An important step in a well-rounded hotel manager’s career is getting overseas experience. I’m proud to say that I have overseas experience – all of one month’s worth. I alluded to this story last June, and since then a number of readers have asked for the sordid details. So here goes.
In 1996, a hotel company approached me about a job as director of sales & marketing at a luxury resort in Palau. I wasn’t keen on living on a tropical island, but they assured me it would be my base only and I’d be traveling around the world on business at least six months a year – in Australia, Europe, Asia and North America. It sounded too good to resist. I signed a two-year contract, gave up my apartment, job and happy Vancouver life, and told friends I wouldn’t be back for at several years because this was the beginning of my life as an international hotelier and playboy.
A month later I was back.
The problem had little to do with Palau itself, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, a chain of 200 islands in the South Pacific, with friendly people and some of the world’s best scuba diving. It had more to do with me. Things started off badly when, upon arrival, I learned that the travel budget had been axed. In the next six months I’d be going to Korea and Taiwan and nowhere else. Island fever quickly set in.
During my first week I attended a 5-day orientation session that could have been covered in an hour. In week two I wrote the resort’s marketing plan, reorganized the office, designed a series of ads and launched a marketing campaign. By week three I had nothing to do. The bulk of my job involved printing form letters, placing them in envelopes and mailing them. I took four years of university for this? To keep from going insane I learned to lick envelopes very, very slowly. Still, I could get a day’s work done in the first half-hour. I would have just called it a day and headed for the beach, but face time was important at this resort.
Staff always seemed busy, although I wasn’t sure why. The phones rarely rang, there was no email, and faxes were reserved for emergencies. When I realized life was going to be like this for two long years I decided it was an emergency. I scribbled “Get me the hell out of here!” on a piece of paper and faxed it to a colleague in Vancouver. I never heard back. During lunchtime I’d go for long walks and contemplate hurling myself into the ocean. At night I was obliged to attend the resort cocktail party and schmooze guests, which I found particularly difficult because I hated them for being happy and tanned while I was miserable and pale.
Shopping on the island was interesting. When I needed sunglasses I was forced to choose between a pair of Minnie Mouse sunglasses and some bad-ass Terminator sunglasses. I opted for the latter, which did little to boost my popularity on the island. The GM let me drive the resort’s beat-up old car, which was nice, except, being Japanese-made, its steering wheel was on the right side. One day I lost my bearings – maybe it was the sunglasses – and swerved onto the shoulder of the road, almost taking out a local. I came so close I heard his sharp intake of breath. This didn’t help my popularity either.
It wasn’t all bad. One day the GM took me to Jellyfish Lake, hidden in a crater at the centre of one of the islands. The lake is full of enormous jellyfish that, through some ecological phenomenon, have lost their sting. You may remember it from Survivor: Palau, when it was featured as a prize in a reward challenge. We swam through schools of them, tossing them around like balls of Jell-o. Maybe it wasn’t so bad here after all, I thought. The next day I was evicted from my gorgeous room at the resort and relocated to a dark, prison-like apartment in Koror. That’s when I began to plan my escape.
Word got around that I was lonely. One night there was a knock on my door and a Palauan woman about twice my size stood grinning at me, smelling strong of perfume. I thanked her and sent her away. I was lonely, but not that lonely. Another night the resort’s ex-pats invited me to a party. I arrived hours late and angry, having driven around the island several times, lost in the total darkness among the winding roads. The party was in a garage. I was sipping beer, trying to look happy, when an enormous coconut crab (see above) fell from the rafters and landed on me. Have you seen those things? They’re the largest terrestrial anthropods on earth and look like those creatures in Alien. Everyone laughed. I almost fainted.
Within a few weeks I decided I had made a terrible mistake. I was a city guy, not an island guy. I went to see a travel agent. That afternoon, by coincidence, resort staff surprised me with a welcome reception. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I had just booked a flight home. The next day I broke the news to the GM. He didn’t believe me, and who could blame him. What kind of fool would fly halfway around the world to accept a job in paradise, only to go home after a month? Me, apparently.
As far as I’m concerned, those contestants on Survivor: Palau got off easy. At least I now know that island paradise is not for me, unless I’m on vacation. Chalk it up to experience – overseas experience.
posted by Daniel Edward Craig at 11:25 AM
Daniel, Some years ago, when my husband and I were traveling half-way around the world (okay, mostly Asia/South-east Asia and Australia), we encountered a coconut crab … somewhere in Malaysia (was it Sipadan Island?). The room key chain was a rectangle piece of wood about 3/4″ thick. Someone pointed out a coconut crab climbing up a post and one of the guests poked it with his key chain. The crab got a hold of it in it’s claw and wouldn’t let go – to the point where it cracked the wood piece lengthwise. And it was a smaller crab that the one in your picture. But I’m happy to finally read your story about Palau. Now, I wait for your book….
Good Day!I am Roland,i would like to post my interest that i want to work in any hotel in Palau, it’s my dream- I am a very skillfull person, ice carving and doin’ the styro arts
is my skills! If there’s any one willing to hire me or let me enter to Palau—i am welcoming you! Thank You!Roland R.AbocejoPaete,Laguna,Philippinescell # +63915-2050-994 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Daniel, Hi as a fellow hotelier who also has his background in Canada. i was able to cope with the island life in fact I am still here . from a no nothing diver to a divemaster candidate. i just have to learn to blend in. but I strongly agree it really depends on one’s personality.
wow. i didnt even know general managers had a blog. i dont think i even know what a general manager is. but hey im bored searched coconut crab and this story. and i tell ya buddy, it was a good story. sorry you did have a happy ending (well there was the giant island lady) but besides that life’s doing ya good now so no worries :)-Seth Dendy teenage story searcher & famed movie maker
hi daniel,Your blog made up for some very interesting reading. I haven’t laughed such a lot in ages… Hope you are happy where you are now. The coconut crab encounter was the Pièce de résistance. It’s truly awful that you were both shaken and stirred in what you had hoped would be a “BOND” ing experience…. So what if aren’t licenced to kill… you are definitely licenced to thrill… iona
I’ve heard that these are the tastiest of crabs because of their coconut diet. Mmmmmmm…coconut crab. Can anyone confirm or deny this?
Wow… interesting stuff. The coconut crab sounds terrifying. And Palau sounds… fun to visit but not necessarily fun to live on.
well put. Consider writing once you retire from your present job :). You have good “writing” skills and sense of humour. Good read.good luck.