James Wix is the director of Riad Farnatchi, a nine-suite, full-service, five-star hotel in the heart of Marrakech's Medina. He speaks to Kerstin Kühn about the challenges and joys of Moroccan hospitality
How did you get the job? My father [former Catey winner Jonathan Wix, creator of 42 The Calls in Leeds] originally built Riad Farnatchi as a holiday home but opened it as a hotel eight years ago. Last November, he discovered that his Canadian manager had been conducting systematic fraud for years and asked me if I would like to come in and help clear up the mess and work towards developing the business.
How has working abroad enhanced your career? The need to think on your feet and having to solve the sort of problems that you don't learn about during a hospitality management degree can really sharpen your management skills across the board. It has certainly enhanced my enjoyment of my work. From developing my own private version of Franglais to learning about the very rich local culture, it has been hugely enjoyable.
What do you like about working in Marrakech? The previous manager used to say that in Marrakech "if you can dream it, you can do it". While nobody quite realised just how literally she meant that, she had a point. There are still huge opportunities here and we have lots of plans for building up the business.
What do you dislike about working in Marrakech? Corruption. There is a definite attempt to clear this up, but the problem is endemic. I suspect that it will take at least a generation. Unfortunately, too many public workers are more or less dependent on the odd bung to simply feed their families.
How does hospitality in Morocco differ from that in the UK? My father used to have a staff motto in the UK: "There is no no." In the UK it worked most of the time but needed pushing. In Morocco it works all the time, because everyone naturally wants to please. The answer to any question is almost invariably yes, even if they haven't a clue what you were asking for. This can lead to remarkable levels of confusion but does tend to ensure that our guests receive a fantastic level of service.
What could Morocco learn from the UK? Discipline, urgency and consistency. A minimum performance level for public utilities and government-provided services would be a fun idea, too.
What has surprised you most about hospitality in Marrakech? The standards that can be attained if you really stick at it - and the speed in which they can be forgotten if you take your eye off the ball for more than a second.
What trends could we adopt in the UK from Morocco?
What advice would you give to anyone in the hospitality industry wishing to work abroad? Be sure that it really is where you want to be, that the cost of living is as cheap as you think it is - some local rents may be cheap but an apartment built to European standards might not be as cheap as you expected - and that you can either maintain existing friendships or be certain of making new ones.
Where else in the world would you like to work and why? Somewhere where land and labour costs are low, room rates are high, the sun shines all year and the flights home are short and cheap. Answers on a postcard, please.
CV: james wix
2011-present Director, Riad Farnatchi, Marrakech
2009-10 Worked in the top end of the UK events industry
2009-10 Worked on opening of F&B operation at Brooklands hotel, Weybridge, Surrey, under Nicholas Rettie
2007-08 Graduate training programme at the Admirable Crichton
2003-07 Degree in hotel and restaurant management, Oxford Brookes University and year-long training programme with Four Seasons