When you listen to the fairytale story of the owner of the always fully booked 42-room Motel Tropicana in Central Luganville, Kenneth Iav, you simply shake your head in disbelief that the most sought after motel in the Northern Town is owned by a former Class 6 leaver of Hog Harbour Village on East Santo.
Not only that but together with his wife from Malo, they have quietly moved down into Port Vila last year and out-tendered about 20 applicants in the Capital and now own their second Tropicana, the seven apartments building next to Atmosphere opposite the short cut to Belleview.
Iav and his wife have three children. The eldest is a daughter who is completing her accounting course at USP in Fiji and is graduating this year.
“To be honest, I ended my schooling at class six in my village at Hog Harbour. I saw my struggles and since then I have become determined to make sure my children go to school and study well. My wife and I are determined that education is the key for our children’s future”, Iav says.
Asked if his daughter is going to work in Port Vila or Luganville, he answers, “I wanted my daughter to study business as an accountant to come home and work in our family company as an accountant because she saw my struggles and understands what it means”.
How did the idea for Iav to invest in hospitality industry all started? “My brother and former MP, Sandy Kelvin (Iav) used to work with then Tour Vanuatu in Port Vila. He returned to Santo with a Hilux vehicle and started providing public transport to transport market to town. I helped him by doing the night runs while he drove in the day.
“One day I asked if he could help me with one vehicle, as the bank knew him through his business dealings, and he agreed to secure a taxi for me. That was the start of my journey into the business world when vehicles were still cheap from 1980-1984-1986.
“Thanks to my brother, the bank came to know me too so when I completed my obligation with my first vehicle, I bought another and I advanced into public transport with a bus as well”.
Iav also helped provide employment for his young relatives when they returned home from school. “I started my investment through transport when I bought an empty plot of land in Luganville and returned to my bank to help me build a house to rent on it”, he says.
“I was slightly scared as I had no money and presented my business proposal and my bank told me, ‘We are only interested in the valuation of your plot of land’. I gave it to them and they gave me the necessary loan to build my first house for rent. I completed the loan and this business became my asset plus my other three vehicles which all provided public transport.
“With this backing, I returned to the bank and borrowed Vt6.5 million to secure this commercial property where Motel Tropicana is located”.
At the beginning, Iav was an employee for Hotel Santo, a driver that picked up guests for the hotel from the airport and also handled the tours for the hotel. “I also know what the bible says that I have to become the head and not the tail so sometimes I felt discouraged when I arrived at the hotel to find my employer had already given the tours to someone else”, he recalls.
“I had no peace in my heart and it got to the stage where I felt I had to have something for myself, to own it in order to have peace. I decided there and then not to become a ‘work boy’ for another person, I wanted to own something for myself.
“That was my vision and God knows my purpose for my existence which is why today my wife and I have something to stand on and claim it for ourselves through our faith and belief”.
Quizzed to explain how he came up with the vision for the magnificent 42-room motel, he says he and his wife hired an architect from Malo Island called Frank. Together they discussed and corrected each other until they agreed to the plan.
He and his wife hired a local builder from North West Malekula to build the motel. “We started with 22 rooms on the ground floor and the business went on to develop to where we successfully added another 20 rooms on the first floor.
“The building is developed in a Letter U shape and it was an indigenous plan according to our vision. It was not copied from elsewhere.
“We did not want to waste any space because we worship a Big God and we wanted to make sure we made use of every space which explains why all the spaces on the ground have been made use of for the benefit of our guests”.
Investor Iav has this message for all other ni Vanuatu men and young men, “To become involved in something like what my wife and I have achieved, lthe key to success is in the home. Your home must be in order first to enable you to succeed in your vision. If you are married, you the husband must work with your wife because you have made a vow before the pastor that for better or for worse, only death will separate the two of you and you will find that God will richly bless you and your family”.
Asked about his investment connection with Port Vila, he smiles with a tingle in the eye and replies, “I was asked if I wanted to invest in the hospitality industry in Port Vila and I came down to have a look at a number of buildings in the suburbs of Port Vila.
“One particular one interested me which stands just above Dash Studio opposite Atmosphere on the road to Belleview. It is a three-storey, seven apartment complex which was reclaimed by the bank after the Ambaean owner passed away suddenly before he could complete his obligation with the bank.
“We were the only ones from Santo to tender for it out of at least twenty other people from Port Vila and we won it.
“It appealed to both my wife and I and we refurbished the entire complex and were happy as it was specifically built to cater for USP and APTC students. Now it has become the second Tropicana and it is fully booked”.
Asked if he has any advice for men and women and young people how to start a business, he quickly replies, “As a former class six school leaver, I had no academic qualification so basically I had nothing! Here are some bullet points for everyone to consider:-
• Do not sell your land to any expatriate be he or she is a white person or Chinese.
• Those of you with your Degree or Master’s Degree, I challenge you to make use of them by being brave and consider doing what I have done on your lands.
• Listen to the wisdom of your parents. If they have land, ask them to go into business on it by obtaining a land title then mortgage the land like what I have done and go into business.
• Make sure your family home is in order with you and your partner on the same wave length.
• Make sure you work together with your other half at all times and consult each other on all business matters.
• Make sure your connection with God is solid.
• Put your Maker first in all that you do and give all thanks to Him for all your achievements and challenges.
“Finally my message to all of you in the Government with all your financial entitlements to please plan carefully how to invest your savings. The Government needs you and you need the Government.
“Operate in line with all Government policies and God will bless you and your families in the same way that He has blessed my family and I”.