Joel Gordon can’t remember exactly what appealed to him about the hospitality trade – it was more an instinct, an inclination towards an industry that focused on creating memories and experiences for its guests. Whatever it was, he ‘just knew’ it was where he needed to be, believing in the strength of feeling passion for something being the main driver for success. “Sitting back in Year 12, many of my friends were being drafted to AFL teams, and I kept asking myself ‘What’s different about them; what’s the key factor behind their success?’. The answer was pretty clear – if I could find what I was passionate about, then I could succeed” says Joel.
“I’ve always been a big believer in the magic of hotels and hospitality experiences. Behind every great hotel is a great team creating experiences, which is what we’re aiming for at the Crystalbrook Collection.”
At the ripe old age of 30, Joel is General Manager of the newly opened Riley as well as Area General Manager of Cairns, responsible for the opening and operating of Crystalbrook’s second and third hotels – Bailey and Flynn – which will open in 2019 and 2020 respectively. By the time all three hotels are open and operational, Joel will have more than 500 staff working across the three Cairns’ hotels, and no false illusions when considering the size of the job ahead of him.
Tell us about your journey-to-GM – how did it all begin?
I come from a family of academics, but I spent most of my time on the football field. My mum was the primary school principle, so discipline was strict in our household, and with my sister being a doctor, the pressure was certainly on for me to succeed. Growing up in Ballarat (Victoria), I remember vividly simply wanting to make an impact with whatever I did.
I was granted entry into hotel management at Griffith University, and did very well. Whilst at university, I wrote out on a piece of paper my projected career map – the goal to be a GM by the time I was 30. My first defining role was at the Palazzo Versace where I focused on all front-facing departments including food and beverage, front office and concierge. I took the liberty of speaking frequently to the management team, telling them the story of my career mapping (which they loved). I always aimed to step above and beyond my job role, taking accountability and getting in front of the right people to get noticed – the plan was to always be strategic in getting where I needed to be.
I then moved into various management roles with Accor (Sofitel), the Doma Group in Canberra and Event Hospitality and Entertainment (Rydges and Atura) where Geoff Yorke asked me to be the opening GM for the Sydney property. I accepted and was humbled by his faith in me. When Geoff was appointed to Crystalbrook Collection as Group Director of Hotels, he offered me the Cairns GM role, which I jumped at. This is an extraordinary opportunity – to be involved in the starting of a new hotel company, overseeing three new projects in the space of 15 months, and operationally breaking the norms of what hotels are and do.
How will the Crystalbrook collection transform the tourism experience for tropical north queensland? We will focus very much on giving choice. We’re one of the few hotel brands in the world, and certainly the only in Cairns, that will offer smart phone check in. Of course, people can still go to reception – we’re still encouraging interaction – it’s simply that the future is all about choice. That choice will extend to entertainment – guests can stream their own entertainment via Staycast by Google Chromecast (the hotel version of Chromecast), and through to guest services. Guests will be able to message the Guest Services team requesting turn down, room service or concierge recommendations. We’re also mindful that the future of luxury includes being offline, so tapping into tuning out of technology for guests is also very important.
Whilst working alongside local tour operators and advocacy groups, Crystalbrook aims to be a lynchpin in the invigoration of luxury travel in Tropical North Queensland, with the creation of three future iconic venues.
What sets the Crystalbrook collection aside from its competition?
There is nothing quite like the Crystalbrook Collection in the Cairns market at the moment, which we see as a great opportunity within the hospitality industry in the North. More than just rooms and food and beverage outlets, Crystalbrook has a strong social impact perspective – the company will use its position to continue raising awareness and supporting the plight of environmental preservation. The company’s focus is on being able to embrace local culture and social/environmental issues that are at the core of the region whilst re-establishing confidence in the future of tourism industry in Tropical North Queensland.
What are your top must-do experiences for visitors to Cairns?
Well, outside of the Crystalbrook experience, I love the outdoors and adrenaline activities, so this is the perfect location to get an adventure fix! I ride motorbikes, so exploring the naturally beautiful rural areas outside of Cairns strikes high on the pastimes list. The road between Cairns and Port Douglas is exceptionally spectacular. Of course, getting out on the Great Barrier Reef is an absolute must. I’ve been over a dozen times since moving here, and every time is more breathtaking than the last. AJ Hackett in Smithfield has a great local’s membership for bungee jumping, so I’ve certainly made good use of that! Ultimately, I try to foster a ‘see the world you live in’ philosophy – it doesn’t matter where you are, live it and love it. It’s so important to keep interested in things outside of work in order to stay grounded. Much like my approach to career, it’s all about finding the thing that excites you.