Samui Wining & Dining
Why Here?

Just what it was that brought Outrigger Koh Samui’s
General Manager, Leon Pink, to the island.


Why Here?I wonder quite where hotel manager fits into the old ‘tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief’ game for picking out a child’s future position in life. There are decisions to be made in the lives of all people, especially when it comes to working for a living. But take a look at any of today’s hotel managers and reflect on how many of them have had a straightforward career. For every one who’s proceeded directly from university onto a career path, there’s a dozen that haven’t. Many have tinkered for a bit first, one or two may have tailored and more than a few have soldiered. And it’s almost like that with Leon Pink. Except that he knew what direction he was heading in right from the start. It’s just that he took a few sidesteps along the way!


Leon is now the gently-outgoing-yet-dynamic General Manager of Outrigger Koh Samui Resort & Spa (previously known as Destination Beach Resort & Spa), tucked away on the beach just a few hundred metres from the well-known Big Buddha. The resort appeared upon the Samui scene in April 2009. And it raised several eyebrows straight away. This was a newcomer to the scene but, oh-my, was it stylish! Lots of natural wood and scrubbed concrete surfaces, with carp ponds and flowing water features, and with covered walkways smothered in trailing vines. And the superb contemporary décor and fittings of the 79 sumptuous rooms, cottages and suites was as close to luxury as you could get.


At this time, Leon was far away, on the way to making a name for himself in Fiji, in fact. But his tale begins well before this, in the Western Australian city of Perth. Upon leaving school he ‘tinkered and tailored’ for a short while, heading towards engineering and structural management. As with all students, a requisite part of his education was a part-time job. In Leon’s case, he worked as a porter at a large Brisbane hotel. And it was at this point that he discovered his direction. “It was all a bit remote, working in an office and on construction sites,” he explained. “I felt out of touch. But even working as a humble porter there was life and people and activity all around. And it was during this period I decided that I was going to head in the direction of the hospitality industry. So I enrolled at Southbank Institute of Technology on a degree course in Business Management.


But fortune favours the bold and, halfway through the course, still crawling from one classroom to another, Leon grasped the nettle and jumped ship. And landed in the middle of London, securing a position as Duty Manager at the highly-individual boutique hotel, The Hemple. “This was a complete eye-opener,” he told me. “I’d only ever known formal and traditional mom-and-pop hotels. But here it looked like it had been put together by a millionaire hippy. The décor was astonishing; Zen concepts and feng shui principles were everywhere, along with inside water gardens and mobile sculptures, sci-fi furnishings and a holistic restaurant. This really woke me up.” Then when the owner, Anouska Hemple, was opening another boutique hotel, Blake’s Amsterdam, and invited Leon to go along; he didn’t think twice. And a year later, he bounced back into another characterful London hotel, this time as Assistant Front-Office Manager of the 5-star Sanderson Hotel.


By this time I’d realised that I needed a solid grounding in the experience of different elements of hotel management,” he continued. “I knew that I didn’t want to end up in mainstream establishments – the character and individuality of smaller boutique chains allowed a greater freedom and promised far more opportunities. So my aim was to achieve some level of management experience before I went on.


The next step was Front Office Manager at the Hilton Brisbane Hotel. And, following this, the move to Australia’s holiday playground, Hayman Island, off the coast of Queensland. He went on to become a General Manager, and then an Area Manager in charge of three hotels. And one of these belonged to The Outrigger Enterprises Group. He was instantly impressed. All the staff were young and enthusiastic, the management was laid-back and outgoing and the group was expanding rapidly. And when the opportunity finally occurred, in March 2008, Leon was delighted to take a backwards step – this time as Director of Rooms at the Outrigger on the Lagoon, in Fiji. Then promotion to F&B Manager in charge of five restaurants and three bars. And, eventually, Resort Manager. And from there he was invited, in January this year, to take the helm at a new acquisition, the very elegant re-branded ‘Outrigger Koh Samui resort & Spa. This he did with no hesitation, bringing his wife, Kim, along with him.


After all the cities and mega-resorts, Samui was a culture shock,” he admitted. “I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere; the running strip-development around the edge of the island and the contrast of ultra-modern 5-star resorts alongside beach huts and fisherman’s villages. This was my first experience of Thailand. And then there were the Thai people themselves. It’s not my style anyway, but you just don’t dare to try to boss them around. You need to earn their respect first and lead by example; and with a permanent smile, too. The language problem is tricky. It’s the only place I’ve worked where I can’t talk with everyone on a one-to-one basis. But the entire approach here is geared to customer expectations. And, after six months, I’d like to think there have been visible changes for the better.


Any former Destination Samui residents returning to resort now it’s Outrigger Koh Samui will notice the difference immediately. In the foyer, there’s an activities board that changes daily, featuring yoga, island activities, spa promotions, beach activities and a kiddies’ club. Navasana Spa is now offering an alluring range of extra treatments. By The Sea restaurant is expanding to feature entertainment and theme nights and offers an excellent cooking class. There’s now a shuttle-bus schedule to Chaweng and back, several times a day. And the thoughtful touches in all the rooms include a personal greeting, welcoming drinks, flower displays, folded decorative towels everywhere and ‘pillow features’ every night. “But this is still only the start,” Leon told me, “there’s a lot more ideas in the pipeline.


Tinker, Tailor, Porter, Concierge, Front Office Manager, Rooms Manager, F&B organiser, Area Manager; Boss. Forget entirely about the ‘poor man, beggar man or thief’. There’s just no place for them here. Not with Leon Pink, running the show at Outrigger Koh Samui Resort & Spa.


Rob De Wet


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