Brits abroad: Antony Paton, Galle Face hotel, Colombo
The general manager of the 156-bedroom Galle Face hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka, tells Janet Harmer how working for royalty has taught him how to anticipate guests' needs
Can you describe the style and setting of the Galle Face hotel?
The hotel is located in the heart of Colombo, overlooking the Indian Ocean, opposite Galle Face Green. It has recently reopened its north wing after a two-and-a-half-year restoration project.
The hotel was originally launched in 1864 by four British entrepreneurs. It's an iconic landmark in Sri Lanka and is quite possibly the oldest hotel east of the Suez. It has a rich heritage: this is where Sir Arthur C Clarke penned 3001: The Final Odyssey and the Russian painter Alexander Sofronoff paid his bar tab by painting exquisite murals on the walls, which are present today.
What are the key facilities offered by the hotel?
It's a large, sprawling building with an executive lounge, three restaurants, three bars, two wine cellars, two grand ballrooms and a seven-room conference centre with a café. We also have a museum that displays the Duke of Edinburgh's first car, a 1935 model Standard Nine. Our leisure facilities include a saltwater swimming pool, a gym and a croquet lawn. In June 2016 we'll open a L'Occitane spa, the first of its kind in Sri Lanka. The hotel also has a resident historian who conducts walking tours of the property.
What are the key challenges of working in Colombo?
What do you like about Sri Lanka?
I enjoy the friendliness of the people. There is an untamed rawness in the country and the opportunities in business development are potentially huge. The country is beautiful and inspiring. When I get the occasional day off, there are many antique shops around Colombo - I love rooting around trying to find something unusual!
How many staff are employed at Galle Face?
We have 470 team members, of which three are foreign - myself, the executive chef and senior sous chef are all British.
How easy is it for Brits to obtain hospitality jobs in Sri Lanka?
Not easy at all. Jobs are really only for locals and visa rules are tough. Top positions are sometimes available to a foreigner, but it is rare.
What did you learn from your first role overseas - working as general manager for King Hussein and Queen Noor of Jordan, from 1989 to 1991?
Anticipation is amazingly powerful and I learned to anticipate their majesties' every need at any time of the day or night. It's not hard. You just need to study the habits of the individuals and have spies everywhere making sure that you are always informed.
I met many high-powered people during my time with them and I learned how to handle nerves at critical times. Meeting important and powerful people does not faze me now.
Which country have you enjoyed the most?
Jordan was an amazing experience. Hong Kong provided an incredible social life. Taiwan tested all my working ethics and Thailand was life-changing in so many ways. The Maldives were serene and relaxed and India was mad. But England is still, for me, the best place to live and work.
Do you have family with you in Sri Lanka?
My wife is with me and spends a few months here and a few months back in the UK. The children, now grown up, live in the UK. When they were smaller, they were educated in Hong Kong and the American International School in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Young children are incredibly resilient to change of surroundings and make new friends with great ease.
Will your long-term career be overseas?
South Africa is certainly somewhere I would like to work and learn the culture. I also found Thailand very interesting and would go back there in a shot.
2014-present General manager, Galle Face hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka
2011-2012 Managing director, operations, Soneva Resorts
2011 Opening general manager, Six Senses Laamu, Maldives
2010-2011 General manager, the Grand hotel, Delhi, India
2008-2010 Area general manager, Soneva Kiri Resort (Six Senses Resorts and Spas), Thailand
2007-2008 Deputy chief operating office, Le Royal Group of Hotels
2006-2007 General manager, Le Royal hotel, Amman, Jordan
2000-2006 Regional general manager, Ramada Hotels (UK)
1999-2000 General manager, Holiday Inn, Kings Cross, London
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