Desmond O’Connor joined The Oyster Box as General Manager in January of this year. A veteran of the hospitality industry with two decades of experience, to be General Manager of The Oyster Box has long been a dream. Here we catch up with Desmond to see how he’s settling in and learn what he has planned for the future.
Firstly, how did you get into hospitality?
“I never intended to pursue a career in hospitality, so fate most certainly played a role. I started as a casual banqueting waitron and later head barman at the Sandton Sun Hotel. This was merely a means to earn some spending money before starting university, yet this was where the love affair began. I was sold on the idea of being a hotelier.
I did a three-year internship, then launched my career, specialising in banqueting and food & beverage in various hotels. The next progression was that of executive assistant manager at a large five-star hotel in Cape Town. I was then presented with an opportunity to become a general manager of not only a five-star hotel, but of a newly opening property. This daunting task allowed me to grow exponentially in overall hotel operations and steer my expertise from food & beverage to the rooms division. Thereafter I had the honour of being a general manager at four other properties – one being another successful opening of a large five-star hotel in Cape Town.
Recently, I joined as General Manager of The Oyster Box in Umhlanga, Durban, which has always been a lifelong dream.”
What drew you to Umhlanga?
“This question has one answer: The Oyster Box. That said, the village of Umhlanga appeals because of various factors: the people, their warmth and genuine interest and the great climate.
I’ve been very fortunate in that I frequented this part of the world before joining The Oyster Box, which has made my arrival that much easier. But the biggest reason for an easy adjustment must have been the team here at the hotel. They have been tremendous in their welcoming assistance and support and it has created a sense of homecoming for me rather than a new start.”
It has been your long-held dream to be The Oyster Box’s General Manager. How did it feel to get the role?
“The phrase that comes to mind is: ‘like a kid in a candy store’. I really cannot describe the feelings of exuberance, joy, excitement that I’ve felt every day since I started. To know that I may be the envy of many a peer in our industry gives me a small sense of pleasure.
Essentially, I feel an immense sense of pride in having been allowed to become part of a hotel that is steeped in such rich history and tells the story of Mr and Mrs Tollman and their love for the hospitality industry.”
On that note, how does The Oyster Box compare to your earlier impression of the hotel?
“The hotel, team and offerings are exactly what I expected. There have been one or two “Easter eggs,” or surprises. One of these is the number of guests who have returned over the years and literally have grown up in The Oyster Box, going back as far as the opening of the very first and original Oyster Box.”
Can you walk us through a day as GM of The Oyster Box?
“My day is spent mostly in the various operational departments – Front Desk, Concierge and Food & Beverage – interacting with guests and team members alike. This allows me to be a true host and is one of the highlights of my role. I’ve been tasked as the custodian of The Oyster Box by Mr and Mrs Tollman, which not only includes guest and team satisfaction, but also the running of the business.”
How do you spend your time off?
“I’ve been in Umhlanga now for one month, of which most of my time has been spent either at the hotel or moving into my new apartment, so I’ve had very little time to explore. I’m a keen mountain biker, so I’m planning on doing some of the trails very soon.”
Sustainability is at the heart of The Oyster Box. How do you plan on developing the hotel’s emphasis on responsible tourism?
“Sustainability is very dear to me and I believe it should be a priority. It’s therefore vital to emphasise sustainability in our guest service delivery and our staff development and appreciation,” Desmond tells us.
The Oyster Box is famous for its forward-thinking sustainability initiatives, some of which it delivers through partnership with its conscientious guests. There are several ways guests can make travel matter while enjoying The Oyster Box’s incredible location. For every key card returned to reception, a donation of R1.00 is made to Rhinos Without Borders; meanwhile, guests may take a Beach Cleanup bucket from the hotel, fill it with litter from the beach and return it in exchange for a well-earned masterful cocktail from our bar teams—little ones can participate, too, for a decadent milkshake reward.
In addition to joint initiatives with our guests, The Oyster Box is at the forefront of large-scale waste reduction. Across our hotels, we are committed to eliminating single-use plastic by 2022; miniature toiletries constitute a large percentage of overall hotel wastage, and so we are replacing our single-use toiletries with larger, luxury refillables. Likewise, at The Oyster Box we are implementing Winnow Solutions to reduce our food waste. Winnow is an AI-enabled system that tracks food wastage and then provides detailed advice to kitchens on how to reduce that wastage. Food waste can be reduced by more than 50 per cent.
"It is my firm belief that we can still deliver excellence in our service while decreasing the impact that The Oyster Box has on planet Earth and its resources,” Desmond concludes.
Desmond joined Red Carnation Hotels’ The Oyster Box in January 2020, where he has already settled into his role with ardent enthusiasm and visible dedication.