Those familiar with The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat, hidden among the limestone hills of Tambun, Ipoh, will also know Alex Castaldi, its effervescent general manager. Castaldi and his globe-trotting career in hotels and resorts has taken him to Germany, The Philippines, Thailand, The Seychelles, Bali and almost a decade in Dubai. He committed to his current position almost instantaneously when he saw the spectacular Jeff’s Cellar, a restaurant located within a natural cave, 260-million-years old in the making. Two years on, Castaldi continues to find great delight in enthralling guests with unique experiences at The Banjaran, including the debut of Malaysia’s first and only all-caviar course menu.
I always tell my members of staff that my first hotel job was 16, in housekeeping. It was there where I learnt that purpose changes people’s work lives. I was attached with a small 80-room hotel in a little coastal town in Italy, and the hotel had just signed a contract with Air Italia. Anywhere in the world, crew business is big for hotels. We were told by our general manager that our job was so important, because we had to clean 16 toilets between 5.30am and 7am, to make sure when the other crew arrived, they would find their rooms ready. I always thought; wow, if there is anyone who can give a cleaner purpose, no one could do it as well as this general manager – he basically put all the success of the contract in our hands, making us think we had the most important job in the world.
Most guests of luxury accommodations always look for something extraordinary. When I look at what The Banjaran Hotsprings offers, its qualities are better than any other hotel that I’ve ever managed. The environment which it offers is an incredible one, and having never lived or worked in Malaysia before, seeing this for the first time was a really unique experience. For guests accustomed to luxury travel, the question is always, what we can deliver? And here in this beautiful place – we are delivering an amazing experience.
The key of course, is also to change the mentality of our people. We have been able to encourage our team to be the best hotel in Malaysia, from arrival and tea ceremony upon check-in to the F&B and all-round service. Proud and committed team members is our secret of success, and we’ve grown our workforce by over 35 per cent in just two years, with a ratio of approximately 140 members of staff to 45 villas.
Most importantly, the passion shown by our team members enable us to continue enjoying our work. This career path, which requires hard work while others are on holidays, nonetheless is a very rewarding one when you are able to create memorable, priceless experiences for others and yourself. It is this sense of purpose which makes life so beautiful and I am always so happy to recommend promising talents to join this wonderful world of hospitality.
Since I’ve arrived, we’ve extended the Pomelo restaurant, added 20 new Lake Villas, a Sky Bar, herb and organic garden and are now building a new corporate boardroom which can hold between 40 and 60 people comfortably. In here, we are implementing sustainable practices with zero plastic and green packaging.
As an Italian living in Malaysia, I was very encouraged to make connections through food and wine. I enrolled in the International Food & Wine Society and got to know its cellar master and president. I then persuaded them to come over to try our food. With that, I went back to my culinary team to say that I had spoken really well of our food, and asked them to please deliver on my promises. And they did! Now we are best friends and I’m glad to have made so many deep connections throughout my time here. A fruitful relationship works both ways and is long lasting.
Alex Castaldi isn’t exaggerating when he talks about the beauty of The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat. Check out this gallery.