“My family has been in the hospitality for the last 20 years. I have always helped in the family business on Curacao and was always interested to eventually move to Curacao and get into hospitality.” It did not take very long until Robbin Vogels (31) found himself in the travel industry with an important title.
After finishing his economic studies in Amsterdam, Robbin worked at a commercial real estate company for only a few years. Robbin was not inspired in his job and was looking for a new challenge.
At the age of 26, Robbin’s father called with an important question. ‘Would you like to run the Avila Beach Hotel here on Curacao?’ The hotel was on auction and Robbin’s father, Will Vogels, always dreamed of buying this hotel and give his son the opportunity of running the hotel.
The Avila Beach Hotel is a 150-room hotel with 3 restaurants and he oldest operating hotel on the island with a rich history. The hotel is a beachfront hotel located on walking distance of the historic city centre. It is essentially a concept of a luxury hotel where you can authentically experience Curacao.
“We accomplish this with storytelling, 95% local employees and local dishes in the restaurants.”
The Avila Beach Hotel distinguishes itself from other competitors with the rich history of the hotel, the level of service and warmth of the employees, the uniqueness of the hotel and the dedication and love of a family-owned hotel.
Five years later, after Robbin took over the operations, the Avila Beach Hotel became a hotel with one of the best ADR and Occupancy rates of Curacao.
“My philosophy was that I wanted to pick the low hanging fruits. So, fix quick fixes, reduce costs that were easily reduced, use new technologies to reduce labour costs and improve revenues. Make sure that people started to work more productively and make sure that pictures, videos and other promotions were finetuned and professionalized.”
When starting a business and making it profitable: “Get to know your financials. Learn how to read income statements, balance sheets and detailed P&L statements.
“Don’t be afraid of making decisions. It is better to make a bad decision than to not make a decision at all.”
‘The past five years had many successes for Robbin and the hotel but there where many challenges Robbin had to face as a young entrepreneur. One of the biggest challenges for Robbin in the first year was taking over the hotel. “I had to manage 170 employees of whom were twice my age or had been working with the company longer than I was alive. I overcame this challenge by being respectful and showing them that I was also willing to put in hard work and long hours. And also by showing them when business is going well, and share it with the employees.
This challenge was five years ago. At this moment Robbin is facing a much bigger challenge. Not only Robbin as a General Manager of a hotel, but the whole world is facing the Covid-19 pandemic. The economy of Curacao consists of 80% Tourism. As soon as the island went into lockdown and no more tourists could visit the island, Curacao’s community experienced a tough time. For Robbin, this meant that there was a 0% occupancy rate in the Hotel.
Robbin came with many solutions to still generate a bit of cash flow. One of his solutions was to focus more on local tourism, start delivery services and selling vouchers for future stays. Furthermore, Robbin focused on cutting costs, improving efficiency and finding more ways of generating revenue.
Robbin stays positive and works hard every day to make the best out of it during this pandemic. ‘Never waste a good crisis’ Robbin said.
“During the pandemic other opportunities are taken in order to be stronger in the future.”