The GM’s View: Voytek Klasicki, Area General Manager, Centara Hotels & Resorts Maldives
Voytek Klasicki, Area General Manager for Centara Hotels and Resorts initially came to the Maldives to oversee the development and opening of what is now Centara Ras Fushi Resort & Spa. Completing this task, he was mandated with the upgrade and overseeing of operations at Centara Grand Island Resort & Spa Maldives. Both properties are now fully established and boast some of the highest occupancy averages. His experience and familiarity with pre-openings and putting together great teams is further put to use as he is also currently overseeing the planning for development of two additional Centara properties in the Maldives. Hotelier Maldives caught up with him at Centara Grand earlier in the year.
Hotelier Maldives: Can you tell us a little bit about Centara and the company’s philosophy?
Voytek Klasicki: Centara, as we know, is expanding. When I started working in the company almost ten years ago, we had only sixteen properties. And now we have 67. The philosophy of the company is to have a core number of properties in Thailand and then to expand into the overseas market. Currently Centara is expanding in the Asian market, going to Middle East, Africa, trying to go to Europe, Australia, Cuba and of course the Maldives. The Maldives represents great opportunity for Centara because of the close proximity with Thailand. And the future potential from the point of view of location, the weather, resources, and of course the income, is great. Centara is owned by a very well respected Thai family, the Chratihivat family. The company is growing very fast and in Thailand we are the number one hotel company at present.
HM: What is your role as area GM? You are presently acting as GM for one property and overseeing two properties. Beyond that, what are your responsibilities since Centara is also looking at developing and managing additional properties in the Maldives?
VK: When I started working for Centara in Thailand, my job was to oversee the opening of new properties. I was involved with the opening of Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Krabi, and then I was sent to Samui to rebrand two properties for Centara. I was there for three years. And then I was sent to Phuket, to rebrand quite a huge property with 650 rooms; it was Centara Grand West Sands Resort & Villas Phuket. And then, of course Centara was planning to develop Centara Ras Fushi Resort & Spa in the Maldives, and I was originally assigned as a pre-opening General Manager and to create a team to look after the pre-opening and development of Centara Ras Fushi. Once that settled down, I was transferred here to Centara Grand to look after the improvement of this property. We changed the decking, we improved the food and beverage outlets and currently we are renovating all rooms. And my role as an area general manager is also to look after future properties. We are going to have Centara Hudhufushi, which will be a managed property. And we are also working on two more Centara owned properties which will open next year or the year after. Each property will have 150 rooms and will be four and five star properties.
HM: So these are already at the construction stage?
VK: In the planning and designing stage… once these are approved, we will begin the construction.
HM: You have been in a senior position for a long time in the industry. How do you keep up with all the new trends and the technologies and new developments that are continuously taking place? Do you make an effort to keep up with the speed of these developments that are now affecting the industry? Travelers now have different needs and wants; they want wifi, TV, fast connections, etc.
VK: We keep up with the new developments and trends; as the GM, or area general manager I am overseeing the process and ensuring that we implement all these new features; wifi technologies, fast speed of Internet, etc. And this calls for different ways of marketing, different ways of training. My team travels once or twice a year to Thailand to attend trainings which we have at the head office.
HM: With your experience of working in Australia, Thailand, United Kingdom, India and New Zealand, how does the Maldives compare with these destinations?
VK: It helped me to assimilate much easier in the Maldives. And as I said earlier, once you travel and have worked with other nationalities, it makes it very easy to understand human beings because our job is very demanding and very difficult, because we are dealing with humans. So I always make it a point to treat all our staff with respect, and in return I enjoy the same from them. I find working in the Maldives very challenging but very rewarding because Maldivians are very intelligent, smart and hardworking staff.
We have a number of Maldivians in senior positions in both Centara Grand and Centara Ras Fushi, and I feel very comfortable here. I feel almost like at home, comparing to Thailand, New Zeeland, UK, India or Australia. And the Maldives represents huge opportunities for me as a hotelier, because we can develop new trends and services, plus every single day brings new challenges. There is no day that is exactly the same. As you know, some days we may have a problem with weather, on another days we may have to deal with erosion. Our job is not only to look after the built property, but also to maintain the island to make sure that we have a beach and it’s not eroded. And for instance today, a number of guests had a problem with the weather, with a number of guests stuck in Male’. So that represents huge and very interesting challenges, because we are not only running a normal property. And we generate electricity, we have to create our own water. And Centara Grand here is a great property. And we have a beautiful location, which can only be in the Maldives and not in another country. You move from one island to another island, and you have different experiences. That is what is amazing here.
HM: The luxury travel market is one of the most competitive industries in the world. What do you think makes guests repeat visits to one island. What is it that you think that you have to offer to have such good repeater averages; for instance occupancy rates have been very good at both Centara properties compared to some of the other hotels including hotels managed by international brands. What do you think is the secret of this?
VK: The secret is Thai hospitality, personal touch, attention to detail, and recognition of our guests. We are not only serving guests, we are going beyond that. At Centara Grand and Centara Ras Fushi we have a huge number of repeater guests. Because they like the way we treat them; they like the way we recognize them. And our services are a little bit different to what is offered at other properties.
HM: How do you find it; be it hotel supplier partners, or if you need some service from Male’? And you also have to source and deal with carpenters, construction workers, etc. What are the challenges in obtaining these services; whether it is hotel supplies, repair works, maintenance assistance, etc.?
VK: I would say the biggest challenge is logistics, because of the distance between Male and the resorts; especially Centara Grand and Male’. We rely on good weather and transportation. And sometimes, this doesn’t work very smoothly. Centara Ras Fushi has less problems from this point of view. However, Centara Grand is almost 6 to 8 hours by dhoni. But we manage. We have a good purchasing department, a good engineering department. We work very closely with a lot of local companies, and now when we are renovating the property, we have engaged one of the most innovative local builders, Alia Construction. The company was also contracted to developed Centara Ras Fushi. So we know them very well. We know the project managers of the company, we know the principals. So for us it is much easier, to just pick up the phone and say ‘look, we have a problem here, we need those rooms a little bit earlier because we have a booking. We have a good mutual understanding and very good relations.’
HM: The Maldives has not been able to achieve the arrival targets last year and this year (the destination was hoping for). What do you think are the main reasons that tourists want to holiday in Maldives?
VK: We had a little bit of slow down in economy in Europe, Russia, China and Japan. But the Maldives still represents something different for most travellers and for some this is a once in a lifetime experience. And once you decide to visit the Maldives, you like the Maldives because it is different. And even if it is a very expensive destination that requires a little bit more expense from the guests’ point of view, still they prefer it and will travel to the Maldives because this is a unique destination.
HM: Since you have taken over the position of area GM, Centara Grand has won seven awards. What do you consider as your main achievement in the time you have spent working in the Maldives?
VK: I would say the biggest achievement that I have contributed to is the development and opening of Centara Ras Fushi. Second would be the development of local youth. Together with the Ministry of Tourism and government of the Maldives, we are undertaking their training here at Centara Grand. The next one is the management development program that is a Centara created program which we have introduced here in the Maldives under my supervision; but this is a project from Centara head office. So what we are doing is we are selecting the best employee who will then go through an interview in our Bangkok offices. That person will go to Bangkok for about 6 months to study at Dhurakij Pundit University and then will work in another Centara property in Thailand for about two months. After studying and and getting more experience in Thailand they will then go to Switzerland to gain additional practical experience. Once they finish their studies, they receive accreditation. We call this the Management Development Program. So far I am proud because two Maldivians have completed this program and they are now working with us; one is working at Ras Fushi and the other is working at Centara Grand. So this is a huge achievement in a short time. The two employees were selected from among all staff working with us including expatriates. I think this will give huge possibilities for us to expand in the Maldives and a large number of locals can look forward to this knowing that they can get good education and training, and also knowing that they can be employed in management positions. We are not only employing Maldivians to be a waiter, a room boy or barman, or to work in other departments. We are also educating them and developing the future managers for Centara Resorts & Hotels.
HM: As a last question we would like to ask what has your philosophy been that has guided your success in your professional career. And what is the best advice you can give to aspiring professionals in the industry, whether they are just looking to be employed or aspiring to be in a management position?
Also, please tell us about your introduction to the industry and the factors that led you to this industry.
VK: I started to work in London. I studied economics in Poland and then went to UK to work. Initially I wanted to progress my studies but I could not. So I started in the restaurant business. And from that point I continued in the hospitality industry. Then I moved to Australia and I took management courses from the American Hotel & Motel Association, Cornell University and obtained accreditation from both.
What my advice to hoteliers and staff is to be humble and work hard. There is no goal that you cannot achieve as a human because everything is possible. It takes time, do not rush, take your time, treat your colleagues with respect, treat your guests with respect and you will earn respect as well.
This is also what has guided me. The way I was growing, I always treated people with respect and receive the same reciprocal respect. And I always tell my employees, my managers, be good to others, be good to yourself, treat others with respect and you will receive the respect too. You don’t need to tell people who you are, people will know. I always treat my staff like that.
I don’t police my staff although there has to be certain controls in place. They know what they can do, etc. Being here in the Maldives, we need to create a family atmosphere. Because we work together, we eat together, we have social events together. If we don’t bond as a team, we will not be effective. My role here is to give the staff the best salaries, the best accommodation, good food, provide them a good environment to work in. In return we are asking them to work with us to make guests happy. Without the guests we cannot exist. Without the guests we cannot provide employment. Without my team we cannot grow. So for us to open two other properties, we need to train the staff, we need more management staff. So we want to groom our general staff for future management positions. The chances are there and the door is open as my office door is always open.
Lastly, as a leader I rely on teamwork and my staff, often I say “we” and not “I”. I love to develop my team. The sky has no limit – so go and reach the top!