Samui Wining & Dining
In the Hot Seat

We talk to Martin Fells, General Manager of Rocky’s Boutique Resort, to find out just what

it was that brought him to Samui

 

23People come and people go. Every year there’s tens of thousands of folks arriving on our small island, some here just for the pleasure of it, but many also coming here to work. Of course, the chances are that they’ve been here on holiday a few times already before taking the plunge. But, whether taking a short break, retiring here or coming to work, Samui has gradually accumulated a large core of long-term residents. There’s a certain magic about this island that entices people and lures them in – and that includes Martin Fells.

    Martin is the General Manager of the very popular Rocky’s Boutique Resort, one of the island’s most attractive privately-owned resorts. It’s to be found on the ring-road just a little way south of Lamai, not far from the turning to Hin-Ta Hin-Yai, the ‘grandfather and grandmother’ rocks. And it’s worth the trip out there just for the layout and décor alone. Everywhere there are little cameos and artistic arrangements created from old gnarled timbers or giant hunks of stone. Glowing red lanterns hang overhead, as if high in the sky. The accommodation has been described as ‘divine’ and could easily grace the pages of a lifestyle magazine. There are two top-notch restaurants, the open-sided The Dining Room with its wall of tumbling water, and the resort’s second eatery, the effortlessly laid-back The Bistro. It’s one of the prettiest resorts on the island, not to mention that the sea-views are absolutely stunning!

      Martin’s been overseeing things here since February 2012, although his journey towards ‘paradise’ has been somewhat happy-go-lucky, as he’ll philosophically admit: “At every step of the way opportunities seem to have presented themselves. Most of the time they weren’t so alluring. But every now and then something interesting would pop up and occasionally this meant a move in a new direction. All the things I’ve done have been knitted together in some way, so you could say that being at Rocky’s is the result of a natural progression!”

       Martin was born in the London suburb of West Norwood, the middle of three siblings. Right from an early age his most vivid memories were of helping his mother in the kitchen, and on leaving school he was drawn towards cooking as a career. His inclination was to tread this path via a stint in the army. But he was dismayed to find that at that time there were no opening for trainee chefs. “I ended up in the Coldstream Guards,” he smiled, “where I stayed for six years before I finally could move back to pick-up where I left off, this time in the Catering Corps. The problem was that I kept on being loaned-out because of the weapons expertise that I’d picked up in the Guards!”

       In 1979 Martin finished his ‘ticket’ and quickly found a suitable position, as Head Chef of the Amesbury Hotel, not far away from his army stomping ground, in Salisbury. And over the next several years his career progressed in leaps and bounds, with Martin gaining specialised experience as a pastry chef, before a sideways move into sales and marketing. “One of my golfing friends was the director of a big music company,” Martin recalled, “and he offered me a job in the promotion and marketing of his events. It was a fascinating challenge and I found that the constant variety was a refreshing change from being ‘house bound’. I ended up actually spending the next 15 years working in various niches of the industry.”

       His next move was to London’s prestigious Kensington Park Hotel, where he was appointed General Manager. It was during his time there that he met the woman he was eventually to marry (and also, incidentally, established his ties with Thailand, as that was where she hailed from). But then itchy feet finally set in. “I’d taken several holidays in Thailand by that time, and each of them had made the country look more attractive. And so it was that, in 2005, I made the radical decision to sell everything up and burn my boats, so to speak. I ended up on an English TEFL (teaching) course down in Had Yai, and after that spent an enjoyable few years freelancing and enjoying the variety of experiences that went with the territory.”

       But then another twist of fate. Martin had been gaining a reputation for creating tailormade English courses specifically for the corporate sector, and was offered the chance to set-up a new language school. As a result he worked in this sphere for some time as Director of Studies until, once again (in the early part of 2008) the fickle finger of fate pointed him in a new direction, and he was invited to ‘troubleshoot’ the ailing British Club in Bangkok as General Manager. Having successfully turned it's fortunes around, he decided to move on, and coincidentally noticed in the local classifieds, that Rocky’s was looking for a manager. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

       “I’ve never been any sort of career climber,” Martin mused. “Some people set their sights on a target then spend half their lives working towards it. I admire them for this, but it’s just not for me. Life’s just too rich and varied. Rocky’s is superb. It’s an exciting place to be and already has so much going for it that it’s a real challenge to try to make it even better. I spend as little time as I possibly can in the office, and make a point of getting to know every guest, greeting them when they arrive and personally being with them at the end of their stay. The staff here are great, really capable and involved, but I’ve created little competitions and games for them that are tied in with customer service – work should be enjoyable in all its aspects. ‘Work hard but have fun’ has always been one of my mottos, and Thai people relate to that!”

       And so too, it would seem, do Rocky’s guests. In the year that Martin has been General Manager, Rocky’s Boutique Resort has risen to 2nd place on TripAdvisor, and been featured on America’s CNN as one of the top five desirable holiday getaways in the world. And that’s quite an achievement by anybody’s standards!

       

 


 

Rob De Wet


 


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