Our editor had the pleasure of lunching with Larisa Jovanovich, Resort Manager at Hyatt Kotor Bay in Montenegro at one of the most scenic restaurants imaginable, The Lighthouse, located right by the seafront at her stunning luxury resort hotel.
Hyatt Regency Kotor Bay is no ordinary hotel and resort. As well as its beautiful location surrounded by mountains in this fjord-like part of Kotor Bay, it’s famed for its wellness offerings and has a doctor-led wellness centre, as well as a fantastic Spa Soul. The VRMAC Health & Wellbeing Retreat de MAR benefits from a unique combination of the sea and mountain air in its treatments. The centre is run by Dr Delić Marina, a Physiatrist and Pulmonologist, and her specialist knowledge ensures that the guest can enjoy bespoke programmes for different rehabilitation and wellness needs.
I had really been looking forward to meeting Ms Jovanovich, the power-house of a woman behind the recent rebuild and expansion of the hotel and wellness resort into what’s now the luxury Hyatt Regency Kotor Bay.
Let’s start with the recent rebuild of the hotel and resort from start of 2020 and May 2023 overseen by you as the Resort Manager. Your role managing a hotel at a large international luxury brand is still largely dominated by men world over.
What has driven you to succeed in your chosen career in general, and to reach your current position?
Past two decades were a period that marked rapid development of Montenegrin hospitality industry and I was so incredibly lucky to be involved in some of the most exciting projects that really made a difference and placed our country on the world map. Since early 2020, I have been part of the amazing team that developed the first Hyatt hotel in Montenegro. For the first three years, we operated as an independent brand and this year we rebranded and opened the extended capacity that made Hyatt Regency Kotor Bay Resort one of the biggest hotels in the country.
I cannot speak about this hotel without getting emotional as it has a special place in my life, both on professional and personal level. I am extremely proud to be a manager of such a magnificent hotel and I guess that one cannot ask for more.
However, having a caring and supportive team is crucial in this business, and I am so privileged to work with this group of incredibly talented people who gave not only their professional knowledge, but also their hearts to this project. I am infinitely grateful for the opportunity to be of assistance to them and to help them through these challenging years. To lead the team means to nurture their dreams, develop their talents and inspire them to reach for success. That is my core motivation.
How did you get started in the hospitality industry and what has your career been like to date?
My hospitality career began by a lucky chance. It wasn’t my first choice and before I embarked on this fabulous journey, I couldn’t even imagine myself in this role. After studies of Literature, I was a journalist for several wonderful years and then a brand new hotel was looking for team members who will create the first 5* resort in Montenegro. The rest is, as they say, history. Now, when I look back, there is nothing I would change and no other career that I can picture myself in. I worked for some of the most iconic properties in Montenegro, including Aman Sveti Stefan, hotel Splendid Conference and Spa resort, CUE hotel, now Hyatt. For most of them, I was a part of creative team that envisioned and executed the project. It is so incredibly rewarding to see a dream coming true and I love seeing my projects thriving.
Have you ever faced gender discrimination at work and what advice would you give women facing gender challenges in their careers?
The Balkans is a traditional, patriarchal environment, no matter how hard we try to change it. Here, men are predisposed to leadership positions, while women are traditionally placed in the role of followers. It is so ingrained that women themselves doubt whether they can be leaders. I believe this is a mold we need to break in order to turn into a society of equal opportunities.
As every other women, I also faced gender discrimination but never accepted it. I was very outspoken about the inequality women face. You can tell that I am very passionate about this topic and consider it my personal mission to encourage young women to speak up for themselves.
To women facing gender challenges, I would say – You have every right to be successful. Don’t give up on your ambitions and don’t compromise. Work to improve yourself and work with those who respect you. You should not give up your principles and you should not be silent. Don’t let society tell you what you can and can’t do. We can do all the same things as men, and wear high heels too!
It was evident from our relaxed chat over lunch that Ms Jovanovich is passionate about the hotel, the beautiful region it’s located in, and she’s a great ambassador for the Vrmac Wellness & Health Centre too. I also admired her encouraging rapport with the staff as that creates a positive working environment, supporting mental wellbeing. This is also a great benefit in the increasingly competitive recruitment market and in attracting hospitality staff.
As a resort specialising in wellness, do you offer special support for the staff mental and physical wellbeing?
In our company, we believe that the balance between private and work life is crucial for our mental health. Once there was a culture of overtime work that led to burnout syndrome. Fortunately, the situation has changed and it is actually the balance between private and professional that is being paid particular attention to. Today, employers are competing to come up with a better strategies and to offer better conditions to employees. The opportunity to work in such environments, with adequate financial compensation and a good balance between business and private life, is what makes an employee choose a particular company.
We encourage our colleagues to take care of their mental and physical health. Our company’s purpose is to care for people so they can achieve and feel their best, and we live those words every day.
What are your favourite ways to keep fit and well?
Despite extensive business obligations, I manage to organize my free time. Spending time in nature and walking with my dog is our daily ritual and a great way to switch off. Places like Vrmac nature park, Luštica, Njeguši, numerous hiking trails in Kotor Bay – we have visited all of them many times and we always discover some new, beautiful landscapes and hidden places.
I enjoy travelling and discovering new countries and cultures and try to visit to a new destination every year. It fills me with endless joy and before every trip I feel excitement like a child. Being the favourite aunt of six amazing kids, I consider it my duty to introduce them to traveling and show them the big, beautiful world. I am certain that it’s the experience that mean more to them than any gift.
It was great to learn about the extensive redevelopment the resort had undergone during Ms Jovanovich’s leadership and what the hotel can offer for both private guests and for businesses in particular.
There is much on offer for event organisers, PAs and EAs looking for a venue in which to host an unforgettable event or an executive retreat. The location is ideal for activities such as hikes in the mountains, wine tasting of famed Montenegro wines and even a day on ski slopes just a two-hour drive away.
Who are your typical MICE clients and what special message would you send corporates organising an event or away retreat?
When we say that there are 3 conference rooms counting 504 square meters of function space in total, seating up to 294 people, plus 175 square meters of enclosed pre-function space, in the most spectacular setting of Kotor Bay, it is clear why the most prominent regional and international companies choose Hyatt Regency Kotor Bay Resort.
Meeting rooms are equipped with high ANSI lumens-rated LCD projectors, interactive displays, sound and a blackout system. Soundproof walls and individual air-conditioning allow maximum comfort and intimacy to all event delegates. Main hotel terrace can be used for refreshments while also enjoying fresh air and breath-taking views of the Bay. Tailor made food and beverage packages, state of the art facilities, experienced staff, stunning views will impress all special event guests leaving them motivated and inspired.
The construction of a new ballroom will allow us to accommodate up to 500 guests making it one of the largest conference facilities in Montenegro. We look forward to welcome MICE clients, and are fully committed to providing them with a successful, and stress free event.
Who inspires you and what’s the best advice you have been given during your career?
There is a wisdom of the head and there is a wisdom of the heart as said by Charles Dickens. One needs both for this profession and it is the never-ending search. I have crossed paths with some very wise people who taught me tricks of the trade but also some important life lessons. Most valuable lesson is to believe in yourself and work tirelessly towards your goal. Determination and effort will always be the winning combination and the results never go unnoticed.
Do you have any advice to those aspiring to reach the upper levels of hospitality management?
The first prerequisite for any business, even for the hotel industry, is love. This is a wonderful profession through which you meet different people, from different cultures, exchange experiences, but also a profession that requires a lot of sacrifices. Working days are long, holidays are spent at work, and free time must be carefully planned. I teach my young colleagues that we don’t sell rooms, we sell happiness. And in order to do that successfully, we must be happy ourselves.
That is why it is very important to choose the right job and the right team. Choose a company that will motivate you to be better every day, those that will appreciate your individuality, your ideas and initiatives. Choose a company with which you can grow and develop your potential. Finally, find a mentor to look up to and whose example will inspire you to be better.
In order to achieve a career in hotel management, you have to work on yourself, learn new languages, new skills, you have to be curious, travel, meet colleagues. You have to be consistent in what you do. Success does not come overnight and you must be well-prepared for each step that takes you forward in your career.
Working for a world-renowned company has many advantages, since you become part of a large, global team. This opens up numerous opportunities for employees to continue their careers in one of the hotels around the world, with the experience they gained within that brand in their own country. Hotel management is a profession that you can practice anywhere, because the principles are the same. Young people should be encouraged to start learning about this business and think about a career that can take them to amazing places and with which they can have a beautiful and fulfilling life.