After leaving his northern European roots far behind, Elias Pertoft has built a stellar hospitality career that’s taken him to some of the world’s most beautiful natural environments. The Insider met him to discover more…
A deserted beach. The azure sea gently lapping over fine golden sands. Sun resplendent in the cloudless sky… sounds amazing, doesn’t it? A dream scenario? Now imagine that this is not only reality, it’s also your place of work!
This is what sets a hospitality career apart from almost any other: the almost limitless possibilities to live and work in ‘paradise’ locations. Just ask Elias Pertoft, who as General Manager is currently leading the pre-opening phase of an extraordinary new Waldorf Astoria property situated on its own island in the Seychelles.
It’s just the latest stunning location in which Elias has plied his trade. These have included Richard Branson’s legendary Necker Island in the Caribbean; Soneva Resort in Thailand; Rosewood Luang Prabang in Laos; plus several others.
It’s a far cry from growing up in the chilly northern European climate of Sweden; and Elias admits that escaping the dreary, long winters was a big motivator when he headed to Thailand with ambitions to become a dive instructor.
“I knew I loved the ocean and that dive instructing was a great way to travel and live; so I went to Thailand for what I thought would be six months. Now, 20 years later, I never went home!”
The passion principle
If it seems quite a leap from dive instructing to becoming an in-demand luxury resort GM, the story is actually a perfect illustration of hospitality’s fundamental truth: if you can be passionate about your job, connect with guests, and find new ways to surprise and delight them, you’ll go far in this industry.
“I met my wife while I was in Thailand, but then the (2004) Tsunami hit and pretty much wiped out the beach area in Khao Lak, where we were based. So we moved to Australia, then Fiji, then Borneo. After this, the chance came up to work with Aman Resorts, running the dive center at Amanwana in Indonesia. Then Aman launched a very exclusive private charter yacht, Amanikan, and we were asked to run that operation; creating the itineraries and taking the guests out on adventures around the islands of Indonesia’s Flores Sea, like Komodo and Raja Ampat.
“This was such a cool role, and we ended up doing it for something like six years. There was myself and my wife, plus a crew of 10, and we had a maximum of six guests on board. We had no fixed itineraries – it was like ‘where do you want to go and what would you like to do?’. It could be going to see Komodo Dragons or dropping into a village where they hadn’t seen foreigners for 20 years. We felt like explorers, and that we’d landed the job of our lives. We were so passionate and we were able to get that enthusiasm across to the guests. They just loved it, and very often they’d book the second cruise before the first one was over!”
“There was myself and my wife, plus a crew of 10, and we had a maximum of six guests on board. We had no fixed itineraries – it was like ‘where do you want to go and what would you like to do?’. It could be going to see Komodo Dragons or dropping into a village where they hadn’t seen foreigners for 20 years. We felt like explorers, and that we’d landed the job of our lives. We were so passionate and we were able to get that enthusiasm across to the guests. They just loved it, and very often they’d book the second cruise before the first one was over!”
Talent spotted by Aman
Such natural hospitality skills didn’t escape the management at Aman. The result was Elias and wife Sayaka being invited to join the company’s fast-track management training scheme, with a view to becoming General Managers.
“I couldn’t cook a meal; I couldn’t clean a room; but if you’re my guest I do know how to wow you during your short time with us. And that’s still what I do today in my morning meetings with the team – here’s what the guest did yesterday, what do we suggest for him today? It’s about leading the guest through their experience, not just giving them a menu and asking questions.
“I want a stay with us to feel like when you visit a friend or family member in another country and they show you the very best of that destination, so you can experience it properly.”
Elias’ path to the GM’s office also took him via Glion, and an online MBA which he studied between 2014 and 2016, and which could be seen as a forerunner of today’s flexibly taught Executive Master’s degrees.
“This was an important step for me, because I knew the role from the ground up, but I didn’t really have much certification to prove my knowledge”
“This was an important step for me, because I knew the role from the ground up, but I didn’t really have much certification to prove my knowledge. I learned a lot which I’ve used later in my career with brands like Rosewood and now Hilton, especially the commercial elements like KPIs, business scenarios, financing models, and so on. But more than that, we had assistant GMs or full GMs from all over the world on that course, and it was great to work with them and for us all to have the opportunity to share experiences.”
Since graduating from Glion, Elias has steered the openings of some stunning resorts, or in the case of Necker Island a reopening, after the property was devastated by Hurricane Irma in 2017. When the opportunity at Waldorf Astoria Seychelles Platte Island came his way, Elias jumped in without hesitation.
“Hilton is obviously a massive global operator, but they’re still relatively new to the ultra-luxury remote island resort space. So, for this project they were looking for somebody who knew island hospitality intimately, but who also really cared about preserving the abundant and pristine nature that provides the unique feature of the island.”
Perhaps the most striking of the island’s fauna are the hundreds of hawksbill turtles that lay their eggs on its beaches every year. Conservation of these breeding grounds is built into the resort’s ‘license to operate’.
“You see this in the design of our villas, which are set back from the beach to eliminate light pollution that would disturb the turtles,” notes Elias. “Offshore, we’re working with a company called Blue Safari, which operates fly fishing and ocean safari trips but also helps to protect the waters from over-fishing by educating the local commercial fishermen in sustainable methods.
“On-property, we’re 100% solar power; plus we’ll produce our own water through desalination. Our aim is to make a net positive impact on the island,” Elias says.
Although nature plays a starring role in the Waldorf Astoria Seychelles Platte Island experience, there will also be plenty of luxury touches in and around the property itself. Guests arrive on the island by light plane, landing on a purpose-built airstrip. Once in the resort there’s a choice of one- or two-bedroom villas, as well as larger residences of up to five bedrooms. Three signature restaurants provide a choice encompassing seafood, farm-to-table, or Creole, the popular Seychellois cuisine.
The spa and wellness facilities, meanwhile, also exemplify the paradise island mentality that Elias wants to foster.
“This is wellness in its broadest context – so there’ll be more ‘traditional’ spa treatments, but you’ll also be able to do yoga on the tip of the island, massages in the ocean, wellness eating and wellness meditation exercises… there are lots of things you can combine to discover some better habits before you return home.”
For Elias, the key to great hospitality is making unique memories that last a lifetime. To provide an example, he recalls his own travels and staying at the Sofitel Metropole in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi. There he visited the tunnels under the hotel where the actress and campaigner Jane Fonda had hidden during an air attack in the Vietnam War.
“These kinds of historical stories stay with you. And it’s what we want to offer, focusing on nature instead of world history. We’ll do sea safaris that will be just like African safaris, in that you won’t know what you’re going to spot. It might be whales, manta rays, turtles – it’s up to nature what she shows us, but even if that turns out to be nothing, our guests still get to enjoy some good wine and a beautiful sunset!”
As with all hotel pre-openings, time is somewhat of an elastic concept; however, the target is to open in February 2024, with reservations due to open soon.
With the Waldorf Astoria project nearing fruition, it seemed a good moment to ask Elias about future trends in an industry that’s given him so much.
“I think the future for true luxury hospitality will be these immersive, eye opening experiences that come from rare access to cultures and to pristine nature. In this world of Instagram we want to be one of the few who have visited a place and seen it the right way. I think it will become less about the room amenities and more about how this kind of life changing experience is put together.
“But it has to be personal – it cannot just be a group of 30 people following a guy with a flag. I think it’s becoming more and more clear that there are a few bucket list destinations around the world that do it exceptionally well and let each and every guest experience the best of the place. They might be more expensive than others; but if you have a team of 300 taking care of 50 guests, you can make this very personalized experience happen.”
- To discover more about the new Waldorf Astoria Seychelles Platte Island, visit the website
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