Having ‘been around’ for some time I occasionally have the desire to tell a story or two from the ‘good old’ days in the hospitality business…not too sure if they were always good, but they certainly were fun, and yes, we had fun even before the Internet age took over our imagination.
Going back many years, actually right to the beginning of my life in hotels and the hospitality industry, I was incredibly excited when I was told that someone wanted me to start work in the Middle East…The brave soul that I was said yes, and so 6 weeks later I boarded a plane to pastures new. This was my first ever flight at the tender age of 21, to a destination that I had barely heard of, knowing nothing much about except that there was war all around the neighbouring countries!
Arriving at my new destination – Jordan, I was expecting to be met at the airport by my new employer, but of course I wasn’t; all I found was a sign with my name and a taxi driver telling me to go with him. There I was, squeezed into a taxi with 4 other people going from one hotel to another hotel and finally, after several hours, arriving in my new place of work – The Intercontinental Amman – pretty much the only hotel of any standard in Jordan at that time.
Whilst excited by this opportunity, I was completely green and had no idea what to expect in this hot, strange land – a real assault on the senses for this young, innocent Austrian. Now that was 40 years ago; today the expat of this generation has all the information he needs at his fingertips with the compliments of the Internet. While I spent some of my best expat years in Jordan and have many fond memories, one day I will always remember is 17 November 1976. On this day the hotel was attacked by a terrorist group that called itself ‘Black September” killing more than 30 people in the lobby and setting fire to rooms. It was a shocking experience that certainly shaped my life and that of every other employee in the hotel.
Travel to these far flung and foreign destinations was also something of an adventure in those days. Commercial air travel was still in its infancy, and the comfortable, fast experience of today was still a distant dream. Today we generally fly direct to a destination – perhaps with a stop at a major hub like Dubai, or Frankfurt for a little shopping. My first assignment in Bali was in the very early 80s, and our flight from Vienna with Garuda had 6 stops – a so called ‘Milk run’…not only that, but we were required to leave the plane at every single destination for the flight to refuel! After more than 30 hours I arrived in Bali completely exhausted. I can still hear the loud drone of the engines and the smell of each airport…
However that was all mildly inconvenient and in retrospect, amusing, compared to our arrival in Kinshasa, Zaire some years earlier. There were no lights and our Sabena flight landed on a runway that was lit with a couple of Petroleum lamps on either side of the tarmac…Bienvenue au Congo ( or Zaire as it was then called)!
Whilst the welcome was certainly not very reassuring, the person who picked us up from the airport was a European Expat from the hotel who nonchalantly told us on the way to the hotel, that we should never, at all costs, walk under a tree because there were snakes that attack while in trees. My wife of course had a major hissy fit and accused me of being completely insane to have dragged her to this primitive place and to accept a job in a destination where the airport had no lights, snakes attacked from the trees and where the Chief Steward of the Hotel was growing marihuana in the hotels planters so he could have his joint first thing in the morning before he was faced with the task of doing ‘some’ work…
These were destinations that had a certain excitement because they were unknown,; The Belgian Congo (later Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in particular was very poor and still is – in fact nothing has really changed in 35 years. Our daily life was to improvise, making sure to tackle one day at a time.
In many ways it was good we didn’t have the overflow of information the Internet provides today – we took a chance and accepted assignments in the spirit of adventure.
It was also a good lesson in seeing the world and its many different cultures and some seriously corrupt leaders.
Having said all that I wouldn’t have missed a day of my life in the hospitality industry. Some things may have changed and we are now more aware of our world than ever before, our surroundings and the changes that take place daily.
A good dose of some adventurous spirit, washed down with a healthy attitude still made some of the best professionals and managers our industry has seen, and this approach will again, given the chance…
About the author
Karl Faux is a veteran Hotelier and Managing Partner with Elite Search – a leading hospitality recruitment firm.
For more information about Karl and Elite Search visit http://www.elitesearch.com.au and The Elite Hotelier http://www.elitehotelier.net