Victoria Hotels & Resorts are known for their genuine hospitality and friendliness. This is largely due to the General Managers who develop such a culture. In this series, we sit down with the General Managers of various Victoria properties to find out about their hotels and for insider tips on their locales. In this post, we chat with Sebastien Rodriguez, General Manager at Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort & Spa.
How did you get into the hospitality industry?
When I was 16, my school organized some visits for students to see what kind of career they might want. One day, we visited a catering school, then a wood factory… When I saw people working in the kitchen, that really pulled me in, the atmosphere of it all. I knew it was for me. From the beginning, I believed that I would become a chef. My father is Spanish and my mother is French, so they were two very big gastronomic influences.
But cooking was tough, especially when you reach a high standard. It was frustrating for me because the result was a beautiful, delicious dish, but you didn’t get to see people enjoying it. I enjoyed being in the front of house ? close to the kitchen, seeing what the chef was thinking and the philosophy behind the dish but also close to people.
What brought you to Vietnam?
Opportunity brought me here. A friend of mine from the same catering school in France was leaving his position so he asked me if I wanted to replace him. I spent 3.5 years managing a restaurant in Hanoi, then managed the Victoria Express Train [between Hanoi and Lao Cai / Sapa], then Victoria Hoi An as the F&B manager. I’ve now been the General Manager at Victoria Phan Thiet for four years. I was discovering Asia and myself at the same time!
Vietnam is a very interesting country, from north to south. People are different, with a different mentality. Even the language changes!
For me, I really enjoy driving in the dirt and tough conditions, offroading… I love meeting local people and the interaction. This is where I fell in love with Vietnam. After two weeks, I knew I wanted to live here. I was 24 at the time, and a few things kind of shocked me, like seeing an 80-year-old woman working in the rice fields. These people have nothing and yet they give you everything. I realized that it’s not very important to own things; it’s more important to live.
What’s it like to live in Phan Thiet / Mui Ne?
Mui Ne is really special. There are two seasons: high and low and Mui Ne changes a lot. During high season, everyone is busy. The streets, the clubs and restaurants, there are people everywhere. During the low season, it’s mainly local tourism at the weekends. Life is more quiet. Phan Thiet is not like Nha Trang or other beach cities; it’s still a bit preserved from mass tourism. I think it’s quite nice if you want to go to the beach and still feel like you’re in Vietnam, which is very important to me.
Ke Ga Beach
Any recommendations for somewhere nearby to visit that most tourists might overlook?
I love going to the Ke Ga Beach about 40km south of Victoria Phan Thiet because there’s hardly anyone there. It’s really preserved from tourism. You can really interact with local people who are not involved in the tourism industry. The roads there are in good condition. Sometimes we’ll also rent dirt bikes to go to the sand dunes and go off trail.
What do you like best about managing Victoria Phan Thiet?
Well, I like the beach everywhere in the world. The former GM said about the Vietnamese that they were very smart people, but the education level in Phan Thiet can be very low. Many people live off of fishing. At Victoria, we set up high standards, from 36 hours of training per year minimum across the board, everyone from the gardener to the GM. University teachers come 2.5 months during summer holidays to give English lessons to the staff.
The property is also beautiful ? the size, the infrastructure. Our smallest room is 70 sqm which makes a big difference. There are only 57 rooms on 7 hectares, so lots of privacy and it feels intimate. Even when the hotel is full, you never feel it.
I’m very proud to work for [Victoria] because they are very concerned about the environment and society. We just finished a GeoTube project to restore the beach at Victoria Phan Thiet and the company was really concerned about the flora and fauna while improving the property itself. We are also supporting an orphanage owned by a French couple. It started with only a few babies and now they have up to 30 children, but more importantly, they opened a school next to it with 60-80 students. We wish to give these children an opportunity to choose a career like I did myself, perhaps even to work in the hospitality industry.