Heart and Soul Vs Policy and Procedure ·

For a disclaimer on this article, please go to the end of the document

Throwing away the cookie cutter could be the secret to travel success in 2018

“Boutique” comes from “heart and soul’; in travel it’s cute, unique, real, memorable and often, not very profitable.  As soon as a business begins the pathway of optimisation, “original” gives way to a “franchise feel” and the heart beat starts to leave the building.

But a business template can flex to incorporate humanity, warmth and engagement. Sometimes you have to risk throwing away the cookie cutter and draw inspiration from a more local environemnt, which is tough when more and more travel business’ in Australia are closely aligned to the majority duopoly.

Thus started my business lesson how to build “unique and memorable” into a travel business without compromising the ethos.  My teacher, Peter Hopgood, GM of Outrigger in Fiji.

“I was just amazed by how Western children gravitated towards the Fijians. A staff member explained that in a Fiji village, no one walks past a child without giving them a hug or a kiss. It was very warm and loving, and the Western children could feel it. She was working in the laundry, so I gave her three months to come up with the concept for a nanny service; naming, the standard operating procedures and that the level needed to be the same as blue card childcare level in Australia.

“First of April 2010 we trained up six nannies. Soon after we trained 6 more, then 6 more and it went gangbusters…. now we hire 40 full-time nannies.”

The Outrigger has a fantastic kids club and reasonable priced childminding service. I assumed it was all about putting in low-cost nannies so couples would buy a couple of high cost cocktails whilst dining at Eve, the fine dining restaurant. I didn’t appreciate the extent to which Peter and the Outrigger draw inspiration from their community to break the “franchise mould”, improve the business and in turn, reinvest back into the local community.

“What you said about the drinks was a bonus, never the intention , but it was true; once the kids were with the nannies mum and dad went to the spa, went out for dinner and had a few drinks. We reinvested in the spa, created wedding services.”

How can you have an efficient “Fiji time” business that meets Western bridezilla standards?

“There will always be Fiji time, so we had to learn how to manage it.  We hired more staff and encouraged them to take the time to share their story with their guests. We encourage them to engage, to mingle, to share themselves and their warmth. But it also comes down to revenue generation; if someone wants a drink, we need to take that order.”

Lindsey Palmer, Executive assistant manager, veteran of Hamilton Island and more recently as GM of Maroochy SLSC, echoed the sentiments. Softening the language, being more flexible and approaching problems from different angles flavoured by local customs helped bring it all together. Peter continued.

“By 2011 the sundowner bar and Grill was going gangbusters and our social media ratings were beginning to improve, but people said too many kids at the resort. $800,000 towards an adults only pool, which of course needed a swim up bar, a kitchen as we may as well support the wedding business. The wedding business was growing and by time we had finished the investment was over $2.2 million. That investment paid back in 18 months.”

How did it all start? By Peter listening to a humble laundry worker and harnessing her and her message into the business.  You wont find that in many franchise playbooks.

Provided the drinks flow, Fiji time must work for local weddings. Last year Outrigger had 250 of them. 190 are already booked for 2018.  Competitors are trying to copy and the Outrigger keeps innovating.You might say it sounds like bull…

…I say BULA! (and Vanaka)

DISCLAIMER: For Christmas 2017 I travelled with my mum, wife and daughter for a seven night flop and drop in Fiji at the Outrigger on the Coral Coast. I took the back of house tour and then spent an hour interviewing GM Peter Hopgood. These articles speak in glowing terms of Peter and the Outrigger, but neither myself nor roomsXML have received any payment, discount of travel or any other financial benefit for these articles.


In short, it’s a great hotel run by a great team that we can all learn a lot from so here we are.



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