New Tourism Industry Council president talks tough

Saturday August 29, 2020 Written by Published in Weekend
Muri Beach Club Hotel general manager Liana Scott. 20082834/35/36 Muri Beach Club Hotel general manager Liana Scott. 20082834/35/36

It’s not textbook management. But Liana Scott doesn’t care. The tourism boss’s forthright style gets results – and if others won’t step up, she will. 

Liana Scott considers herself a natural leader. She prefers to let her actions speak louder than words.

That has meant getting down on her hands and knees and scrubbing the kitchen floor, when her staff leaves it unfinished.

For the general manager of Muri Beach Club Hotel, leading by example is the best way to get job done.

“If I want something done, for example, if I see the kitchen is not cleaned properly, I would just grab a scrubbing brush get on my hands and knees and start scrubbing.

“The staff would be like ‘we can do it, leave it’ but I’m like ‘no I have asked you several times and you are not doing it properly so I’m going to do it myself’.

“I think if you get stuck in and they see that you know the job as much as they know it then they start respecting you.”

When the business hit a rough patch with a shortage in kitchen staff, Scott and her operations manager stepped in to cook meals for their guests.

“I remember cooking a meal and I forgot something really basic like a rice bowl and it was a very busy night and I was saying to myself, ‘do I say something now and apologise and just give it late or do I just not say anything’.

“I think I ended up not saying anything and it didn’t come back.”

The experience also made her realise the areas they were overspending on.

“When other people work for you, they don’t have much as concern for costs and things like that. I think the experience really helped me get behind business to understand things like that and help improve in those areas.”

While Scott banks on her staff to deliver, the theft of hotel takings by one of her trusted workers has got her thinking. The former wedding and events manager was this week sentenced to more than two years’ prison for stealing $60,000.

“What this proves, and my message to employers, is no matter whether you think you can place absolute trust in an employee, strict procedures and checks should always be practiced to deter any temptation.”

But generally, Scott says the relationship between her and the staff is reciprocal.

Sometimes she would get calls at two in the morning from her staff because “they are in trouble and need some help”.

“There are times when I would need them at 2am when the rooms start getting flooded and they are there. It’s reciprocal up to certain extent.”

Liana Scott didn’t study tourism, formally. She considers herself to be “street smart” in the industry.

Growing up, Scott says she wasn’t interested much in tourism and didn’t realise she was part of it, despite starting her career as a travel agent.

She joined Air New Zealand as a travel agent in 1999. She was 17 then, the youngest Air NZ staffer.

Before that, she did some school holiday work with the Edgewater Resort and The Rarotongan in housekeeping, kitchen, restaurant, front office and other departments.

At home, she would help out at her dad’s business, Scott’s Farm, which specialises in poultry.

Scott worked at Air NZ for five and a half years before joining Island Hopper Vacations as a travel agent, looking after local and international market.

The Muri Beach Club Hotel, owned by her father John Scott, was still under construction then. She would occasionally help out in whatever odd jobs she could find.

“Things were quite stressful at the end of the build, you know what’s it like, money is tight things need to be finished by completion date and so forth.

“I left Island Hopper to assist wherever I could. At the farm I delivered eggs then I come down here to paint a wall. I was just like the extra pair of hands.”

Scott says when the hotel opened for business there was construction work still going on. On the opening day, she remembers the hotel bar top didn’t arrive so they had to cut plywood and made a makeshift bar top.

“We had the curtains drawn because 50 per cent of the rooms were not complete.”

Scott started off tending the bar and worked in the restaurant, reception and other departments before taking over the wedding business at the hotel.

She took over the general manager role about five years ago although at that time, she says “I didn’t want the responsibility and was not confident in making difficult decisions.”

Liana Scott’s meteoric rise in the industry did not go unnoticed. She soon became a prominent member in the local Tourism Industry Council.

Earlier this month, she was appointed the new president of the Council after the passing of Sue Fletcher-Vea.

Scott says she is too busy. Not just managing the hotel, but other businesses she runs with her partner. There are buggy and quad rentals, cars rentals, scooters rentals, they have some hillside bungalows and two to three-bedroom villas.

With Covid-19 bringing tourism to a standstill, freeing her from most of her business commitments, Scott decided to take up the Tourism Industry Council challenge.

“I always turned down the position before. I didn’t have the time and I couldn’t commit, and if I did, I would be sacrificing somewhere else like my business or family time.

“When Covid happened, I really didn’t have any excuse. I was thrown at the deep end because of, sadly, Sue’s passing.

“Then I thought, well, I’m a Cook Islander, I have lived here my whole life and if there is going to be some big changes which is happening right now at government level and we can influence those changes, why don’t I be part of that change?”

Scott says one of her major focus in the new role is to get a membership drive going, especially for Cook Islanders who are part of the industry.

“Sometimes Cook Islanders are not proactive enough and when things happen, they complain about it later. We need to be involved now.

“There are some big life-changing decisions being made at the top and unless we’re going to be there, putting our hands up and voice our concerns, things are going to be steamrolled before you know we at a position we don’t want to be in.”

Scott says they are also weighing options on how to survive if the border closure goes longer than anyone expects.

Personally, she doesn’t see tourists returning until next year.

“I think it’s important to give everyone the facts – bad or good – they need it. People need to do some cash flow checks to see how much they have in their banks and if they can survive until then.

“People also need to do some reality checks and see whether it’s better closing their business, going to New Zealand and coming back maybe in six months when things start to recover.”

Scott says a lot of businesses here should temporarily close down so they can save some expenses like insurance and power bills.

“I’m probably better off closing completely now but to come back out of that is something which can prove costly. For instance, if the air-cons are not run regularly, they start to become faulty and it costs $3000 a unit to change it.”

Scott says there are a lot of industry members who are too shy to admit they are struggling.

“They don’t want to be the first person or second person to admit they are struggling. No one wants people to know what their financial position is like.

“They are keeping a little bit quiet but in the end side they having sleepless nights, they are scared, they got anxieties and some are feeling like they are being victimised because Cook Islands will only look after Cook Islanders first and foremost.”

Scott says this is probably one of the toughest period for her business, too, but admits she finds some comfort that there are others who are going through the same.

“Looking at the future, it’s going to be different. I don’t know exactly how but I think people should be willing and ready to adopt to changes. It will be a new reality, either that or fall behind.”

1 comment

  • Comment Link Tony  Jana Jones Saturday, 29 August 2020 10:46 posted by Tony Jana Jones

    Well done Liana, you deserve the best after always giving your best. Say hi to all your staff. Wheel be back next year.
    Cheers Tony & Jana Jones

Leave a comment