The Big Cheese

The Big Cheese with Next Story Group’s Alex Billing

Next Story Group’s regional vice president of operations gets The Nibbler lamp shone in the face and is forced to reveal all in our latest Big Cheese instalment.

The great thing about my job is…

People! The hotel industry is all about people and that is what makes it so interesting and diverse on a daily basis.

The challenge for the industry is …

This is hardly new, but finding the right people is certainly the toughest problem. Attracting good people with not only the required skill set but ones that fit into your company ethos is always going to be a key challenge for our industry.

My greatest achievement is…

In my experience, there is nothing more rewarding than opening a new hotel from scratch. I enjoy being involved in every aspect: designing the rooms, creating restaurant concepts, recruiting the team and finally orchestrating the grand opening.

It is a special experience. Although it can be a long and bumpy road, when the end product is unveiled and you see guests’ reactions firsthand, they are defining moments in your career.

The biggest thing in MICE this year will be…

Personalisation. With technology platforms now able to capture more and more information about our customers and their preferences, it is vital we make data driven decisions around how to better tailor experiences for guests and delegates.

This is going to ultimately mean more customisation, flexibility and tailor-made experiences for our patrons than ever before.

I try to relax by…

After being on the road for extended periods, there is nothing better than staying in and relaxing with close friends and family.

Spending time with my wife, two daughters and my bulldog recharges the batteries and helps keep a healthy perspective on the important things.

I don’t understand why…

The grass is always greener on the other side. I find this particularly prevalent in the hotel and travel industries. So often people feel the need to change jobs on a whim for a fancier title or a few extra dollars.

If you are with a business you feel passionate about, stick with it and experience shows you can progress further by proving you are up for a challenge! I like the other saying ‘if you really want greener grass, water your own lawn’.

My favourite venue/destination is…

My family and I recently spent some time on Castaway Island in Fiji. This location is simply a paradise on earth.

The day we left we were already working out when we could go back!

I’ve always wanted to travel to…

South America. It always been a dream of mine to do the Inca trail and visit places like Machu Picchu.

The ancient South American cultures have always fascinated me and that is certainly top of the bucket list once my kids are a bit older.

I am scared to death of…

Sharks! I had the accidental ‘pleasure’ of snorkelling WAY too close to a rather large and curious reef shark while in Fiji.

I never thought I was afraid of sharks but so far nothing has compared to being startled by one in open water.

I can’t live without…

My latest addiction is Audiobooks. I know it’s a lazy way to turn a page but once I dabbled with it on a long haul flight, I have been hooked ever since. When travelling or driving I find it a much-needed escape.

In my defence, it is much easier to have a few options downloaded than lugging around physical books.

I really wish I had…

More hours in the day! I imagine this is a pretty common desire. Juggling work, other commitments, family and personal time is always a challenge.

Though you hope to find a balance, something always suffers, so a few more hours in the day would be great!

If I could invite four people to a dinner party, they’d be…

These are always tricky ones! I guess it always comes back to the things I enjoy:

Nick Hornby – An English author that I love. He has written a few of my favourite books, High Fidelity and About a Boy.

Kevin Smith – Filmmaker that goes back to my younger years. He had made some pretty low brow stuff but I still find him a funny and passionate encyclopedia for all things pop culture.

Dallas Green – A Canadian singer/songwriter who goes by the name City and Colour. An interesting and funny guy with a diverse and beautiful catalogue of music.

Richard Branson – Obviously he has had a huge impact on the travel industry. I would love to hear more of his thoughts on current business trends and leadership.

For anyone starting out in the industry one piece of advice I’d give would be….

There is nothing like real-world experience. It is not the easiest industry but if you are committed and stay the course it is an amazingly rewarding and satisfying one.  Get in with a business that you can be passionate about and give it your all.