Travel Bus Dev 2018? Ask your Staff

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

Business Development ideas? Ask your Staff?

“I was the GM of Hamilton Island. I worked with Keith Williams back in the 80s then the Oakley family called me in 2006 so say that it wasn’t working and they needed an old school GM back into run it.”

Combined with stints at the Grand Hotel in Melbourne and his incredibly successful current gig as GM of the Outrigger, Peter understands what it takes to turn a business around and keep developing it. During the back of house tour, Pete said his first initiative was to ask the staff what they liked and disliked about working at the Outrigger.

“As part of being poached, I came for two days and I was instantly struck by the warmth of the Fijian people. They were genuinely surprised with the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings. I think once they believed me, it empowered them”

What they liked was what I experienced; the warmth, their engagement, location, natural beauty.

What didn’t they like?

“They knew the food wasn’t up to scratch. They knew that the place was rundown and under resourced.  Morale was low, but their spirit kept it rolling.  Frankly, sometimes I don’t know how.”

“I said to the owner Geoff Shaw that I need $1.5 million to fix up everything that was wrong and that we would need six months to go to market, addressing everything from infrastructure to policy and procedure.”

On a HR front, the message was simple; the staff were not going to be at their best until they were happy. Empowering them to own part of that improvement was a key to moving forward. Facilities were fixed and a new kitchen was built near the pool to ensure meals delivered were hot and fresh, minimising customer complaints.  A happier head chef complimented the transformation. One full meal per day was provided to all staff, challenging when you consider the contrasting palettes of “Islanders” compared to that of Indo-Fijians (approx. 30% of the population came from India during British rule to develop the sugar cane industry.)  Similar examples of  improvement were implemented across the property and over time, the Outrigger became known as the employer of choice.

“When we went out to market , people wanted to work with us, our reputation was spreading.  Our staff are proud of where they work and it self reinforces. If a new staff member failed to say “Bula” to a guest, someone will explain why it’s important to do it for every guest; it become self-governing.

But it doesn’t end there. “We have to continue to innovate our existing product, particularly weddings. So we offer a number of packages with the option to utilize our sister property, Castaway islands, for the honeymooners only get away. We have our own hair, make up, photographers and organisers.  We train up locals and engage with village chiefs to keep improving what we do.”

“The ingredients are to ensure you just keep delivering, offer an end to end service and engage with social media to get the message out there. The local values are embraced as part of the growth strategy.”

Some statistics about the outrigger that back the success of the approach

  • The biggest customers are Flight Centre and Hoot with two thirds of the business through agents
  • In the week that I was in attendance, occupancy hovered between 95 and 99%
  • 82% of guests are Australian, 13% of guests are from New Zealand
  • Average stay of six days

Peter sits on the board of the Fiji hotel and tourism Association and is the chair of the Coral Coast hotel tourism Association. So his across the national challenges of Fiji, beyond just the needs of his hotel

We stayed 7 nights. I would have loved one more.

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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