We speak to Graham Vass, Development Director, Mantis St Helena, for the latest news on the new Main Street hotel.
How are renovations progressing and when will the hotel open?
The renovations are going very well. We did have some water shortages and concrete work is quite thirsty, but it didn’t really disrupt us. It was something we had to be mindful of and now we have more rain than we need. We’re probably about 22 days behind schedule at this moment in time, but we’re confident that we can catch that up between now and completion date, which is still scheduled for July/August this year.
What is the latest news on recruitment?
Lots of good news on recruitment! We have recruited Matt Joshua as our General Manager, who is well known and well respected on the island and is a perfect choice in so many respects. He’s St Helenian, which was my first criteria, and he’s been nurtured, supported and of course funded by Enterprise St Helena and others on the island to qualify him for this position, so it really is a fabulous appointment and I’m very happy for Matt; I think it is a life changer for him. He will be joining me on the 1 August and I will hand over the hotel to him and get out of his way so that he can take control, otherwise you never know who’s actually running the place.
We always said we would probably have one expatriate and that is the chef. I have found a chef in South Africa who is Scottish and he will be coming across in May with his wife and child. He is a really exceptional chef with a very fine background. He is passionate about using local produce, getting involved in local cuisine and about living on St Helena as this is something he has wanted to do for many years, so I have great confidence that he will be the ideal fit for the island.
For the other senior positions I have now interviewed or sent the offer letters. I am in the final stages of appointing the top team in the hotel. We have had excellent responses from St Helenians on-island, on the RMS or working abroad, particularly the Falklands, Ascension and the UK. I will have offer letters out to the six senior positions in the hotel by the end of the week and we will consolidate at that stage. I don’t want to go ahead and recruit the entire staff until we know what is happening with air access and the demand for the hotel, as we might initially only open a limited number of rooms and have food and beverage offerings, so we will staff accordingly.
How many people are currently working on the project?
There’s about 30 people working on the hotel, but it does change from day to day. We have some outside contractors with specialist skills, for example Solomon’s are helping with the staircases. So there are people coming and going.
Of the 30 people employed on a fulltime basis, 10 are the original South African team we brought across and 20 are local people, either directly employed by us or working for sub-contractors. That would mean around 60 to 65% of the work force on the project are St Helenians.
What are the biggest challenges of the project?
Without any shadow of a doubt, logistics. Logistics pose a real challenge working on the island as anyone will tell you; getting things here, getting them on-time and the shipping, being constantly aware of the RMS schedule as we are so heavily reliant upon that and if there are any changes then it has a knock-on effect to ourselves.
The other challenge is working on a very tight, restricted site. We have so little space around us to store goods. We have container space on the wharf but we have to unpack those containers, and we just simply don’t have enough space on site, so we are desperately looking for alternative storage spaces and that does tend to be a challenge on occasion, but where there’s a will there’s a way.
What has been the best moment so far?
There have been so many. The finding of the old well was for me a highlight because it really is an important relic of early Jamestown and we will do all we can to preserve that.
Another highlight is seeing the local workforce so enthusiastic at work, and they really are a great team of guys with constant banter amongst themselves and their work productivity is generally very good.
We have been able to integrate into the society of Jamestown with support from many people for the hotel, and support for what we are doing and a great number of people have made us feel very welcome, and we are very grateful for that.