Born in Venezuela, Gustavo Romero’s hospitality career has taken him from South America to South Australia, rising the ranks to become a business owner of Quest Mawson Lakes and Quest Port Adelaide.
Here, Romero reveals how his passion for hospitality emerged, the invaluable experience that kickstarted his career, and how Quest supported his vision of becoming a business owner.
How did your career in hospitality start out?
I took my first hotel job when I was 22 years old at the Intercontinental in Caracas. I was hired in the switch board department as I knew basic English back then and they needed someone that could communicate with our international guests.
From there, I moved to the front office, and then onto the reservations department. My experience gave me the opportunity to see how a global hotel operates and the intricacies of “big hotel” operations (IHG Caracas is a 500+ room hotel with multiple restaurants and bars), and I immediately knew that this was the career for me.
I always had the desire to live in another country and I thought that working in hotels would be a great career that could take me to different places – and it certainly has!
What drew you to the industry?
As a kid I was very fortunate to have stayed in a lot of different hotels domestically around Venezuela and overseas as well due to my mum’s job. I was fascinated by the industry and how big of an impact the people that work in the hotels we stayed with had on us, either by remembering what I liked to eat or the room type that my mum preferred. I will never forget how special it made me feel. So, in a way, you can say I have always been a true hotelier.
Tell us about your journey to the hospitality industry in Australia?
First, my journey began in New Zealand. I moved there in 2003 to do an Advance Diploma in Hotel Management. Once I completed my studies, I got a job as part of the opening team at the Holiday Inn in Wellington (now Rydges). After 12 months, IHG approached me and offered a transfer to the Crown Plaza in Coogee Beach as a Duty Manager. This was a sliding door moment as I was very happy in New Zealand and by moving to Sydney, I would have to start to rebuild my social life again. Nevertheless, I jumped on the opportunity, which now I am glad I did.
My IHG journey continued with the Intercontinental in Melbourne in 2009 and later, as the Front Office Manager at the Crown Plaza Melbourne in 2011 where I worked for four years. I then made a regional move to work at the Mantra in Lorne as the Room Division Manager; this role gave me the opportunity to learn about strata properties and the challenges that come with that model.
What drew you to Quest and how did you progress with the business?
After my time at the Mantra in Lorne, I took a role with the Learning and Development team at Quest Headquarters in Melbourne in 2015. I found the role very interesting as we would go to new properties and help train and guide the new franchisee and their team for the first few weeks on setting policies and procedures, system training, recruitment etc.
In 2015, I met my now business partner Daniel O’Hare. We did a couple of projects together and talked about owning our own franchise. We put a business plan together and presented it to Quest. Since day one, the Quest team has been nothing but supportive of our ideas and guided us through the applications process.
Quest introduced us to our two other business partners, Grant and Jason, who were pivotal in providing the initial finance and business support we needed to get off the ground. The four of us connected very quickly and started to work together, and in November 2016 we became the proud owners of Quest Port Adelaide.
One year later, we had the opportunity to acquire Quest Mawson Lakes, which was a great move as the properties are 12 minutes apart in northern Adelaide and so it made perfect sense to run both hotels together.
Did you always want to be a business owner?
I always had the desire to run my own business, and at one point my wife and I even thought about moving back to New Zealand to open a small BnB; but, at the time, we were working hard on our careers, so we put that idea on the back burner.
It wasn’t until I started working for Quest Headquarters and met Daniel that this idea of hotel ownership sparked again.
Meeting the right people, hard work and being flexible with our goal (Daniel and I initially wanted to stay in Melbourne) made the dream a reality.
Does your heritage influence the experience you create for guests at Quest hotels?
I believe it does. I am a fun and outgoing person (must be the Latino blood!) and I like to think that I project that to our team and guests. I like to get to know our regulars and long-term guests, which enables me to nurture strong relationships with them. This not only gives me the opportunity to provide better service, and anticipate their needs, but it’s also good for me personally as I can be myself and know that I can make a difference on so many levels.
I also approach my relationship with my team in the same way. I like to be professional but personal, which translates in a friendly and approachable environment where everyone can thrive and be themselves, just as the Quest brand belief states. This again translates to personal and genuine customer service for our guests.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a Quest Business Owner?
I know this could be seen as a cliché, but I truly believe that if you keep working on your dream, things will happen. It may not be the way you want or imagine, but if you are open to the process and take on any opportunity that life throws at you, the sky is the limit!