Hotel Insider sits down with Jesus Perez, the new general manager of Mercure Kooddoo. JP, as he likes to go by, was into hospitality from a young age and 2018 marks his 18th year in the field. He studied tourism extensively but he believes the crux of being successful in hospitality depends on things that cannot be taught in schools.
Hotel Insider: You have an extensive educational background in hospitality, from quality management to labour relations and you hold a masters in tourist business administration. How important are these qualifications to the work you do?
Jesus Perez: Qualifications are important obviously, but more than that, you need to have a passion for the job. I don’t think qualifications are the essential requirement for a person who wants to work in hospitality. You work with people and if you have that feeling of hospitality inside you, I think that’s what matters above all. The world is changing so you need to be learning constantly, but at the end if you don’t have this passion, it’s all for nothing.
Hotel Insider: You can’t teach passion.
Jesus Perez: No, you can’t. I was studying engineering before I got into hospitality, my father was really pushing me to do so. After two years I just quit. I wasn’t passionate about it. I wanted to get into hospitality but in a place like Spain, it’s not really held in high esteem, it’s not like being a lawyer or a doctor. And in the end my father said he wasn’t happy with my choice but he told me to go for it anyway and was supportive.
Hotel Insider: Your first management position was at a four-star, 90-room hotel in Spain. What was that experience like?
Jesus Perez: It wasn’t very big when I started with them. They had just 45 rooms. I’d studied a little bit in France and I got the chance to be a hotel manager at their property. It was a little bit scary in the beginning, you can feel everything like a weight on your back. But then you realise that you have a team, that you’re not alone and you’ve got a lot of support. It’s something I learnt as I went along, you must never think you’re alone. You’ve got responsibilities but you have people behind you, giving you the support you need.
Hotel Insider: Having a good team is important.
Jesus Perez: Yes, very. I cannot be in the rooms or the kitchen or the laundry supervising everything. Everybody is important, there’s no one person who is above everyone else in terms of importance in this business. If the reservation staff aren’t doing their jobs well, people won’t be coming to our property. If guests go to their rooms and the rooms are dirty, they won’t be returning and will spread the word. So, all team members, from those at the top to the line staff, are important and they need to be the right fit.
Hotel Insider: As a GM, you have the final say in selecting your team members. What do you look for in a candidate? How do you know a person is the right fit?
Jesus Perez: You never know [laughs]. You need to give them the benefit of the doubt. But you can sort of get a feel I think, whether the person is interested in just getting a job or whether they want to bring something genuine to the property. And over time, you can see if your gut feeling was right.
Hotel Insider: All right. Moving on. So, from Spain you moved to Mexico, to a significantly larger property, the Palladium Colonial-Kentenah Resort and Spa, with 1800 rooms. What gave you the confidence that you could deliver at such a big property? What were your concerns?
Jesus Perez: You know, when you change from one hotel to another, you have these anxieties, whether you’re a match with the company, what their expectations are like. Because of the size of that property, I had more of a desk job, liaising with travel agents, going over check-ins and so on. For me, hospitality isn’t staying in an office all day.
Hotel Insider: Was it boring?
Jesus Perez: No, not boring because I didn’t have the time to be bored. It was just a bit frustrating. I was stationed in Mexico but I could have been anywhere, in New York or Jakarta, for all I knew. For me, the most important aspect of the work we do is being in touch with the guests. And I didn’t get to do that much in Mexico. From morning till lunch I’d be at the office. And maybe for a couple of hours in the afternoon I’d have a chance to interact with guests.
Hotel Insider: You made a move to Mozambique after returning to Spain. There, you managed a much smaller five-star hotel, Hotel Pemba Beach and Spa. Did you experience a culture shock? Can you share some of your observations on this African destination?
Jesus Perez: Mozambique is close to South Africa so a lot of South Africans spend their holidays. It’s an interesting place, and I think they were more shocked than I was [laughs]. I can tell you a little story. I was in the office one day and suddenly one of the waiters rushed in saying a guest wanted to talk to me. I met the guest and the guest was saying “Look at this”. He had a sandwich on a plate. I found nothing wrong with it. I asked him what the matter was. He said, “Can’t you see someone’s taken a bite from it?”. I looked at the waiter and he looked kind of sheepish. So later, I called the waiter in and asked him what had happened. He said “I was hungry so I took a bite.” [laughs]. I found it a bit hard in Mozambique because they don’t know hospitality very well. They are keen to learn, though, and later this particular waiter was one of the best on our team. I have a special place for Mozambique in my heart.
Hotel Insider: You’ve been travelling around for 18 years now. What’s it like being on the move and not having a permanent home?
Jesus Perez: I don’t mind because I have my wife, Laura, with me. I just feel far away from home sometimes because of my parents. But I really enjoy going to different places, as does Laura. She encouraged me to go to Mozambique for instance. If I couldn’t have her by my side, I’d decline offers from properties. Travelling and experiencing different cultures is vital to this industry, it can’t be taught in schools. You’d have to experience it first-hand, and you have to be open to new experiences to learn from them. It’s one of those things again, like I mentioned earlier in the beginning, something crucial to anybody wanting to work in hospitality.
Hotel Insider: Your first taste of the Maldives was at Makunudhoo last year. Was that also your first experience of a one-island-one-resort concept? Can we talk about that a bit?
Jesus Perez: It was an amazing experience and I really enjoyed it. It was so small, it takes just a few minutes to walk around the island. So I was in proximity to guests all the time. In a sense it was similar to Pemba [hotel] in Mozambique, because of the isolation. You could drive for hours there and see nothing but jungle. So you have to plan ahead, just as you do here. You can’t run away and hide in Makunudhoo though, there’s nowhere to go [laughs].
Hotel Insider: You’ve been here in Mercure Kooddoo just a few weeks. What do you make of it so far?
Jesus Perez: It’s great here and I think Accor is a wonderful choice for anyone who wants to have a career in hospitality. It’s one of the largest hospitality brands and we have internal mobility. My advice would be not to think about the salary but to think about what you can do for the company; it doesn’t matter if you’re Maldivian or an expatriate. You can work for a year here and move to a property somewhere else in the world. It will be a great learning experience and a fantastic opportunity for Maldivians to learn from abroad. A lot of Maldivians have only experienced the industry within the Maldives, but with Accor you have the opportunity to learn from the world outside.