Black Hound talks luxury service meets Hawaiian values with Jason Sablas of the Hyatt Andaz.
The New Meaning of Luxury | Interview with Jason Sablas
photos and words by felicia williams // maui, hawaii // read the story worthy guide
It’s the end of my trip to Maui. I’m sitting comfortably in the beautifully appointed lobby of the Hyatt Andaz, enjoying the nightly live music that is gently bubbling up from the restaurant and washing over my sense in the shade of the setting sun.
Between these subtle beats, Jason Sablas, the assistant manager of the Hyatt Andaz Maui, comes by and asks me after my sunset cruise.
I confess to him that while the sunset cruise was beautiful, I was green around the gills from having one too many cocktails the morning of.
We laugh about the circumstances of the cruise (a romantic sunset cruise...for one). In these last few moments at the resort, we strike up a pleasant conversation about work, personal passion and what it means to exceed the bar at one of the most competitive and sought after hotels in the industry.
BH: How long have you been working at the Hyatt?
JS: I started only two months after it opened. Before that, I worked at the four seasons for 15 years. I was practically raised there. At first making money as a valet was the only thing on my mind. I was young and focused on the near term. It wasn't until later that I began to really understand the power and position I had at the best hotel on the island.
BH: What made the Four Season’s the best during your time there?
JS: The Four Season was a blue diamond hotel and consistently rated five stars. Their bar is incredibly high.
[Black Hound notes: It is incredibly difficult to achieve a diamond rating in the top tier and hotel competition is fierce.
To receive a five-diamond rating – something only three hotels in Hawaii can boast as of 2012 – establishments must, according to AAA, "reflect the characteristics of the ultimate in luxury and sophistication. Accommodations are first class. The physical attributes are extraordinary in every manner.
The fundamental hallmarks at this level are to meticulously serve and exceed all guest expectations while maintaining an impeccable standard of excellence. Many personalized services and amenities enhance an unmatched level of comfort." The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea earned a five diamond rating in 1991.]
JS: The Four Seasons cared deeply about service and always shoots high above the moon, because, even if they don't make it, the still land high above the rest. This only became more evident as I visited other properties. I could see how people at these other properties strove to reach the bar of Four Seasons.
But while he and others strove to meet and exceed the bar, he noticed a fact that would eventually move him to another property.
BH: What motivated you to try another property after being so lavishly brought up in the hotel world?
JS: The Four Season is traditional luxury. It has impeccable service, but it is the same service. Everyone is coached on exactly what to say and how to behave. When you interact with one associate, you've interacted with them all. At the time, there wasn’t room to be yourself, because that wasn't a core part of the Four Seasons brand. If it's not broke, don't fix it.
After working his way up to Assistant Manager at the Four Season's and Coming to the Andaz, Jason saw an opportunity to take his luxury training and apply it in a different way: bring individual personalities and an authentic Hawaiian culture to the upscale brand.
To understand the importance of this, is to understand the impact that tourism has had on the Hawaii and the culture of those who have called it home for generations. Dr. Konai Helu-Thaman, a Tongan University instructor, spoke about the subject at Interpretation International’s Third Global Congress, held in Honolulu in November 1991:
“Tourism continues to be the major contributor to a process of cultural invasion… Such an invasion has left its marks on most island environments… (and those marks can symbolize) the erosion...of indigenous island cultures and their value systems.”
It’s an incredibly intense and complicated issue, with many native Hawaiians feeling the economic burden of the flashpoint tourism that overrides their heritage on one of the most visited places on the planet. For Jason, bringing native Hawaiians’ into the fold isn't only about bridging a divide that has long been a pain point between the industry and the land it reaps great rewards from, but about making the Hawaii culture and her peoples an accessible and integral part of the luxury culture he hopes to cultivate at the Hyatt.
JS: I'm a born and raised Hawaiian boy. I've hired many of the people here and most of them are Hawaiian. It's important to me that the culture and values of this state are present here and who better to tell our story than Hawaiians?
He jokes with a wide smile about his early days while working with some of the then junior staff.
JS: I want guests to feel like they can connect with the associates, Hawaiian or otherwise, on a more personal level. They should feel familiar and more like family. Family is important in Hawaii and Hawaiian culture and that;s a value that can’t be faked. It’s either there or it isn’t.
Sometimes it can go a little south [laughter]. There were times I would think, “Whoa, be a little more cautious before letting out your personality! Get to know the guest first!"
Jason’s brand of hospitality: a deep, family style feeling with a high attention to detail and an even higher bar concerning luxury and class is a killer combination. It’s a goal that he hopes the Hyatt Andaz Maui will continue to meet and exceed as time goes on.
JS: I want people to connect with us. I think it's an important part of their stay and an important part of their story. We strive everyday to make a difference in the lives of our guests and make them feel like they're story with us is a unique and great one.