As Eskala Hotels & Resorts reached their decade milestone, we got an opportunity to interview Mr Nuwan Rathnayaka, the general manager of Eskala and head of hospitality of Shwe Taung Group, on how this little patch of paradise on the Ngwe Saung beach has weathered the storms and kept going strong.  

How has the company’s vision evolved over time?

Ten years ago, when we founded Eskala as a resort, we quickly realised that there were numerous other resorts along the Ngwe Saung beach. We wanted Eskala to have a distinct identity within the property. So, we began with our concept, focusing on detailed observation and surveys to understand what our customers truly needed. This approach shaped Eskala’s clear vision: to become one of the leading brands in Myanmar by offering authentic Myanmar hospitality. We recognised that hospitality varies around the world, and instead of adopting a generic international approach, we sought to enhance Myanmar’s unique hospitality and cater to people from all walks of life. This vision guided Eskala’s journey, and today, after 10 years, we’re proud to say that we’ve achieved our mission of becoming a leading resort in Myanmar.

We are continuously improving, and over the past decade, we have been honoured with over 30 awards, both internationally and locally, including prestigious recognitions such as the World Travel Award, where we’ve been named Myanmar’s Leading Resort multiple times since 2017. Additionally, we’ve been honoured by the World Luxury Award in 2017 for Best Romantic and Honeymoon Resort. Our commitment to sustainability has been recognised by ASEAN with a special award for Green and Sustainable Hotel practices. Moreover, our consistent top rankings on platforms like TripAdvisor, Agoda, and Booking.com reaffirm our dedication to service excellence, with continuous recognition as one of Myanmar’s top 10 hotels.

As a general manager, I believe that the true measure of a hotel’s success lies in the feedback and ratings provided by our guests. After all, customers are the cornerstone of any successful business, right?

Tourism can have a great impact on the local community. How did the community and Eskala grow together?

When we first started the hotel, one of our primary missions was to operate it using local talent. As a result, we actively sought opportunities to engage with schools in the region. For anyone interested in pursuing a career in hospitality, Eskala’s doors are open. This approach allowed us to recruit like 70% of our human resources. For only 30%, we will get repatriates, even though Myanmar. Our focus has always been on empowering the local workforce. 

In our ongoing commitment to supporting education in the Ngwe Saung region, we encountered a pressing issue at one of the local schools – they lacked sufficient land. Being a part of the Shwe Taung group, our primary focus has always been on contributing meaningfully to the community. So, Eskala bought the land and then we donated to the government to build the school.

We initiated a role model concept aimed at inspiring the villagers through projects like little vegetable gardens. Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, Eskala remained committed to supporting local fishermen by purchasing their produce. Many of these fishermen had lost their livelihoods during the pandemic, and our continued patronage helped sustain them through difficult times.

In our efforts to support the local community, we recognise the interconnectedness of our supply chain. Over the past decade, we’ve built strong relationships with our staff, company partners, and suppliers. Additionally, in terms of repairs and maintenance, we’ve invested in training young individuals from the local community. These skilled workers are now proficient in various trades such as masonry and carpentry. Instead of getting a workforce from Yangon, we source from the local community. But we demand the standards we need. 

Over the past decade, we’ve conducted comprehensive training programmes, having successfully trained over 1,000 to 1,500 individuals, including trainees, interns, and staff members. Notably, some of our trainees have even secured positions in prominent Yangon hotels.

Furthermore, our impact extends beyond the local community, with several individuals finding employment in international hotel brands and establishments, including those in the Middle East. Through these efforts, we’ve contributed significantly to the development of skilled professionals in the hospitality industry.

What’s your commitment to sustainable tourism?

Since day one, our commitment has been to protect the beach for future generations while conducting business responsibly. Eskala proudly features 100% plastic-free bathroom amenities, maintaining our luxury standards while minimizing environmental impact. Our sustainable approach includes refilling bathroom products, offering biodegradable toothbrushes and razors, and providing water refill stations to reduce plastic waste.

Moreover, we divert most of our waste to our organic farm for composting, generating fertilizer from our waste. Additionally, we collaborate with locals, offering waste for animal feed, aiming to reduce waste in meaningful ways. Our bedrooms feature biodegradable items, including recycled laundry bags, as we strive towards a plastic-free environment, acknowledging challenges related to hygiene.

We aim to achieve zero plastic usage wherever feasible, but there are some limitations, particularly concerning hygiene-related items crucial for hotel standards. While certain necessities like waste bins may require plastic, we prioritise plastic-free and biodegradable alternatives whenever possible.

After the Covid-19 pandemic and due to ongoing political situations, we notice many travellers become more conscious about spending. How do you adapt to changing customers’ preferences?

I discuss with my team how we manage these challenges without compromising quality or significantly lowering rates. Despite a decline in international tourist arrivals, we focus on maintaining our standards and enhancing services, catering primarily to expat families, diplomats, and the local Myanmar market. We’re like a family resort – especially kids like to go to Eskala.

So, we’ve adjusted our strategy to position ourselves as a holiday home for domestic travellers, focusing on different customer segments due to the absence of international tourists. In 2018-19, about 77% of our market was international tourists. Since reopening in 2020 post-COVID, our focus shifted towards tapping into the available domestic market, as international markets posed challenges. We aimed to differentiate ourselves from other hotels by leveraging our unique characteristics and appealing to domestic travellers. And since 2021, our hotel has been doing well in the domestic market.

As someone who has been managing the hotel since the beginning, what are you most proud of?

I am proud of the brand of Eskala because the brand belongs to one of the great companies in Myanmar, which is a more supportive company. From day one to day 10, without that support, it’s very difficult to operate. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the company didn’t lay off any single associates.

My pride extends to our dedicated team, who have worked tirelessly, sacrificing countless sleepless nights over the years to bring Eskala to where it stands today. Furthermore, I am deeply grateful for our loyal customers whose support and recommendations have garnered us numerous awards and accolades. Lastly, I’m proud of the close-knit community in the Ngwe Saung region, whose invaluable support and collaborative spirit have made us feel like neighbours. Together, these pillars form the foundation of our success, and I am immensely proud of our collective achievements.

How do you gather and respond to customers’ feedback? How do you respond to their complaints?

We view complaints as valuable opportunities for improvement. If the customers are expecting something and we cannot provide it, there’s a gap. It becomes a complaint and we take every complaint seriously. Each complaint presents a golden opportunity for us to enhance our service and exceed expectations. We have a systematic approach to addressing guest complaints, and we’ve successfully turned dissatisfied guests into loyal customers through attentive resolution and improvement.

What are the activities customers like to engage in during their stay at Eskala?

Eskala is a holiday resort offering a natural tropical concept, focusing on relaxation and tranquillity. Our design philosophy prioritises colourful things, creating a serene environment for our guests. Our landscaping team ensures stunning outdoor spaces, while our beach bar, Brizo, is a popular spot on the beach. And the Infinity Eskala Pool is another attractive place at Eskala. Though some activities like diving centres are temporarily on hold, we remain flexible to cater to demand and maintain communications with diving operators. Additionally, we offer various sports facilities, including soccer grounds and volleyball, as well as dedicated areas for kids, ensuring an enjoyable stay for guests of all ages.

Any expansion plans for the future?

We envision expanding Eskala beyond its current boundaries. We’re a good brand in Myanmar so why not? Our ultimate goal is to establish Eskala in other regions, leveraging its unique segmentation. While many hotels focus on selling rooms, Eskala distinguishes itself by targeting niche markets such as romantic getaways and beach weddings. We pride ourselves on our high customer retention rate and aim to continuously innovate, offering new experiences and ‘wow’ factors to our guests with each visit. This customer-centric approach guides our expansion strategy.

What’s the key to Eskala’s success?

Our resort management and operations team are based in Ngwe Saung, while our sales, marketing, and finance teams operate from our Yangon office. Despite the distance, these teams collaborate seamlessly on day-to-day operations, sharing information and supporting each other’s efforts. This is our team of Eskala which we call Eskalanians. Their teamwork is characterised by mutual respect and a shared dedication to providing exceptional customer experiences. This collaborative spirit has been instrumental in our success over the past decade, as reflected in the numerous awards and positive reviews we’ve received. I attribute much of this success to our dedicated team and strong leadership, including our Deputy CEO, Mimi Khine, who has been with us since day one. Together, we are committed to continuing this synergy and driving Eskala’s ongoing success.

The interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

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