Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Westin’s NYT bestseller

Some say we all have a story to tell—something deep inside us which only needs a tap and it will magically flow out. Steve Berry had more than one story embedded inside him and, once he managed to tap them out, they flowed on and on. And people flocked to read his stories—he’s sold more than 18 million copies—all riveting, all page-turners, nearly all bestsellers.
I meet Berry at the Westin Dragonara Lobby and the first thing he tells me is not about any of his star success or about the amount of books he sold. He tells me that the Westin,           being one of the luxury hotels in Malta, ticks all the right boxes for relaxation, food and fun.
With his last seven suspense thrillers, Steve Berry has managed to get into the prestigious New York Times Bestsellers list. Actually if you ask people in the know this is beyond prestigious—it is the bar by which publishers and anyone involved in the book trade gauge the success, or otherwise, of authors. As the crooner said—if you make it there you’ll make it anywhere.
Steve Berry is also connected to another bar—not however a place which serves drinks. Before he hit the success trail with his books Berry was a successful lawyer, a litigant at the Georgia court, in the US. Berry, author extraordinaire, has more than his thrillers to relate as his is a truly amazing story.
While working as a trial lawyer—with all its stress and tough demands—he realised he had inner voices crying out to get on with it and write thrillers. So he wrote in his spare time and penned thrillers which he finalised and sent to publishers. However, he kept receiving those horrid slips which no author loves to even think of—rejection slips.
He plodded on and persisted in writing—and sending off— his manuscripts. He finalised eight manuscripts while slogging away in legal wrangling. But that wasn’t enough and he also sought office as one of the County commissioners of Camden in Georgia. He was elected and held office for 14 years, one of five who ran the county which is larger than Malta, as Camden is 35 miles long (Malta is approx. 19 miles) although it only has a population of 50,000.
While all this was going on he was coming up with yarns that make you want to turn the page quicker than you can blink. 
Finally a publisher accepted a book of his, “The Amber Room”, along with two others, and success was immediate. Top books like The Templar Legacy and The Lincoln Myth followed and Berry has had a spiralling of bigger successes.
The world has changed and suspense thrillers were then back in fashion after losing their stellar quality for publishers when the Cold War ended.
The Da Vinci Code broke new ground and publishers realised this genre of books, which Steve Berry was writing even before Dan Brown had made a name for himself, were hot property and millions of them could be sold. And sold they were: the Steve Berry books sold hugely besides being translated into over 40 languages. Berry left his law practice and now just concentrates on writing and churning out good plots.
While discussing plots, books, voices and super success I ask Berry rather conspiratorially—trying hard to sound like one of his books’ characters—if there is anything wrong with the Westin Dragonara. He bellows a loud “YES!” in his Georgia twang, as he laughs away.
“There’s one big problem with the Westin and that is that after some days I have to leave this grand place. I’m loving it here. For the first time ever I came to do research and brought my family. My wife and children are just lapping it all up. The Westin Dragonara is great fun, the location is superb and the amenities and food are very good. It lets you relax and allows me time to concentrate on the local sights and meet people connected to the Order of St John.  I’m here to research a book using the knights."
 “Malta is truly blessed with grand vistas and remarkable heritage and architecture. The story of the Knights will be fun to plan and write,” enthuses Berry.
This thriller about the Knights is due out in 2018 and Berry tells me he would just love to see its international launch with Fort St Angelo, scene of so many epic stories connected to chivalry and the Knights, as a backdrop. “It would be just magic,” says Berry, who is also a founder member of the 2600-member International Thriller Writers.
Berry is also a big believer in art and historic preservation and heads a group which collects money for saving treasures in the US.
Cotton Malone, the modern-day protagonist of the Berry’s latest thrillers, is however rather destructive and will surely have a few difficult escapades in Malta and Gozo and some places here on the island will witness carnage and mayhem—thankfully only in fiction. The book by Berry about the Knights promises to have more fun, more chaos, more rip-yarning to keep the reader riveted.
According to Berry nothing beats fun and it is hard to come close to the Westin Dragonara for the perfect place for a holiday, break or stay with excellent service. This is very important to him as he needs to relax, know that everyone around is relaxed and carry on plotting and planning yet another pot-boiler.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The perfection of silence

Noise has become more and more endemic and we do not realise how pervasive it is till we hear, and experience, silence—pure, blissful silence.

One man who set out to prove that silence can be heard, and relayed sounds appreciated more, is Dr Bose. 50 years ago Dr Bose founded the company which still bears his name and today is the leader in all things acoustic. One of his aims was to invent a gadget that would eliminate all sounds. People thought that he, a Professor of acoustics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT, was dreaming, or worse. He was in fact dreaming, as only when one dreams can one challenge the old and discover the new. And Dr Bose proceeded to deliver noise-cancelling headphones and also produce some of the most effective technology to experience all sounds. Today the trail-blazing professor has passed away but his company thrives on and the company’s products are still worldwide hits.

Bose the company is still a believer in going beyond the limits of what humans think is possible and still churns out products that make our hearing experience more meaningful, giving music and anything connected to aural experience a truly memorable feel. 

That is Bose and its founder in short—too short to do them proper justice but all you need to do is experience some silence or some music delivered by anything Bose.
Bose Europe came to Malta, to the Westin Dragonara, to hold its annual business meeting and discuss products, their marketing, new ideas and new markets. I met Marc Jourlait, Vice-President Bose Europe, to discuss what got them here and his impressions of Westin and am truly bowled over by his passion, his knowledge and most of all by his friendliness.

“I just fell in love with this island, the history, the people, the heritage, the food,” are his first words, quickly followed by a long appraisal and praise of the Westin Dragonara. He makes it clear they are here not just to have fun but mainly to work, to find new energy, to discuss strategies and the future. Of course to do all this they need to feel that the hotel and the destination are superb, they need to be revitalised and energised. And the Westin offered all this and more.

To Marc the ideal hotel is one that does a lot while seemingly doing nothing. Everything is done to perfection with no hassle. Marc pointed out two things which impressed him. The day they arrived he was heading over 150 people who had just flown in and wanted to get to their room as easily as possible. Hitting reception in such huge numbers can be quite overwhelming. However, at the Westin all was seamlessly and silently done—in a few minutes all the Bose delegates were wafted to the comfort of their room. “Impeccable start to the trip,” is how Marc describes this.

Another instance which impressed Marc was when the Westin staff had just a few minutes to prepare the finishing touches to the conference room before the President and CEO of Bose was to address the delegates. Marc explains it all in telling detail: “He—the President/CEO of Bose—was getting his speech ready in the conference room. So we asked the staff who were placing bottles and arranging some items in the room if they could do it slightly later. Not the most demanding of requests but one which could cause undue confusion to their timed and timely schedule. The feared domino effect of changes in schedules—which cause unending disruption—could have come about by what seemed a minor, petty request. The Westin staff did not even discuss it with their superiors—they just disappeared and reappeared when we told them to, still managing to complete it all in time. That is seamless, silent service. Perfection!”

I ask Marc what brought Bose to Malta and the story that followed was truly riveting. Marc’s 12 year old son, Jack, was assigned a school project: each student in his class had to prepare a presentation about an EU country and Jack picked Malta, a country he had barely heard of. But his research, conducted with his parents’ help, led to the whole family being enthralled. The Knights of Malta were the main attraction, as well as the fact that such tiny islands boast an unbelievable history spanning over 7000 years, with buildings older than the pyramids.
This gave Marc the idea of holding their meeting here and his team’s research concluded that Malta and the Westin Dragonara were the right choices.
Marc describes himself as a total geek who worked for Apple where he met the legendary Steve Jobs. He then did a stint at HP and he has now been with Bose for over 5 years. He is immensely fascinated by anything technological and he considers what Dr Bose did absolutely incredible. He was lucky enough to meet him and was amazed by what a humble and interesting man he was.

Marc talks with passion about the science of the ear, and how versatile it all is. Sounds—just like colours— are all the same but our perception of them is personal and different. The sole aim of Bose is to make our aural experience that much more enjoyable. Be it the sound of food being cooked, onions frying, the sound of a guitar, of water lapping, of the most intense orchestra, or the deafening roar of silence in the background, Bose wants us to experience it exactly as it really is.

Marc has a number of passions—work, family, food, travel and his own silence all fascinate him. He loved Malta and the Westin Dragonara. So we can easily conclude that both these are truly special. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

The crime buster by Victor Calleja

Even criminals can be gentlemen. Hearing this statement makes you stop and listen, especially if it is uttered by someone who spent a long part of his life at Scotland Yard and participated in missions to places where dictators ruled and would shoot anyone who dared break the night curfew.

Ron Harrison has now retired from the police force but he is one of the heads of Surelock, a leading company in security, investigations, surveillance and brand protection. Based in England, Surelock is made up of a number of specialists, many of whom, like Ron, are former members of Scotland Yard or the British Police force. And the words Scotland Yard still have a resonance that smacks of loyalty, good practice and results.

Ron works hard and is a self-confessed workaholic. But he also knows how to take a good, well-deserved break a few times a year—and almost inevitably he chooses Malta.
“Malta is not a holiday place—when I come here I come to my family,” enthuses Ron. He tells me that “the friends and the bond I have created in Malta are unbelievable. The people of this island are really blessed with genuine friendship. They are welcoming and the climate here and the food help make Malta a true gem”.

To him Malta is old-fashioned in its most commendable of meanings, with its traditions of the loyalty of old, being family-conscious and spiritual. “Coming to Malta means I feel at home—and the Westin Dragonara is a true home to me. The food and the views are glorious and the service impeccable. It’s been the right place at the right time with the right people for me and for all my loved ones.”

Ron spends all his special occasions, birthdays, Christmas New Year and Easter, besides other periods in the year for some relaxation, at the Westin. And when his dear mother was still alive that is where she was treated by Ron—the Westin, the place which to Ron has a “true, beating and caring heart. It’s not all about the bedrooms and the facilities. It’s about the human touch which I find amazing at the Westin Dragonara—the GM, the waiters, the pool attendants, all have a positive attitude that makes you feel you are a VIP all the time.” That, according to the much-travelled Ron, is hardly an easy thing to achieve.

“I’ve been coming regularly to the Westin for over 10 years and I have seen a great development in the way the staff has changed and their attitude became even better,” Ron says.
Ron has been involved in many cases involving crime detection, fraud and surveillance. All this experience has given him a deep appreciation of detail—no detail, however small, however seemingly insignificant, is lost on Ron..
Now in his early sixties and more alert than some 20-year-olds, Ron still gets excited by anything that ends in a big swoop. Nowadays, he is mostly involved in supervising others doing the work but he still revels in the hands-on feeling of being there when the big day, the breakthrough happens.

Surelock does not do police work or Scotland Yard stuff but it offers a list of services that is astonishing, from brand protection against counterfeiters to private investigation,  surveillance and manning of property. However, Ron’s forte remains nosing out anything connected to fraud—internal or external.
Ron loves Malta and its food—rabbit, lampuki (Dorado fish) brań°joli (beef olives) and thinks Malta nowadays has superb restaurants, even if he is somewhat biased and always prefers the Quadro at the Westin for a true celebration.

After 30 years in the police force, and meeting hardened and sometimes charming criminals, including Pinochet of Chile, Ron considered retiring and doing nothing but sail and live quietly in Malta. But a year after retiring he was head-hunted and joined Surelock and now works round the clock to sporadically come over and enjoy Malta and its other huge gem, the WestinDragonara.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Westin Dragonara Resort enhances its accolade list

The Westin Dragonara Resort has enhanced its accolade of awards when it was presented with the “Win with Talent” Award at Starwood’s 2014 EAME Roundtable Events held in Frankfurt on Thursday 6th of February 2014. Mr Michael Wale, President of Europe, Africa and Middle East and Mr Robert Koren, Vice President Regional Director Italy & Central Mediterranean at Starwood Hotels and Resorts presented the award to The Westin Malta team that attended the Rountable Events.
The award recognizes the exceptional performance demonstrated by the Westin Team during the course of 2013.  The ‘Win with Talent’ award is based on four criteria being Employee Engagement, Leadership, Collaboration and Action scores from the ‘Starvoice’ survey which is conducted yearly and offers an in-depth knowledge of what associates think and how they feel about their place of work. 

The Westin Dragonara Resort achieved an exceptional score in Employee engagement reflecting the associates’ high pride and satisfaction with the property as their place of work, the high likelihood to refer the Westin for employment to friends and their positive recommendation for the hotel as a great place to stay.  This result was complemented with a strong Leadership score, reflecting the respectful approach displayed by managers towards their teams, reciprocally associates’ trust in management and the caring attitude towards associates’ wellbeing.  Both of these scores exceeded Starwood’s own benchmark.
‘Embracing the winning culture philosophy, the Human Resources Department in collaboration with the Management Team encourage and recognize the growth of talent and the development of strong functional skills thereby fostering a culture of continuous learning for professional growth.  This is evidenced by the numerous career growth opportunities offered to its associates who have grown up the ladder into supervisory, managerial and even leadership positions. The ‘Win with Talent’ award recaps this philosophy’ said Mr Michael Kamsky, General Manager at The Westin Dragonara Resort.

Visit for more information about The Westin Dragonara Resort.

Photo Caption:
The Westin Team receiving the award
(from left to right)
Mr Jason Degiorgio, Food and Beverage Director, Mr Malcolm Jones, Director of Finance, Mr Michael Wale, President Europe, Africa and Middle East at Starwood Hotels, Mr Michael Kamsky, General Manager, Ms Karen Warrington, Rooms Division Manager/Operational Innovation and Robert Koren VP Regional Director Italy & Central Mediterranean at Starwood Hotels

Tuesday, 28 January 2014


The Westin Dragonara Resort has achieved two prestigious titles in the 2014 Traveler’s Choice® awards by Tripadvisor.  Ranking 2nd place out of 10 in the Top Luxury hotels in Malta category and 3rd place out of 10 in Top Hotels in Malta category truly reflects the high level of quality and service that the Westin Malta is renowned in offering.

In the 12th year of the awards, the world’s most outstanding properties were identified in the categories of Top Hotels, Bargain, B&Bs and Inns, Family, Luxury, Romance, and Small Hotels.

Travelers’ Choice award winners were determined based on the reviews and opinions of millions of TripAdvisor travelers around the globe.

‘We are honored to rank highly in these two very important categories.  The Westin Dragonara Resort always strives to offer guests top notch service and exceptional experience throughout their stay in Malta.  During 2013 The Westin Dragonara Resort invested heavily in upgrading a wide variety of the hotel facilities and this has been reflected in the positive comments that our guests have shared on TripAdvisor during the past year. Winning these two accolades reinforces our commitment of offering the Westin guest a renewing experience when visiting Malta and our Resort’ said Mr Michael Camilleri Kamsky, General Manager at The Westin Dragonara Resort

“We’re excited to recognize the world’s best properties, based on the opinions of those who know them best – the millions of travelers around the globe who come to TripAdvisor to share their experiences,” said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor. “For those seeking inspiration for their 2014 travel planning, this list of spectacular accommodations that received 2014 Travelers’ Choice awards is a perfect place to start.”

Further information about The Westin Dragonara Resort can be obtained on and

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A Man of Daring, a Man of Faith by Victor Calleja

Some people are gifted with talent, beauty, riches or titles. Many proceed to do a lot with these gifts—for themselves, for the ones close to them and some help the world or its inhabitants. Then there are some others who are not gifted with something but are themselves a gift to all around them.

When I meet Herbert Richer I am immediately struck by this man who has been described to me as a not-so-young Rabbi. I meet him at his favourite spot on the island—the Westin Dragonara Lobby—and talk about everything imaginable. Time with this man stands still and all about him is graceful, friendly and easy. He talks religion like few religious people do—inclusively, infusing in me an aura of wellbeing. I know religion is one of the subjects we must never mention at table or in profiles like these but when religion is discussed in the Richer method it is all about humanity, love and feeling part of the oneness that should engulf us all. The religion Mr Richer talks about has nothing to do with war and anger. And he believes that no one, not even someone who does not believe in God, is wrong.

Mr Richer is about 8 years short of a century and he is rightfully proud of his age as he is incredibly alert and can relate a story much better than many people I know who are much younger than him. If only I could remember things in as much detail as he does.

For nearly half his life he has been living in—and loving— Malta. And one of the loves of his life is the Westin Dragonara. When he first came to Malta, he fell in love with another leading hotel but when the Westin opened it worked its magic spell on him. And long years, dinners, swim sessions, parties and relaxing moments later, he is still convinced it is the most magical of places in Malta. He considers himself one of the most loyal Westin Dragonara users or, as he adds with his smile, one of the oldest and definitely the first to fall in love with it and remain besotted.

Mr Richer has had—with such a name he can never be far from an easy quip—a rich life. “I’m quite poor actually so I never can justify that name of mine”, Mr Richer tells me in his most captivating of ways. “But yes I have led a most amazing, happy life in England, South Africa and Malta. And in between all these I have travelled all over the world thanks to my work. For many years now Malta with its beauty—and the Westin—has been my home. And a truly welcoming, good home it has been too,” Mr Richer says.

Mr Richer started off as a clerk in England. He was a son of very devout and religious Jewish parents who at an early age realised their son was rather a disappointment with regard to his religious views which, even if deep, were not orthodox at all. A liberal at heart, all his life he has lived the idea that all is fluid, all is flexible as long as your heart is pure.

He left school too early and in fact was to return later to University. Life as a clerk bored him so he applied to join the RAF. He had never cared much for studying so he was bottom of the class when they tested him for piloting. However, although he had flunked that, he was singled out to become a navigator.

Now go back in time and imagine aeroplanes back in the thickest of a world war in 1939. It’s not just the danger, the daring, the daredevilish stuff pilots and their navigators had to go through. All the plotting, all the routes and flying depended not on machines but on the pilot and especially the navigator. So our hero was going round the world taking ages to get to any destination because at that time planes traveled at much less speed than they do today.

War over, Mr Richer, lost about what to do in life, met a woman who changed his course in life by seeing in him what would become his true calling—that of being a rabbi. She befriended him, spoke to the elders in a synagogue in London and the rest, as they say, is a richer history. He went to University—again he was great at the practical things but he laughs at his marks and the fact that he came last again in his course—became a rabbi and set out on a life of looking after, guiding and preparing people of the Jewish faith in England and subsequently in South Africa.

Sadly, his wife, who was a brilliant pianist, passed away in South Africa but he was to meet another woman—his present loving wife, Dorien—who was also involved in the musical world and they then became soul-friends and subsequently married. According to Mr Richer “My first wife made me and my second wife saved me.”

From South Africa they started coming regularly to Malta where they made many friends, bought a house and has lived most happily. With the opening of the Westin, the island, according to Mr Richer, became truly perfect.

A few weeks ago Mr Richer brought his religious career to an end, surprisingly at a Catholic Church in Italy. There he, the Rabbi who believes in inter-religious progress, spoke of faith, of popes, of living the faith in the most inclusive of ways. His wife sang at the church during mass and people were truly moved.

Whatever your beliefs, talking and listening to this man is truly enriching.



Friday, 25 October 2013

Home is where there is a Westin by Victor Calleja

Success, especially when it is recognised beyond the shores of your own tiny country, changes people. It makes some arrogant, others think they have become supermen—or superwomen. Then there are the interesting others who thrive on success while glowing in it. Instead of making them bores and bigheads, success turns these people into even nicer people with a great story to tell.

Mark Bamber is one such person who, even if he is a jet-setting traveller who has reached some peaks in life, still finds time to speak to me about his life, his times and his loves.

Mark is accommodating, easy to get on with and it’s a true joy to hear him talk about his work, his posts, his travels and life in general. Accompanied by his equally affable wife, Nathalie, I meet Mark at The Westin Dragonara Resort’s Lobby.

When we meet Mark’s first words—echoed by Nathalie in her winning smile of agreement—are that one of their most favourite spots, not just in Malta but in the world, is The Westin Dragonara Lobby. And I have to admit, sitting in the lobby watching the world go by while people are busy relaxing, sipping coffee, eating delicious-looking stuff and being pampered by the most efficient of staff, does seem one of the best places to be in. Mark saying it so enthusiastically does take on special meaning as he has been to an unbelievable number of Starwood properties all over the world.

Way back in the 80s Mark’s ambition was to become a lawyer but, as that course was only available every other year, he opted for management and moved on to economics and accountancy, loved it and thrived in it. What the world of law lost, the world of accountancy, and KPMG won as Mark’s success in this field was significant. The ambition to keep reaching out for more knowledge and new avenues got him into this world where travel is a part of his life.

He is now an economist and partner at KPMG Malta, one of the top 4 audit firms in the world with a global programme which includes the KPMG Chairman’s group of upcoming leadership candidates. Nine years ago this global arm of KPMG zoomed in on Mark, saw his capabilities and asked him to form part of it, touring the world doing work connected to it. There are few countries Mark hasn’t been to and he has now also been entrusted with heading, and setting up, KPMG in Libya.

Life is never boring for Mark who spends 5 days a week abroad but tries to religiously come home to live his normal family life here in Malta for the other two days. Nathalie does a lot of travelling with him and one of the things they both love doing when they are back in Malta is going to the Westin and having a meal at Quadro Restaurant. What Mark tells me about Quadro—in his unflappable way—is that to him it ranks as one of the top three restaurants in the world. Coming from a much-travelled couple, this sounds unbelievable but when I question it they not only confirm it but also enumerate the restaurant’s many attributes, from the service, to the food—immaculate—to the people behind it and a view to mesmerise anyone.

Mark is a structured person—his life is hectic and he lives out of a suitcase most of the time so his stays abroad must be a seamless affair. His travel is mainly last-minute, so he has to be sure that his travelling itinerary, from the airlines to his accommodation abroad, is flexible and suits his needs and demands. He always needs a hotel that feels like a home away from home and, though an optimist by nature, he is finicky and demanding.

The Bambers have enjoyed all the facilities the Westin Dragonara offers. The rooms are very well-known to them as they have stayed there so many times and enjoyed the different rooms with their own particular characteristics. Pampering after their hectic schedules is one of the things the Bambers need—and they find it in plentiful supply at the Westin. Both agree that the rooms are great, the views difficult to surpass, the service impeccable and the breakfast a real winner.

Mark emphasises that the Westin gives him all he wants many times over—but of all the Westin Hotels and Resorts he has seen and experienced the one which Mark and Nathalie call their true second home is The Westin Dragonara Resort.