A.L.: After a trainee and several initial positions, you came to the Pre-Opening Management at Virgin Limited Edition, a brand with really exclusive hotels and resorts. How did you reach it, and what was your role?
P.J.: When I finished studying Hotel Management, I built my career by working on a very exclusive Cruise liner and exceptional Lodges in South Africa. At the early stages of my career, I was very fortunate to learn from very successful people who helped secure my knowledge and experience in the hotel industry. I was the Operations Manager of Grootbos Private Nature reserve, where I opened my first luxury African lodge. A senior member of the group of Mont Rochelle (Virgin Limited Edition property) then asked me to assist with the opening of the five-star luxury wine estate, Mont Rochelle, which had various F&B outlets, conference & wedding venues and a boutique hotel.
A.L.: You kept working as a General Manager for exclusive hotel and resort brands like The Elewana Collection, Six Senses, Amanresorts, from the Greater Antilles to Thailand or New Zealand, and Kenya and Tanzania in Africa. How and why did you specialize in the luxury segment of the business?
P.J.: I prefer to stay in boutique hotels/lodges whenever I travel for leisure. Still, I think this preference developed due to managing some exclusive Boutique hotels with some of the best hotel brands in this niche market segment. I believe that the smaller luxury properties allow you to deliver a much more personalized and sincere guest service experience and most importantly done with integrity.
A.L.: What are the particularities of this segment and those of its target customers?
P.J.: Engaging customers is a primary goal because fully engaged guests are those guests who get emotionally attached to a brand. The customer for this market segment has evolved over recent years and has become more experientially driven. They want customized, individualized experiences and less “pre-packaged” offerings.
A.L.: Finally, you came to the position you occupy today, Director of Operations at ENVI Lodges, based in the United Arab Emirates. How did you reach that position?
P.J.: I managed a portfolio of boutique experiential lodges and resorts spread out between New Zealand and Thailand. Like many of us, the pandemic allowed me to evaluate my life, and a big part of my life is my career. I knew that I wanted to make a more significant impact in all aspects of life through my industry which I love so much. I was introduced to Chris Nader and immediately got inspired to join Chris and Noelle Homsy with their new venture, Envi Lodges.
A.L.: As we have learned, ENVI Lodges is at a very early stage of development. What is ENVI Lodges and what are its plans? Where will operations begin?
P.J.: ENVI Lodges is a new experiential eco-lodge brand and management company that was born from the Middle East. Our aim is to create meaningful, nature-centric lodges that regenerate the environment and offer purpose-driven experiences that are transformative for our guests. We currently have very interesting projects under discussion in the UAE, KSA, Egypt and Sub-Saharan Africa and hope to be announcing our first signing soon.
A.L.: One of the distinctive features of ENVI Lodges is the sustainability criteria for selecting locations and lodges. How are you implementing this objective?
P.J.: ENVI has developed its sustainability program based on 7 pillars, covering the entire project lifecycle, from design and construction, to, most importantly, the long years of operations. Our pillars include respecting the land, protecting wildlife, building with a sense of place, being mindful of resources, supporting the local communities, eating responsibly, and ultimately engaging our guests in our sustainability initiatives towards the environment and the local communities. We also recently announced our partnership with Beyond Green, a leading alliance of sustainable hotels, lodges, and resorts. Our lodges will meet a robust set of more than 50 standards and will undergo a rigorous vetting process based upon three key sustainable travel pillars: 1) Implementation of environmentally friendly practices, 2) Protection of natural and cultural heritage and 3) Contribution to the social and economic wellbeing of local communities.
A.L.: The second objective of the new brand is to deliver unique experiences to travellers. How will ENVI Lodges achieve it?
P.J.: Our guests are savvy and well-informed travel researchers who are looking for value without sacrificing the experience. Most of our projects are “off-the-beaten-track” locations that enhance the experience of exclusivity and uniqueness, as long as it’s within easy access to major transit. ENVI focuses on delivering a unique transformational guest journey through embracing local culture, caring for the environment and offering authentic interactions with the local communities.
A.L.: To what extent is the profile of the guests targeted by ENVI Lodges different from those of the luxury segment of Hospitality?
P.J.: The definition of ‘luxury’ has evolved dramatically, and for me luxury is personalization. Luxury travellers search for experiences that include unique amenities, caring service, and carefully curated design with a primary focus on sustainability. Luxury in the hospitality environment can be small, such as creating a meaningful experience or showing you care. But large or small, it should make an emotional connection with people and the brand.
A.L.: We would like to wish you and your team the best of luck in this new interesting initiative, but, how do you see the future of the tourism industry?
P.J.: The number of hotels has been growing at an unsustainable rate, and many hotels are being developed with no clear positioning, no differentiation, and most importantly no consideration for the impact they were making on the planet. The future of tourism lies in creating those meaningful, nature-centric experiences that transform how guests think and feel even beyond their travels; and this is what ENVI is trying to achieve.