When you book your summer holiday and rejoice at the thought of two weeks out of office, think about the people who have turned your once-in-a-lifetime trip into their day job. Louise Russell-Pavier, 32, and her partner Pete Mathers, 36, both originally from London, moved to Weligama on Sri Lanka’s south coast to manage three luxury villas owned by On Houses.
The pair, who moved almost a year ago have a working visa till the end of 2018 but say they might end up staying longer. And who can blame them? Living in a cottage on-site, surrounded by infinity pools, roof terraces and the Indian Ocean, the prospect of the 7.17am train into Waterloo isn’t too attractive.
As part of our series looking at the coolest jobs and how to get them, we got the lowdown on what it takes to be on holiday 365 days a year.
What does your job involve?
Louise says: “No two days are the same. We are in charge over the overall running of everything - we start with a nine o’clock staff meeting where we talk about anything everyone needs to know and what is happening that day and week. If we have guests we visit them around breakfast time as it’s a good chance to catch them all together and confirm their plans for the day.
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“The rest of our days are hugely varied, spent booking excursions, doing ongoing villa maintenance, accounting and financial forecasting, shopping for the villas and for guests, putting itineraries and menus together, staff training, working with contractors, trying to figure out why we don’t get enough water or the electric goes off, writing copy, dealing with travel agents, liaising with landscapers, dealing with the next door village and tuk tuk drivers, dealing with the council, sorting out licences, sourcing of massage oils. There are never enough hours in the day!”
How did you get into this field?
“Neither of us had done this before. We both worked in the travel industry for a combined 17 years (we met working for the same company), myself in PR and Pete in sales, marketing, journalism and PR. We had both been lucky enough to travel a huge amount, but always been based in the UK. We’d both separately always felt that living and working abroad was an itch that needed scratching, and so decided it was time to try and do something about it.
“Our experience in the travel industry set us up very well to do this, we’d both hosted journalists and travel agents on trips all over the world in numerous hotels. We’d worked very closely with many general managers before, but never been on the other side of the fence! So we took a risk, we were going in with no direct experience. But we’ve learnt as we go, we’ve been thrown in the deep end and we’ve had to learn very quickly.”
What was the application process like?
“We when we originally decided to get out of the London rat race after 10 years, we started to investigate the idea of going to run a safari lodge in Kenya as we have contacts there. One of the owners we sent our CV to wrote back saying they didn’t have an vacancies but she had worked on the design of a new place in Sri Lanka and they were looking for management.
“We were introduced to the On Houses Business Development Manager who is based in the UK, and it turned out we lived five minutes from each other in Putney. We met in our local pub, the following week we were having breakfast with the owners in a café in Richmond, and a week later we had a job offer.”
What’s the best and worst parts of your job?
“The best part is that we are living an adventure and doing something different, while getting to work together. There is a huge sense of satisfaction when you have wonderful and happy guests. Not to mention we are living in a tropical paradise!
“Of course we miss our friends and family, and there are frustrations to trying to get things done in a developing country.”
Do you have a good work/life balance?
“Any job in hospitality is going to come with long hours. Just this morning we were up at 3.30am welcoming guests from Qatar. But on the other side when we take a day off, we get to go to the beach, go and explore temples, go on safari and that’s when we have ’pinch yourself ’moments.
“The other thing is we are accruing lieu days during high season and when you add these to the 30 days leave we also get, come low season we can take long extended periods off when the villas are empty. There aren’t many jobs where you can go travelling for a month!”
What is a typical salary for your job?
“Anyone who has worked in hospitality abroad knows you do it for the lifestyle not for the money! We don’t get paid much, but we get accommodation, food, and two return flights home each a year included, so what we do earn is just for fun stuff.”
How do people react when you tell them what you do?
People ask if it is really like being on holiday 24/7 or does it feel like work. And we would say that we are working really hard, it is challenging but variable and we are learning so much. When we do have days which we spend on the beach, we realise how much we love it.