Director of Operations
Le Vasa Resort, Samoa
Location: Cape Fatusofia, Upolu, Samoa
Year established: 2006
Soraya May-Malagi is the Director of Operations of Le Vasa Resort in Samoa – a 16-room oceanfront hotel that she bought with her late husband in 2006. Since moving to Samoa from California USA, Soraya has built the business up to be one of the highest ranking resorts in Samoa on TripAdvisor and Hotel.com. In 2012, she was also voted by Westpac as one of the top 50 businesswomen in Samoa.
What inspired you start your own business?
We wanted to get out of the rat race and fast-paced lifestyle of San Francisco, California, USA. At the time I was working in real estate and my (late) husband was working in dot.com ventures, but we had a dream to live in a tropical environment. My mother was living in New Zealand and I wanted to be closer to her, but my husband preferred a tropical climate, so after travelling extensively through the South Pacific we started looking for places to potentially buy. It was actually my sister who found the property (the former Samoa Village Resort) advertised for sale in a New Zealand newspaper. It was the perfect fit for our dream to offer waterfront accommodation with amenities and activities for a pleasant holiday in an exotic place – so we bought it. That was in 2006.
What were the key moments along the way?
We spent the next few years developing the resort, through remodeling, and creating a unique environment. We encountered a number of challenges along the way including finding the right tradespeople, sourcing materials (both locally and overseas), cutting through the local red tape, learning who to trust and finding out there was a lack of networking here. Seeing the dream through and understanding what opportunities exist in this country wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be to start a life and business here!
What would you do differently?
We didn’t have any real experience in hospitality or hotels – other than staying in them on our travels! So one of the things I would do differently if I had my time again would be to educate myself more in the hospitality field, live in the country for a minimum of a year to understand what goes into running a successful business here. I’d also get a better overall plan and start marketing the business prior to opening.
What advise do you give to women wanting to set up a business in the Pacific? Educate yourself, live in the area you want to set the business up in, understand your competition and do something different to them, go over contracts thoroughly. Hire a lawyer to set up your business and review your contracts – and consider interviewing more than one lawyer.
What advice do you give to women about running a business?
Be assertive, read your contracts thoroughly. Find a good a support system and network with other local business owners. It’s also worthwhile getting involved with Rotary clubs, Yacht clubs and community projects to build your personal and business connection to the local community.
Visit Le Vasa Resort at www.levasaresort.com
Like many small tourism operators not only in the Pacific Islands but also around the world, the owners of Le Vasa Resort faced the challenge of how to compete against the ‘big players’ in the travel industry at a time when the ever-increasing shift to online travel planning and booking was leaving them behind. With the launch of a joint initiative between Pacific Islands Trade & Invest (PT&I), South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) and WHL Group to support SMME tourism operations in 2012, Le Vasa Resort has built its capacity to sell more rooms through effective online marketing and distribution. Read the case study here.