Saffire Freycinet general manager Justin King has spent his career redefining luxury in hotels across the globe. Now back home in Australia, he tells Lauren Arena what it takes to be the best.

Justin King
General Manager
Saffire Freycinet

Q. What was your first job in the hotel business?

A. I was a doorman working for a small luxury hotel in London. It was the first time I learned that the individual can be much more important in making a memorable experience than the task he or she is given. The added bonus was parking some amazing cars!

Q. What is it about the industry that attracted you to hotels?

A. I grew up in my parents’ café in regional Victoria. From an early age I knew that I wanted to work in a service industry, but was unclear of how or where that would take me. I remember clearly one day my family took me to Melbourne for the weekend and we stayed in a large inner-city hotel. I was fascinated with the mechanics of the operation and how so many people can play a part in making guests happy.

Q. You’ve worked at several properties that have been recognised for service excellence and Saffire Freycinet was recently named Australia’s best resort-style accommodation by the Australian Hotels Association. What, in your opinion, is the key to creating exceptional guest experiences?

A. It’s become a cliché, but engagement is key to quality personalised service and this must be conveyed in a meaningful way, which is the challenge.

Q. You’ve worked in luxury hotels around the world. How do you define luxury?

A. I think luxury is the ability to make time stretch. It is the ability to make someone feel completely rested and rejuvenated in two or three days rather than two or three weeks. It is engaging, and friendly, and without pretention.

Q. What has working in the hotel business given you that you don’t think you could have achieved in any other profession?

A. I have met some amazing people and have travelled and worked in fantastic places around the world – that would never have happened in another industry.

Q. What do you like about it?

A. Every day is completely different. I go to work every morning not knowing what will happen. I love that about hotels.

Q. What do you dislike?

A. Pretention. It still exists, and in some places is seen as an important part of the appearance of ‘luxury’.

Q. Funniest/strangest guest request?

A. Discretion doesn’t allow me to say, however there are stories from my night management days in London that I will be telling my grandkids!

Q. How have you seen the business change?

A. The industry as a whole is becoming more interested in the idea of personalised service which is fantastic. More and more properties understand they are not selling beds, but rather an experience.

Q. If you had to pick a country for service excellence what would it be and why?

A. Nobody says Australia, however I genuinely believe we have an amazing mix of warm, genuine people who really do want to delight guests. I also believe many businesses are yet to embrace this. Similarly, Australia has become known as a destination for professional hoteliers. This means, in addition to the desire to delight, we have some of the most driven and capable talent around.

Q. How does Australia fare on the world stage?

A. Again, it is our ability to connect that makes the Australian service environment dynamic. It is my experience that many operators in the Australian hospitality industry genuinely want to help their guests and make a difference. Whenever you see ‘bad service’ it is often not due to the choice of staff, but rather that management have not given them the ability (i.e. training) or the permission (i.e. culture/team dynamics) to offer great service.

Q. What advice can you offer to people considering a move into hotel management?

A. For the right person it can be the most rewarding decision to make. The people you meet are amazing, and the places it will take you are incredible. m