Brits Abroad – Morton Johnston

24 February 2012 by
Brits Abroad – Morton Johnston

Morton Johnston is the general manager of the Leela Goa, a five-star hotel in southern India. He tells Janet Harmer how working abroad has been a series of highs and lows - all which have made him a sharper hotelier

Describe the style and setting of the Leela Goa
Situated on the Arabian Sea, the hotel is one of the most celebrated luxury beach resorts in India. Its design is a mix of colonial Portuguese architecture and contemporary Indian design.

Can you share your contrasting experiences of working abroad previously in Oman, North Korea and Taiwan?
Oman was one of those countries that I would have been very happy to remain in. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the people there and for me it's the best country on the Arabian peninsula.

But to advance my career, I moved on to Kŭmgangsan, North Korea, where communication was a major problem. There was no internet, no mobile phones and only two telephone lines allowed for the entire hotel.

Then six weeks after the hotel opened, the North Korean army shot dead a South Korean tourist on the beach and the border closed and remains closed today. That was the time I decided to move on. However, I learnt from the experience not to be negative. No matter how difficult the situation you are faced with, there is always a solution even if you do not know what it is at the time.

Taiwan was a great location in which to develop my experience of working in a large city centre hotel, as well as being a convenient point from which to explore the surrounding countries of China, the Philippines and Japan.

What encouraged you to work overseas in the first place?
To experience other cultures and meet people of different nationalities. In hotels it is good to have an international perspective.

How have you found jobs overseas?
Annie Boslem of Annie Boslem Recruitment put me in contact with the Chedi in Muscat, which is a GHM property, then after three years, GHM moved me to North Korea. Aukse Bright from HES Global put me in contact with the Regent Taipei and Steve Renard of Renard International informed me of my current position.

How has working abroad enhanced you and your career?
It has made me sharper and firmer with people as sometimes I tended to be too accommodating with people.

What do you like about working in Goa?
The challenge of learning something new about managing people and not just working in another five-star hotel.

What do you dislike about working in Goa?
The rubbish on the streets… Goa is a beautiful part of the country and it is a shame we do not look after it more.

What advice would you give to anyone in hospitality wishing to work abroad?
If you are young and single, stop thinking and just go. You will always learn something even if it does not work out the way you thought it would. Visit the country first on holiday and talk to expats working there.

Don't go if you are not willing to learn or accept that sometimes you are not always right. Being single has made it easier to travel.

Is there a large British contingent working in hospitality in Goa?
There is not a very large British community, but enough to support Sue and Tim Morris who run a British pub during the season near our hotel in Cavelossim - a good place to liaise with all nationalities.

CV Morton Johnston
2011-present General manager, the Leela Goa, India
â- 2009-11 General manager, the Regent Taipei, Taiwan
â- 2007-08 General manager, the Ananti, Kumgang Mountain, North Korea
â- 2004-07 Rooms division manager, then executive assistant manager, the Chedi, Muscat, Oman
â- 2003-04 Senior assistant front office manager, the Lanesborough, London
â- 1999-03 Assistant night manager rising to guest relations manager, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London
â- 1997-98 Waiter, Planet Hollywood, Paris
â- 1992-97 Deputy manager, CAC Housing Association
â- 1991-92 Graduate trainee, Harrods, London
â- 1989-91 BSc (Hon) Retail and Distribution Management, University of Ulster

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