“Once during breakfast, my Australian former General Manager of Melanesian Hotel asked me, ‘Joe in your career, what do you want to be in the future?’.
“I answered, ‘I want to sit on your chair as General Manager’.
“He burst out laughing, shaking his head. Then he looked me straight in the eye and asked, ‘Oh Joe, you realise your wish needs education as well as time?’
“I replied, ‘Sir even if it takes me ten years or fifteen years, I want to sit on your chair”.
All the rest is now history because after working for 30 years in the company, Joe Tamata Betsesai of Ambae/Vao Island, North East Malekula, has become the first ni Vanuatu General Manager of Moorings Hotel — a part of Melanesian Hotel.
A former College de Santo dropout, the young man grew up in an Anglophone environment with his mother on Ambae and Santo and is fluent in Ambaean.
After independence on July 30 of 1980, Joe Tamata went soul searching by travelling from South East Ambae where he was born, to the East and North of the island before moving to Santo with his mother where she became a seamstress at Santo Hospital.
It was there that a man from Port Olry with an air rifle taught him how to use it. “I fell in love with the rife but I had no money to buy one. I borrowed the gun and shot flying foxes on nearby trees and sold them to the hospital staff. That was how I earned enough money to buy my own air rifle”, he remembers with pride as well as nostalgia.
Unlike other young men from Ambae, he even dared to travel down south to Whitesand on Tanna to live with a man called Willie that he befriended in Luganville. He stayed for over one year and tried to buy copra from the local communities on the island. “I made my contacts then made the mistake of telling Willie about my project. He outsmarted me by going first and buying all the copra before I could get there and my attempt at business collapsed.
Joe Tamata returned to Port Vila and scouted the few hotels at the time and found Solaise Hotel (located at empty plot between Cine Hickson and Melanesian Hotel).
“I turned up at Soalise a number of times until the General Manager, a New Zealander called Harry Patterson appeared and I plucked up the courage to ask for a job. It was not easy to talk to a white man in those days. I had no training skills whatsoever in hospitals but bang, he replied, “Come to work on Monday next week”, he recalls with his usual smile.
Joe Tamata began his job in the restaurant as a cleaner and as sure as the sun rises every morning, he gradually worked his way up the ranks of every sector of the hotel; through restaurant and bar, housekeeping, front desk and finally, to the post of Operations Manager. His smiling face also became the face of the hotel.
Under the management of his Japanese employer, he was promoted to the post of General Manager of Moorings Hotel — a part of MelanesianHotel last year.
Among the valuable lessons he has learned under the company’s Japanese management, is to iron out unnecessary expenses and focus on developing new areas to attract more clients.
For couples dreaming of getting married or photographed engulfed by the glorious rays of a romantic sinking sun, there is no better place than on Mooring’s Seafront Bay Balcony! Check it out, seeing is believing.
The General Manager says there are plans to turn the front of the balcony into a ‘natongtong’ wall to absorb waves while promoting marine habitat.
Once upon a time the bay front was reported to be a rich natural habitat for fish and crabs. “In fact we have started a natongtong nursery which we hope to plant in front of our balcony”, he says.
Another important initiative under his management is a project to replant coral in front of the hotel.
In terms of training, he has started training a young F&B Manager and a young man to succeed him at the end of his three-year term.
“Follow your dream, be passionate about what you want to be. You have to be a go-getter. The days of spoon feeding are long gone”, are words of encouragement by the General Manager to all school leavers.
(For the record Joe Tamata is a grandson of a man from Ambae called Paul Toalumlum, who before or following World War Two, was reported to have dared to build a business empire between the islands of Santo, Ambae, Pentecost, Ambrym and Malekula.
“While today we do not have any records of his business exploits, what we as his family understand is that he used to work for Donald Gibby Construction at Santo and went on to own a ship and a fleet of lorries and set up businesses on the islands where he traded”, says his grandson.
“We understand that he set up a movement like the present day cooperative movement where he bought copra from the farmers and set up business links with them.
“Unfortunately we do not know what became of his fortune when he died. He was buried at Vovo Village in North West Malekula. Even I did not see him. My mother was his daughter. My first born brother called Toalumlum still lives at Vovo Village”.)