From a career start as a waiter at a luxury 5-star hotel in London to the tropical beach vibes of Maldives, Giles Selves has whirled his way through the hospitality industry, demonstrating the ability to work in challenging and competitive environments, one department at a time.
Tell us about your “journey to GM” – how did it all begin?
I had quite a fascinating journey. Firstly, I am a high school dropout who chose not to pursue my “A” Levels. Hospitality has always been my passion, but I rebelled as a 17-year-old and in doing so, I decided not to get into University, and to pursue a career in hospitality. My father offered me 30-day rent-free at home and I was told to pay the rent then onwards. I managed to find a job as a local waiter, and before that, I washed dishes at a local pub.
In 1996, I began working as a waiter at Starwood in Central London where I did a number of food and beverage related jobs. My last job there was a Chief Steward, I then moved to Park Lane Hotel where I supervised banqueting, and later everything apart\ from banqueting and later other areas in food and beverage. Next, I moved to Turnberry in Scotland as the Food and Beverage Manager at the age of 25. It was one of the oldest grand dame hotels in the UK which had a world- class golf course. I had an amazing 3 years there running the food and beverage department.
Then I moved to Brussels to the Starwood Corporate Office for Europe and Middle East where I performed a number of roles over a 5-year period. My first job was with the architecture and design team where I worked on food and beverage restaurant concepts, and then I joined the Marketing Department where I worked on brand projects across many different spectrums for W, St.Regis, Sheraton, Westin and Le Méridien. My next assignment was with the development team for eighteen months doing third-party restaurant and bar operation sales where I signed deals with prominent chefs and bar operators. During this I was often travelling and met and worked with some amazing people during those 5 years. Whilst working, I also completed my BA in Business part-
time. In my early 30s while working in Brussels I also completed my MBA. I accomplished my education the way I wanted to do it-in my own time.
Then I moved to Greece to open two resorts as a Hotel Manager, a Westin and a Luxury Collection next to each other, both had 750 rooms, 20 restaurants and bars, a 4,000sqm spa, a ballroom with a capacity of up to 1500 guests. I opened the village and our entire team had a capacity of 850 people.
My next assignment was eighteen months in Bangkok where I opened the St.Regis Bangkok as the
Hotel Manager; that was my first introduction to Minor Hotels as they owned the hotel franchise in Bangkok.
In 2012, I moved to Jakarta to complete the opening of Keraton at The Plaza, a Luxury Collection Hotel. I spent an incredible 3 years in Jakarta, it is a fantastic and dynamic city.
After my 3 year stint in Jakarta, I had decided to move back to Bangkok where my wife was working for Minor Hotels at the time. I received an email from Caroline Stevens, the Chief People Officer at Minor Hotels asking me if I was interested to join Anantara Mai Khao and the Vacation Club. For me, hotels are very emotional places, and you often know straight away when you arrive if you fit or not for a job. I remember walking through the archway with my wife at Anantara Mai Khao the first time I got there, I told my wife I would love to be the GM of that hotel and at that point, I had no idea that was going to happen. I am incredibly grateful to have been offered the chance to join Minor Hotels as I knew that following my 18 months in Phuket it would lead to many more fantastic opportunities with the company.
Next, I moved to Sri Lanka to finish the opening of Anantara Kalutara. There were about 20 rooms opened when I got there. I also had responsibilities to oversee Avani Kalutara, which was next door, and to look after Anantara Tangalle in the South, which opened over a year ago.
I was offered the chance to move to Maldives a year ago. Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas would be considered to many as Minor Hotels’ flagship property. I have only been here for a year and I am currently in the process of evolving my role. I will be soon settling down at Anantara Veli and will be overseeing our four properties in the Maldives: Anantara Veli, Anantara Dhigu, Naladhu and Anantara Kihavah.
If I were able to go back in time, I would have still not studied law. I made the right decision. I have lived in multiple countries and have been to over 80 countries, and met many great people and had some of the most incredible experiences one could have in life. It’s been a fabulous 24-year journey!
From where do you draw your inspiration in the hospitality industry?
In many places! I am a very self- motivated and self-driven person and for a GM to be working for Minor Hotels, that is the mindset you have to have. We own the business, it is ours and we are responsible for it, in every way shaped good and bad. In addition, that is the environment I love working in.
I take a massive amount of inspiration from my team. What the team does here every single day motivates and inspires me. They do some amazingthings for our guests here and that is very powerful. We all have our bad days, but we do not have it often here because it is such an amazing place.
When I have a bad day I think of the energy and the effort the team puts in and what they do, often not easy circumstances like yesterday with the challenges we had due to bad weather, and that inspires me. If I look back over my 24-year career, Mr.Heinecke is an inspiration, and what he has done to Minor Hotels as a whole and Anantara as a brand is extremely inspirational.
What have been your biggest takeaways from the hospitality industry?
Tell us about the keys issues it is struggling with? My number one takeaway is you get out what you put in. If you work hard and have the right attitude, you can achieve anything you want to. I’ve come a long way from where I first started and now I oversee four amazing luxury hotels in paradise. It’s been a long exciting journey to get here, and I hope that provides inspiration and allows people who don’t know what they want to do or have the opportunity to know that
there is a career out there, there is an opportunity to travel the world, to be able to improve the quality of life that there family has. I think it is one of my biggest takeaways from the industry. My role as a foreign expat here is to develop people and allow them to grow and ultimately see a Maldivian General Manager here. For me the role of an expat is to come in with a skill set that does not exist and to train, develop and work with the local community and people to give them what they need to be able to sustain it themselves, and not having to rely on foreigners to come and do that. It may be a slow and long process, but I believe that is an important part of what we, as expats should be doing from a leadership perspective.
In terms of challenges, the hospitality industry is evolving fast. So is technology, and the way we embrace it and use it to deliver guest experiences. Environmental issues are becoming more and more important and the need for sustainability and an environment friendly culture is even more important. I think particularly in the luxury space, luxury travelers are demanding the places they stay to provide environment friendly experiences. Luxury travel is becoming even more experiential then it has been in the past and as the younger generation are becoming the majority of travelers. As the millennials takeover, they look for personalized individual experiences, and it is how we create and curate, because personalization will become key and how we use technology to drive personalization and to develop experiences is something we need to focus on.
How would you define service in luxury hospitality?
It has to be unique and bespoke for every single person. I think the days we managed the customer the way we want to manage them are long gone, and it no longer works that way. We as luxury hoteliers have to adapt and deliver what a guest wants and that is both from an experiential perspective and a standard delivery perspective. Breakfast does not finish at 10.30am anymore, it finishes when the guests does not want breakfast anymore. With all the different time zones we operate in, it is something we have to think about. Personalization of experiences are massive - contacting guests prior their arrival, understanding what their preferences are and making sure we put the products they want in their mini-bar are all part of luxury hospitality. Many hotels put fruits bowl in the rooms, but putting a fruit bowl in the room for guests on their arrival, for me is not part of a luxury hotel experience. In a luxury hotel, they ask the guest what fruit they want and ensure they have it in their room .
when they arrive. We do not do what is easy for us, we do what our guests want. I also believe that in a luxury resort like this, spending time with the customers are extremely important. I meet 90% of my guests on their arrival, and if I am not available, the hotel manager will be meeting them. At times that stretches us, and we have to react very quickly and often manage a lot of moving parts, which is a challenge. However, if you want to deliver a unique and memorable guest experience, then you have to focus on those individual details for the guests.
How has Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas evolved since its opening? What’s new at the resort?
We are 8 years old now. We are lucky that we have one of the best islands in the Maldives, physically in terms of our beach, our reef, our environment and our 300 coconut trees. Fifteen months ago, we added the SKY bar and over-water observatory. That is the biggest physical change we made over the last few years, and almost everything else here has been from the beginning. We also added a second three-bedroom residence about eighteen months ago and it has been very successful. We will be making several changes and renovations this year; “SALT” our Asian restaurant will be completely renovated in June, “Manzaru” restaurant will be renovated in September. We will be renovating our spa to evolve our wellness treatments in summer this year. We are also planning to renovate our kids club and later in the year before we get back into high season. We are going to renovate our residences. So, there’s quite a lot of new things which is coming up and is very exciting.
What will your guests rave about to their friends and family?
Our team! Our people is what gives this Island its heart and soul. We have a physically beautiful island, and we have lots of great products including our villas and restaurants, but what I would want most is people to go back and tell their friends the name of the waiter who served their breakfast, or the room attended who cleaned their room. Guests come back for the people - people may come back because it’s a beautiful island, but that’s not the real reason why they come back. They come back because the team here made them feel special and gave them an experience they never received anywhere else. So, they come back to see those people and experience it again. If someone who stayed here goes back and takes the time to write on social media the name of the person that cleaned their villa or served breakfast, there is nothing more powerful than that in terms of delivering guest experiences.
How do you think technology has changed the hospitality industry?
Technology affects how we deliver guests experiences. There are a lot of good things and many that make it harder. I think It allows us to deliver a much more seamless guests experience than before in terms of how we communicate about things internally - which is positive. However, as technology evolves, I think the expectations in terms of speed of delivery and time of response shrinks. If you go back ten years and tell a customer that, you would be responding in 24 hours, that would be all right, but if you tell somebody, you will respond in 24 hours now, that is too long. Technology will become more important than ever, we will need to embrace it, and we should be pushing the envelope in terms of how we use it to drive guest experience and personalize it.
Ever since Anantara opened its first hotel in 2001, it has continued to create luxury travel experiences that also benefit the environment and the local communities. How do you envision sustainability in the future of hospitality?
I think if it is I think if it is not fundamental today, it will become fundamental in the luxury space. We do not use plastic bottles for shampoo, shower gel, conditioner or to serve water. I think in luxury space there is a huge drive from the customer to be much more environmental friendly than we currently are right now. I think as an industry, generally we are behind where we should be and we need to do more as an industry. We are one of the first brands to ban plastic straws. We should not be using plastics and there are plenty of other environmental friendly ways to do it.
Maldives is one of the places that has the potential to be one of the most impacted by environmental change over the next 20-30 years. I think there is a lot more to be done and specifically in the Maldives, it would be great to see the government add more regulations about improving environmental practices. We ask our customers to donate $1 a day for our coral restoration project. We as a business match their dollar for dollar in the big scheme of the amount of money people spend when they stay here. Using that as an educational opportunity for our guests and explaining to them why we are doing it and how we are doing it, we give them the opportunity to snorkel or dive our reef and see how corals grow on ropes, they get to work with our marine biologist to see it been transplanted out on the reef. We our very lucky that we have the opportunity to educate people about the importance of environmental friendly practices.
If you had one piece of advice to give to someone starting out, what would you say?
Work hard and have the right attitude. Be prepared to listen, learn and make mistakes. Making mistakes is healthy as long you learn from them, you learn more from getting it wrong and figuring it out how to do it right next time then getting it right in the first place. Be open and honest, and always care for your people. You get out whatyou put it and this industry is a very rewarding business to be in with many opportunities on the horizon.
“For me the role of an expat is to come in with a skill set that does not exist and to train, develop and work with the local community and people to give them what they need to be able to sustain it themselves, and not having to rely on foreigners to come and do that”
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