We recently sat down with the resident manager of Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort & Spa, Yanuca, Chris Hamilton, to get to know the likeable Aussie expat and find out what makes him tick.
TW: What part of your professional life is keeping you up at night?
CH: I’m constantly thinking about two things: how to improve the guest experience and how to continuously upskill our employees so we can raise the bar even higher. We’re a Fijian family here at the hotel and we treat our guests like family. Fijian hospitality is genuine and heartfelt, and we try to infuse the country’s rich culture and the warmth of its people into as many elements of the resort as possible. Whether that’s through our chefs describing the history of traditional Fijian dishes to guests, right through to our CSR team sharing learnings on how we’re helping look after the natural environment at the resort.
We know a number of our guests are interested in giving back and supporting the people and places they visit, whether it’s a MICE delegation or a couple escaping the daily grind for a holiday. We offer activities delegates can get involved in such as mangrove planting or fish house building which not only help the environment, but also foster a wonderful knowledge exchange between our employees and our guests. For those companies wanting to give back through a donation, we work with Fiji’s Ministry of Health to support children suffering from acute chronic kidney disease and donations raised by our hotel subsidise dialysis treatments for children in need across the island.
TW: What’s on the top of your to do list at the moment?
CH: Unfortunately, you’ll never have just one thing at the top of your to do list when you’re running a 109-acre private island! We’re looking to expand our MICE offering to new international markets; however, it is important the experiences we offer at the hotel meet their needs. So, we’re expanding the water park in January and refining the food and beverage concept in Beach Bar & Grill to ensure it reflects changing food trends.
Besides reaching out to new long-haul markets, there are many other resort attributes such as our adults-only Reef Wing that we’ve recently opened and are marketing, which is also great for honeymooners. We’ve also created our very own vegetable and spice garden where we’re growing beetroots, bananas, paw paw fruit and pineapple. ExecutivecChef Rudolf Kunkel and his team are now able to lead a farm-to-table cooking class that starts in the garden and teaches guests how to make traditional Fijian dishes using fresh Fijian produce.
TW: What do you see as the biggest disrupter or threat to the global travel industry right now?
CH: Like many industries, the political and economic climates of countries has an impact on the hospitality industry. It all comes down to how consumer confidence and whether people feel safe travelling overseas.
TW: What’s the biggest opportunity?
CH: We recently completed a US$50 million renovation and we now have an adults-only wing of the resort alongside areas that cater specifically for multi-generational family travel and large groups. We really are the complete package! We’re the largest hotel in Fiji featuring 443 ocean view guest rooms, six dining concepts and three bars, all with waterfront views. The fact that we occupy the private island of Yanuca means we have the flexibility to cater for even the most extravagant requests. The opportunity lies in attracting new MICE travellers from markets that may not have previously considered Fiji as a preferred destination to host their conferences and events.
TW: How has travel influenced your career?
CH: Travel has influenced my career dramatically – in fact, it’s shaped my dream career. The backbone of my career has always been my interest in people – what motivates them, what drives them and above all what makes them happy. I’ve lived in eight different countries so far and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some truly amazing people from all corners of the globe. I enjoy getting underneath the skin of a country by connecting with its people and learning about their culture, food, lifestyle and languages. I don’t think I’ll ever stop travelling – it’s a part of who I am.
TW: What is the purpose and personality of the Shangri-La brand and how do you and your staff live and breathe these values?
CH: Shangri-La is all about hospitality from the heart and values family at its very core. This perfectly mirrors the Fijian culture – they care about the community, their family and sharing happiness. We live and breathe these values at our hotel, as we genuinely enjoy the company of our guests. Our guests feel this when they arrive and hear their first “Bula!” We want them to feel right at home as soon as they arrive and we also want them to leave with a piece of Fiji in their hearts.
TW: Where will the next Shangri-La property be?
CH: It is always a close race, so I can’t confirm which hotel will be the first, but I can tell you the group has a substantial pipeline of upcoming hotel and mixed-use development projects in Australia, Bahrain, Mainland China, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia.
TW: What’s the one thing nobody at work would know about you/what would surprise them?
CH: I’m an open book, which can get me in to trouble sometimes! Living in a resort is often like living in a fishbowl – everyone knows everything. When I’m not at work, I really enjoy rustic experiences and colleagues are always surprised when I say, “Back in my heyday, I lived in a van for three months with two friends and travelled around South America.” It was one of the greatest trips of my life.
TW: What do you do to relax and blow off steam?
CH: I’m originally from Sydney; however, having lived in Fiji for the past 10 years, it is home. The genuine warmth of the people here is just incredible. I enjoy spending time with my family and our favourite activities are crab hunting on the beach, swimming in the lagoon and kayaking around the mangroves. When I’m not with my family, I enjoy a nine-hole game of golf on the resort’s stunning golf course. Fiji is literally my slice of paradise.