A Swiss national who’s very familiar with Russia and Ukraine, Jonas Amstad, general manager, LUX* South Ari has had experiences that will likely crush the average person. Fluent in Russian, he was in Crimea when the annexation happened, his hotel in Donetsk was occupied by the armed forces.
He’s seen… well, let’s just say if it had happened to one of us, I wonder if we’d still have a sense of humour. Anyhow, Jonas has been in Fiji so he’s familiar with island destinations. He thinks they attract similar sorts of clientele. And today, it’s not just the West who is environmentally conscious, it’s a global phenomenon and he believes the Maldives should continue to put sustainability at the core of its marketing strategy.
Hotel Insider: You were with the New York headquartered Leading Hotels of the World. You were based in Ukraine though in Donetsk. What sort of a place was that, what was hospitality like there?
Jonas Amstad: It was my first real management position. It was a boutique hotel and I went there for the 2012 FIFA World Cup. We had a lot of dignitaries and high-profile guests. Donetsk is now annexed by Russia.
Hotel Insider: I know Shakhtar Donetsk the football club.
Jonas Amstad: Actually, the owner of the hotel was the owner of that club.
Hotel Insider: That’s such a coincidence.
Jonas Amstad: Yes. It was a city hotel, a boutique one, we were the only five-star hotel in Donetsk and we were the only leading hotel there.
Hotel Insider: How would you describe the hospitality landscape there though?
Jonas Amstad: It’s not really a touristic city, we mostly had business travellers except during the World Cup. It became a little touristic then.
Hotel Insider: I see. And then you moved to Russia.
Jonas Amstad: Yes, I moved around a bit in Russia. I was in Moscow, Siberia, St Petersburg. I know Russia very well because I’d worked there before and I can speak the language. I was also in Azerbaijan at a Hyatt property.
Hotel Insider: You were with the Carlson Redizor Hotel Group in Russia too for almost a year.
Jonas Amstad: Yes, first I was in Alushta in the Crimean area when Crimea was occupied by Russian forces. I had very good connections to the Redizor Company because our hotel in Donetsk was managed by the same group. Our hotel in Donetsk asked me if I could help them [Redizor] in Alushta because they couldn’t find anybody who was brave enough to do that and who spoke the language. [laughs]. It was basically a project to deflag the hotel because Redizor couldn’t operate on occupied territory.
Hotel Insider: That’s incredible. Did you see any violence?
Jonas Amstad: In Alushta? No. But yes, Donetsk was bombed. And our hotel there was more or less occupied by armed forces. I had a gun to my head many times. Business as usual [laughs].
Hotel Insider: [laughs] All right, let’s move on to something less morbid. You went with an Asian brand, Shangri-La, later on. What’s the difference between a Western and Eastern approach to hospitality?
Jonas Amstad: Well, it’s essentially the same thing, you cook with the same water. The reporting is different but the business is the same.
Hotel Insider: And now you’re in the Maldives, an island destination, working with a Mauritian brand.
Jonas Amstad: I was actually in the Maldives earlier, I was in Villingili [in Addu] and I’ve also worked in Fiji.
Hotel Insider: How do the two compare? Fiji and the Maldives.
Jonas Amstad: Island destinations are essentially similar. Of course, there are differences but generally speaking, they aren’t that different. They attract similar sorts of clientele for example. And I think for a hotelier, it’s good to alternate between city hotels and resorts, so you don’t get stuck in one frame of mind. And of course, it’s more exciting. More cultures, languages.
Hotel Insider: What were your observations when you were in Vilingili? It’s so far down south so you won’t be getting as many clients as, say, a property in the vicinity of Male’ Atoll.
Jonas Amstad: Yes, accessibility was a challenge. We managed the hotel though and it’s still running. It’s a great island, lovely golf course.
Hotel Insider: And now you’re here with LUX*, it’s a beautiful property, very casual and idiosyncratic, it will surprise you if you’re not used to it.
Jonas Amstad: Yes, the corporate structure goes away here. It’s a bit younger and more innovative. I think it’s great to have experienced different sorts of approaches over the years because it helps you learn and find your own way of managing a hotel.
Hotel Insider: You’ve recently introduced the SolarSea concept here, the largest installation of its kind (at sea). What do you think of the guest response to that?
Jonas Amstad: It’s very positive, surprisingly positive.
Hotel Insider: Do you think it will have a positive effect on sales?
Jonas Amstad: Yes, undoubtedly. It’s having an impact now and I believe it will in the future as well. Sustainable projects like these aren’t just about the environmental or social aspects, there’s an economic aspect, and not only in terms of the diesel we save by going solar. The worldviews of travellers are changing so sustainability is becoming an increasingly important aspect for them when choosing a resort. Guests will know that nature is preserved and protected here and they will want to visit because we, collectively, take responsibility for our environment.
Hotel Insider: Is it just European guests who’re encouraged by this? What’s the response from the east, like China?
Jonas Amstad: Oh, everybody is interested. Look at China now. When I was in China in 2003, in Shanghai, you could hardly breathe out in the city. But go to Shanghai now. It’s very clean. So, obviously they’ve cleaned up their act as well. They have to. Everybody is becoming increasingly environmentally conscious. I don’t think of it in terms of east vs west, the east is doing the same. They have no choice, and it’s good.
Hotel Insider: That’s excellent. Thanks so much for your time, Jonas.