We travel down to Ari Atoll and sit with Patrice Aira, Lily Beach Resort’s general manager. His journey in hospitality began in Seattle during the grunge era and he had a stint in Toronto before moving all the way to Sharm al-Sheikh. A seasoned GM, Patrice spent most of his career with Four Seasons and he’s been through some extraordinary stuff over the years. Read on and find out.
Hotel Insider: Do you have any fond memories from your time in Seattle? That was during the grunge years wasn’t it?
Patrice Aira: I have great memories of being in Seattle in my 20s. First real job in a fantastic hotel, the Four Seasons Olympic, amazing scenery, Seattleites are very down to earth people. There was also a thriving restaurant scene with great food, and yes of course, Pearl Jam. Ahh… seems so far away and yet I have so many vivid memories.
Hotel Insider: Man, what wouldn’t we give to have seen Pearl Jam in that crazy period! All right. So, you’ve spent almost your entire career with Four Seasons. You were a head waiter at one of their hotels in Seattle. Can you tell us what drew you to the brand?
Patrice Aira: Well, one day I went for coffee and when I walked through the doors of the Olympic Hotel and thought, gosh this is beautiful! Crystal chandeliers, luxurious environment, one of these old grand dame properties. To be honest, I was not so familiar with the brand itself as we did not have any in France and only one in London back then. So, I guess that $10 cup of coffee that day was well spent.
Hotel Insider: [laughs]. And you worked your way up from that to director of banquets in seven years.
Patrice Aira: With my visa nearing expiry after my two and a half years in Seattle, I enrolled in a master in hospitality management back in France and re-joined FS right after graduation in Palm Beach Florida as a management trainee in Food & Beverage. There I rotated throughout the resort’s restaurants and became director of banquets. Loved that job, a lot of major functions with the Palm Beach socialites.
Hotel Insider: You moved to Toronto not long afterwards. Is the approach to hospitality similar in North America?
Patrice Aira: From +30 degrees to 30 below freezing…that was a shock for me but to be honest, I really loved Toronto. Great cosmopolitan city, a bit more laid back than in the States but the unions were very strong and in this respect, it’s similar to the States.
Hotel Insider: And from there to Sharm El Sheikh. What was the journey like? You handled some really dire situations, there was the bombing, plus you laid off staff while maintaining quality. Can we talk about this a bit?
Patrice Aira: The bombing in Sharm occurred the same night I landed. Very challenging situation. Occupancy dropped immediately and it took quite some time to recover – European guests could not even travel anymore to the South Sinai. But in these crisis situations, this is when you learn the most. You have no choice. You still have to deliver the Four Seasons standards but with a lot of constraints; less staff, less budget. Similar to Toronto when the outbreak of H1N1 occurred, the hotel dropped to 10% occupancy. When I look back, I realised that I learned so much due to these strange circumstances. Things that are useful today.
Hotel Insider: OK. Moving on to a pleasant topic, your resort management role was 20 years in the making. You started overseeing the Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita in 2010. That’s a pretty interesting journey, especially as you’ve worked in really different cities. And you had clear goals.
Patrice Aira: Those 20 years was a long voyage full of learning, and I loved every minute of it. Opening the new resort in Mauritius was one of my goals. You don’t inherit someone else’s property – you have an opportunity to put your own fingerprint on it. And because I’ve worked with many different cultures, that gives me a broader approach when dealing with people, when handling situations. Also, I have had great mentors at Four Seasons for whom I am very thankful towards.
Hotel Insider: You bring to Lily Beach all these different experiences, and an exceptionally strong culinary background. You’ve also hosted a Michelin Star chef here, is it part of your efforts to ramp up culinary offerings at the property?
Patrice Aira: The quality of our kitchens is already exceptional, and known to be one of the big strengths of Lily Beach. Having the opportunity to bring a Michelin starred chef allows us to not only offer our guests an elevated dining experience but also to satisfy the thirst for knowledge of our culinary team. Giving both guests and employees that chance makes me happy.
Hotel Insider: You’ve made excellent progress, improving resort ranking since you took over. And you’re still learning, improving your skills in sales and marketing. It’s a never-ending journey isn’t it?
Patrice Aira: Being elevated to #1 in Asia and #14 in the word by Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards in the last two years gives us great satisfaction of course; it is nice to see the result of the team’s hard work in a concrete and official manner. You’re right, you never stop learning; I have the chance to work with top level executives in sales and marketing and that exposure is, of course, very enriching. Every day I realise there is more I can learn and do better. I guess that’s the name of the game!
Hotel Insider: Thank you, Patrice.