HM talks to Brian Townsend, General Manager of the Novotel Lombok Resort in Indonesia, about the pleasures and challenges of living and working on an island resort and its plans for the future.
By Kris Madden in Lombok, Indonesia
Tell us about your history in the industry and how you ended up as General Manager of Novotel Lombok.
As a young man, I was drawn to the hospitality industry, so I studied Business Hospitality Management at the University of Queensland. My work with Accor started at the Novotel Twin Waters Resort on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in late 1996 as part of work experience required for my course. After spending four years at the resort, I moved to North Queensland to the Novotel Palm Cove Resort, Cairns, then to Grand Mercure Broadbeach (now Sofitel), Gold Coast and later to Novotel St Kilda in Melbourne, Victoria.
At 28, I was appointed a General Manager and entrusted with the renovation, branding and launch of the heritage listed Grand Wains Hotel in Dunedin New Zealand, now the Mercure Hotel Dunedin. I then relocated to Palmerston North to the then Novotel Palmerston North, then on to Fiji. In 2008 I lead the takeover of the Tradewinds Hotel and multi-million dollar refurbishment, launching the hotel with the Prime Minister Fiji as the Novotel Suva Lami Bay, Fiji Islands. In 2008, I was awarded ‘NZ Young General Manager of the Year’. I’ve been with Accor for 16 years now and worked in 10 properties in four countries. I started my current role at Novotel Lombok in 2011, taking up the challenge of rebuilding, refurbishing and re-positioning the property as Lombok’s leading four star hotel.
What are some of the challenges unique to running a hotel in a remote island location?
Lombok is a challenging location, yet at the same it is personally rewarding. I have a team of 220+ staff, for whom English is not their first language. In addition to limited English, many of the staff have never worked in other hotels, and many have never left Lombok. Training is an ongoing process. With strict corporate guidelines and Novotel brand references, many of our initiatives do not come naturally to our Indonesian team. We provide constant training and awareness, and are set to launch basic English and French lessons for all our staff. Despite this, the Sasak hospitality and friendliness is second to none. Another challenge is making sure there is consistency across a range of products. We have developed a number of key suppliers which provide our New Zealand lamb, Australian beef and wines from across the world.
Which markets are the strongest for the property?
Australia, Europe and domestic Indonesia remain our primary markets. France, Germany and the Netherlands have reduced somewhat since the financial crisis, but other European countries have grown, along with the UK. Honeymooners and couples are our primary markets. Family is evident, but to a lesser extend at the moment. This is a growing market and as Lombok continues to strengthen in popularity, I’m sure it will grow as a family destination. We’re also a perfect MICE incentive location for groups looking for a unique experience. Lombok has the convenience of Bali, yet with the tranquillity, beauty and wonderful Sasak culture. It’s quite different to Bali. Some say it’s like Bali was 20 years ago.
Australians are quite familiar with Bali, but less familiar with Lombok. Are you seeing growth from this market or what plans do you have to increase the market?
The Australian market continues to show strong growth, and we believe it will continue to do so as guests look for an alternative to Bali. We work very closely with our key Australian partners and wholesalers, promoting Lombok as an alternative destination. We also work in conjunction with the Lombok Hotel Association to promote the island and with our sister properties the Novotel Bali Benoa and Pullman Bali Legian Nirwana to provide guests with a Bali-Lombok combo, so guests can package Bali and Lombok together and experience both islands. Lombok Airport continues to increase its airline capacity, recently added flights to Kuala Lumpur, and additional services to Singapore and domestic services to Makasar. Potential exists for a direct Australian service with one of the Australian budget carriers – we wait and hope for such a service to be introduced.
How do you work with the local community and local operators?
With the exception of me as general manager, all hotel staff are Indonesian nationals, with the vast majority from the local community. Wherever possible, we maximise the use of local products, purchased from the local village or local suppliers. Our boutique offers local villagers the ability to sell their handicrafts on consignment, providing an income and future for the villagers. Our VIP pottery products are purchased locally, further strengthening the local economy. In CSR terms, the Novotel Lombok supports various orphanages within Kuta, along with two schools which cater for unprivileged local children. Not only does the hotel support financially, we make our teams available to support where needed.
What are the highlights of the property and its plans for the future?
Novotel Lombok is a 4-star resort located on the southern shores of Lombok island, overlooking the beautiful white sand and turquoise bay of Putri Nyale (Mandalika) Beach, near the small town of Kuta. It’s not the crowded Kuta beach in Bali that most people are familiar with, but the ‘other Kuta’. The property features 102 rooms and suites designed in traditional Sasak style and private pool villas set amongst lush tropical gardens and set out like a traditional village. Plans to develop the adjoining land are being finalised by our parent company, with potential for further resort developments to commence in 2013.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
When I was a part-time porter and food and beverage attendant, my General Manager at the time had a life changing influence on me. Never forgetting his advice, “Never step backwards to go forward” – I have lived this motto ever since. Inspired by his dedication and enthusiasm, I set my goal to be a General Manager at 30 years of age, achieving my goal at 28 years of age.
After a successful 16 year career with Accor, my goal is to continue working at various properties, with an Area General Manager role within 18 months and a Director of Operations role within seven years. Remaining flexible with properties and location, I wish to further my skill and give back to the company which kick started my career.
The author flew to Lombok with Garuda Indonesia (www.garuda-indonesia.net.au) via Denpasar. Garuda currently offers a total of 35 flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to its two hubs in Jakarta and Denpasar with domestic connections to Lombok.