the industry better, generate more customers, work together with the local community and protect it as well. Especially here it is important to protect the marine life, diversity, incorporating new technology and embrace, implement as much as possible to protect the Maldives, because it is not our country, we are only guests here.

No matter where we are, if we don’t take care of our guest country, the country will not take care of us either.

What kind of expectations and attitudes should young people hoping to break ground in Hospitality have?

How often do you get thanks, for doing your job, reporting news and conducting interviews, he asks me. (The Edition journalists snort unattractively in response).

Hardly ever I bet! (Note: He’s completely right).

You see, working in Hospitality, I hear the words ‘thank you’ spoken genuinely, sincerely, at least five times every single day. It is incredibly rewarding to make people happy for a living.

If you are seeking that sort of job satisfaction – you will absolutely get it.

Yet it all comes with a certain amount of sacrifice. That is, compromising personal time, space, familial and friendly relationships, as you opt for a nomadic life travelling between your job and ‘home’.

So what would you say people can learn from working in resorts and hotels?

As the western world debates the questions concerning immigration and working alongside people of different cultures – I think honestly, they could benefit from serving in the Hospitality Industry.

We work with 46 nationalities in just LUX* South Ari alone, and that is just one property. Over the years I have worked with people from so many different countries, backgrounds, cultural identities – and we learn from each other, and together we grow as a people.

While migration has become such a massive political issue around the world, if western politicians understood the importance of working together and of humans respecting one another, we would definitely have a better world today. In fact, I firmly believe that, they would learn a lot from an year or two of working in hospitality!

I always say, I think we hoteliers know far more about integration and tolerance than our politicians back in the west!

You've had a wealth of experience around the world, but what would you crown as one of the most defining moments in your career, and as a person?

There are so many really. A few years back though, a friend of mine passed away while working in hospitality, and we all flew to say our goodbyes.

It was a moment for me, when I had to come to terms with certain realities of the career I had chosen to follow. Overall, I would say it was a wake-up call to achieving more, and learning more and expanding my experiences.

Is there anything you’ve done differently at LUX* compared to other properties in the Maldives?

I think that, coming back to the subject of humans; if you look around at our Trip Advisor comments, for instance, I would say around 70 percent, maybe a little more or less, but the majority of our reviews contain at least one or sometimes several names of our staff members.

Most of them are positive as well - thank god! But this means, that as the guests remember our colleagues by name, though we have 600 individual staff, that we have managed to create long-lasting memory for our guests.

That, I think, is unique. Not everybody is able to do that – we try to bring the lighter, brighter concept not just in terms of the appearance of our environment, it is prominent in our company culture and the service that we provide.

Having come so far in your career, we wonder, what does success mean to you?

Everybody sees success differently. Of course, success can be measured in so many ways, financial performances, guest satisfaction, data collected for protecting the environment and so on in terms of business based performances.

But if you’re talking about personal success, as I mentioned before, if one day I see one of my colleagues sitting in my chair – I’d call that success, because it means I was able to guide that person in the right direction, I’ve provided the right training and the right support allowing that person to take over my job.

After all, I will retire one day, right? I’d say I’ve already completed 80 percent of my career. I’m very grateful for what I’ve seen in my life and for the people I’ve met, but one day, that will be over and the younger generation must take their place.

For sure I don’t want to work until I’m 85 years old! And that is what I would consider personal success, to see one of my colleagues, whether by push or inspiration, progress to a position that is higher than mine.

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