Heritance Ahungalla, one of Sri Lanka’s Aitken Spence Group’s deluxe hotels, has employed scores of people and sources supplies from the neighbouring villages as part of the ongoing investment drive to embrace sustainability.
More than 65 per cent of the hotel’s staff of 400 have been recruited from the local villages, many of them have not had previous hotel experience.
Those from the local community have risen up the ranks quickly, to enable Heritance Ahungalla to secure multiple awards for cuisine, service and environment practice.
“We are proud of our growing team of young men and women from the surrounding communities, who have quickly adapted to high-levels of hotel management and also readily contribute to expanding our sustainability initiatives,” said Refhan Razeen, General Manager of Heritance Ahungalla.
For instance, Shanika Jayasekara, who joined the Heritance Ahungalla family as a trainee restaurant receptionist in August 2009, rose up the ranks to a Senior Restaurant receptionist in April 2011. Along the way, Jayasekara also tried her hand in mixing cocktails, taking part in many cocktail competitions.
“I don’t want to travel abroad. I’m happy to stay in Sri Lanka. In the future, I would like to specialise, maybe learn about wine and become a sommelier, rather than becoming a general food and beverage manager,” said Jayasekara who won the Best Mixologist of the Island at the 2011 Culinary Art Competition conducted by the Chef Guild.
Another rising star, P.S. Fernando joined Heritance Ahungalla family in August 2007 as a trainee steward and now works as a Trainee Captain. He has also acted as personal butler for many celebrity guests including Indian cricket legend and ruling party legislator, Sachin Tendulkar and legendary British singer, Sir Cliff Richard during their stays at the hotel. A bartender and a deft cocktail mixer, Fernando has taken part in table-top decorating, power observation and tray balancing competitions.
The Heritance Ahungalla family also includes children of retired staff members, differently-abled persons and more than 35 youths from the north and east who secured employment after one-year’s training at the Aitken Spence School of Hospitality.
Razeen said a differently-abled person, employed as a trainee pastry cook, went onto win two golds and a silver medal at the Culinary Art competition in Sri Lanka. He later secured employment overseas and has since won gold medals in similar competitions in Dubai.
Staff also receive training in English, French and German languages, computer skills, leadership training programmes and medical facilities. To enhance soft skills, the hotel conducts English drama competitions and environmental quiz competitions.
Dressed in batik-motif uniforms, these rising stars are among the old-world charm that runs the decades-old 152-room luxury five-star coastal property. The Geoffrey Bawa designed hotel was the first to come under the Heritance brand, which symbolises Aitken Spence’s centuries-old heritage of trust and reliability.
“We take great pains to stick to our core Heritance motto of ‘where tradition is alive,” said Razeen, who has declared 2012 a year of quality for the Heritance Ahungalla family. The hotel’s gastronomy journey deftly weaves the concept of ‘heritage’ and ‘trust’, with its signature Heritance cuisine which is designed around Sri Lanka’s spice heritage, herbs and abundance of local food.
In 2011, Heritance Ahungalla won the best five-star resort trophy during the 2010 Sri Lanka Tourism Awards. Heritance Ahungalle’s roll of honour also includes efforts to conserve energy and preserve the ecological balance around its stunning property. In 2011, the hotel won a Bronze Flame award at the 2011 Sri Lanka National Energy Efficiency Awards.
In 2012, the culinary team made a $35 million ‘Pirate’s Fantasy’ cake that was decorated with some of Sri Lanka’s most expensive gem stones. The cake is a contender for the “world’s most expensive cake”.
The culinary team has also won multiple awards at culinary art competitions including the Best Hotel Team and Best Culinary Team in Sri Lanka after competing against both international and domestic star class hotels at the 14th Culinary Art Competition held in 2011.
Malin Hapugoda, the Managing Director of Aitken Spence Hotels said the group is acutely aware of the role tourism plays to aggravate global warming and environmental degradation.
“Heritance Ahungalla’s energy management system, focuses on effectively managing energy consumption without compromising the guest comfort. It also helps the hotel to meet the current and future mandatory energy efficiency targets and requirements of greenhouse gas emission reduction legislations,” Hapugoda said. Heritance Ahungalla was recently certified for Energy Management System ISO 50001:2011 and is the first resort in the world to receive the said certification. To minimise social risk in the environment the hotel operates, Heritance Ahungalla offers internships that also helps to build community relations. The hotel donates generously to the local community particularly to help children and elder care programmes.