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Monday, 29 September 2014

The Rose Tattoo
Victor Calleja
We all have dreams which some of us see turn to an enjoyable reality. Paul and Marie Coley visited Malta when the main part of the Westin was still a dream—a hotel that was going to be built. They saw the plans, they loved the location and promised each other that when they had enough money they would come to have a hotel wedding here.
Malta—especially the Westin Dragonara Resort—means everything to Paul and Marie and when they speak about it they really light up. They feel Malta is their second home and would dearly love to spend more time here when they retire.
Not that retiring is on their minds or horizons—they both love their work and are still too young to move to that phase of life. But ever since they first saw Malta while on a budget holiday in Bugibba the island just cast its spell on them.
Back then, in 1989, they spent very little time in their resort—they wandered around, they absorbed the Maltese way of life, enjoyed the food and the sights. Their dream of celebrating their wedding at the Westin Dragonara materialized as a wedding made in heaven—all grandly organised by the Westin team. The Coleys describe the day as just perfect: picture and event perfect at one of the best luxury hotels in Malta.
Notwithstanding the dream they wanted to follow, they vetted the Westin Dragonara very closely to confirm it would ensure a memorable occasion. And, as Paul says “wow did the Westin tick all the boxes and they more than delivered.” The weather was perfect and the setting just right. It was a hotel wedding with magic.
Paul always dreamt of having a wedding with a backdrop of fireworks. He adores the colour and sky-lit revelry but Marie isn’t so passionate about them and in the end they didn’t choose that option. However, the place was still awash with fireworks and colour as the wedding day coincided with a nearby village feast.  “This is what is so great about the location,” Marie tells me. “It has everything - view, proximity to a wonderful bay and village and great service.”
The wedding catering was another dream come true—the Westin Dragonara excelled in that department too.
“Everything moved like clockwork,” Paul tells me, while Marie butts in to say “They took great care of us and gave us everything we had dreamt of. The meticulous detail they went through was unbelievable. We had a wedding planner booked from our UK agent and the synergy was great. There might be a few luxury hotels but I don’t think anything beats the Westin Dragonara.”
“We just lay back and enjoyed the occasion—and the preparation was quite a feat seeing that we had people flying in from all over and staying at the hotel,” Paul says.
“Logistically it could have been a nightmare,” Paul tells me with a twinkle in his eye, “but the Westin Dragonara and Malta are only involved in dreams, in good, memorable dreams.”
Paul knows all about logistics as he is stores and logistics manager with nine people under him for a company involved in solar energy products. And Marie cares for people with learning disabilities. People and travel are the Coleys’ passion.
Since getting married at the Westin Dragonara the Coleys have returned to Malta a few times, staying at the hotel to celebrate their wedding anniversary. They have also visited with their two children, Danielle and Bradd. Touring the island and spending a few days in Gozo is a big attraction for the Coleys who love the Maltese landscape and the way of life.
Malta has given them new culinary treats—Marie loves lobster. “Quadro Restaurant is magic! But their lobster is even more magical. I had it there first and I have never looked back.” Paul fell in love with rabbit—which Marie still can’t eat as she thinks of the lovely bunnies hopping around.
Both Paul and Marie are immensely grateful to the Westin Dragonara because the service is not just excellent but provided by friendly people whom they now count among their friends. And to the Coleys this is what service and luxury is all about—having people that make the difference around you.
“The words luxury and hotel are truly apt when one looks at what the Westin Dragonara offer. It started with a hotel wedding but our love for the hotel remains very much alive and growing,” Paul tells me.
When the Coleys had finalised their wedding plans, Marie had a small—most artistic and delicate—tattoo inked on her wrist. It depicts a rose with their wedding date and wedding rings etched around the illustration.
To her and Paul the rose is a loving bond representing what the Westin Dragonara gave them—a day, full of glorious roses, that will be etched in their memory for as long as they live.
Ends




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.
Ends



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 www.westinmalta.com 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 HONORED IN THE
2014 TRIPADVISOR TRAVELERS’ CHOICE HOTELS AWARDS

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 www.westindragonaramalta.com and www.tripadvisor.com/westinmalta





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.