Veteran resort-owner moving on after decades in Fiji
Veteran and 'visionary' resort-owner moving on after decades in Fiji.
A veteran resort owner in Fiji says he has sold his interests in a bid to secure the future of his staff.
Geoff Shaw acquired Castaway Island in the Mamanuca group in 1992 and later that decade launched a daring move to start an outer-island experience on the mainland with Outrigger on the Lagoon.
He recently won the Visionary Award at the AON Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards, where Castaway also won the best restaurant award.
Geoff Shaw told Alex Perrottet the move was about the future, but the last few decades hold some great memories.
GEOFF SHAW: It was both an honour and a privilege to be recognised by one's peers and to be the recipient of the award, I'm still trying to work out the visionary bit, but as I say, a most humbling experience. I saw in Fiji an industry that I had not seen before. The hospitality industry to me was vastly different from the one that we experience today, that combines both accommodation, food and beverage and also activities. And it was quite new to me and it was exciting and I could see perhaps a potential there that I wanted to be involved with so it was a fantastic experience for me because it gave me the ability to understand the way that the outer-island experience impacts our guests, very different from the mainland experience. So I wanted to drag a little bit of that outer-island sense and feeling and operation back to the mainland. Now to drag that feeling, that soul and heart of the outer islands back to the mainland at that stage had not been done prior. Of course now there's many properties that do feature bures that are on the mainland. So that's how we ended up with 47 bures and 207 hotel rooms.
ALEX PERROTTET: And when you have those sorts of buildings of course, over the years, both in the Mamanuca group and on the mainland, you're going to have all sorts of problems, over tropical cyclones, flooding. It's not always plain sailing. What were some of the harder times to get through and how did you do it?
GEOFF SHAW: Well I always reflect back on the resilience of the Fijian economy and particularly its tourism industry that makes up somewhere these days slightly south of 40 per cent of the GDP. I mean it's a big contributor. Fiji has a resilience like no other, in my opinion, in terms of its ability to claw its way back from disasters whether they have been man-made or natural. But throughout these disaster times the one prevailing attribute that shines is the dedication of staff to rebuilding their resort. To say that the staff took, at the time, and do take today, ownership of what we do and what we run as a resort, it's an understatement. They are really quite sensationally motivated individuals, all of them, that seek to provide the best guest experience at all times. And those were some of the best times I've had, I've got to say, where we had just our staff, there were no guests, just our staff. And those close-down days, and those rebuild days were exciting, they were extraordinarily hard work, for everyone involved, but the outcome speaks for itself.
ALEX PERROTTET: And now you've decided to sell them on. What's led to the decision to do this now?
GEOFF SHAW: Well Alex I guess there comes a time in life for everyone where you've got to think about the future and the future is not all about yourself. It's about all those folks that have been part of your business for so many years. And I feel I have a huge responsibility to more than 800 staff that we have between the two properties, to secure their future going forward. It was with that in mind that the timing of this transaction to me made sense. I refer it to passing the baton of ownership rather than sale. Sale sounds a bit clinical. But I've passed this baton of ownership to the Kelley family who of course are the owners of the Outrigger Enterprises Group, who operate almost 11,000 hotel rooms, either in operation or under construction round the Asia-Pacific region at the moment. They, in my mind, apart from being partners and associates for the last 15 years, they provide and will provide, I believe, the security that I wanted to see for my staff, for my vuvale, for my family going forward.
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