Asia Leisure opened its newest property – Le Grand – in Galle in August 2018. The 57-room hotel includes 50 rooms and 7 suites. Leading the team through the pre-opening process was Resident Manager Lahiru De Silva. De Silva joined Asia Leisure in 2016 and took the reins at Le Grand in April 2017.
The construction of the hotel took less than two years, and the team is clearly proud of what they have achieved. Overlooking the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Galle Fort, the hotel has a unique location with panoramic views of the Fort and the Indian Ocean. The site did bring with it some challenges, as specific requirements for the UNESCO site had to be met, including not being higher than the Fort. De Silva says, “We had to squeeze everything in within the limits. The architects and structural engineers have done a tremendous job.”
Resident Manager Lahiru De Silva sits by a sculpture of local stilt fishermen that welcomes guests to the Taste restaurant.
With an enviable location, the hotel’s target market is leisure guests, particularly locals who are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and experience something different. “We want guests to be themselves,” says De Silva, “Our main aim is for guests to relax.”
A small bridge will be opened soon, allowing guests to access the Fort within minutes. From the hotel, “people can experience the Fort from a distance in a very comfortable way”.
Although the site does not have a beach, the natural swimming pool and large hotel pool provide plenty of space for relaxation.
Being one of the more expensive properties in the Galle area, De Silva acknowledges that there will be competition, however, he’s confident at achieving the target occupancy of 78%. “All properties are fabulous, but we are different.” “The product is not the building or the structure, it’s the people… the staff and service is what differentiates us from others.”
Starting from Scratch
To hire staff for the new hotel, De Silva’s top-down approach focused on identifying individuals who show passion to perform and for the industry. He points out that “our concept here is that we are not very traditional”. The goal is for guests to feel happy and undisturbed, and so with recruitment, “our target is to find people who sync with that”.
When it comes to hiring in a competitive market, money matters.
Says De Silva, “In Sri Lanka, when you are a professional, there are plenty of opportunities. And when it comes to this industry, people always try to fly out to Dubai or the Maldives, where the salaries are higher.”
“To get the best out of the staff, you need to provide them with the best”
The interior design concept is inspired by the Galle Fort and southern culture, fused with a modern touch.
Here, De Silva gives thanks to Asia Leisure who supported him in his view that “if you want to get the best person, you need to pay them for their experience”. One of the issues facing the industry in Sri Lanka is high staff turnover. Many hotels grapple with this, with staff switching hotels regularly, even on a seasonal basis. Not only does it increase costs, high churn rates also make it difficult to maintain a high quality of service.
As his 8th pre-opening, De Silva understands this challenge well. During this period “an individual may be hired as a supervisor, but you also need to do staff work and work for other departments”. His approach was three-fold: identify the right person for the job (“one of the most difficult tasks”), offer salaries that recognize the experience and the responsibilities, and create a culture of ‘one family, one team’.
“We did a lot of activities, celebrating birthdays, when staff become parents, visiting each other’s homes.” De Silva is proud of the staff facilities at the hotel and meal times are a community event, with the managers and the team eating together in one place.
De Silva reveals that 70% of the staff have foreign exposure. While he doesn’t view this as essential for achieving a senior management position, “international exposure will help in terms of the equipment and service”.
Spending on training and development was an important factor during the pre-opening phase and a significant budget was allocated for training the staff. De Silva was also focused on the equipment, particularly in the kitchen, which is stocked with the latest apparatus. “It’s a big investment when you look at the figure, but it benefits the workers and the final product.”
“When you hire a professional to do their job, you need to provide the necessary resources. You can get the best chef in the world, but if he does not have the right equipment, he won’t be able to perform.”