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S2 Ep 2: Andrew Dixon – Building island resorts on community and sustainability

Owner, Nikoi/Cempedak Islands

In this episode, find out how a former banker found the real gold in beach sand, not bank notes. Andrew Dixon, born in Australia, was taking a holiday on an island in Indonesia when he and friends decided, why not build a holiday house for family and friends? Then more friends came and asked, why can’t we stay too? And so, he expanded it into an island resort open to everyone and 12 years later, he now runs two private islands, Nikoi and Cempedak and is as happy a beach bum as can be.

In this episode:

What do people look for in an island getaway?

“We’re not luxury. I don’t like the word luxury because it can mean so little and so much, or not so much. They (guests) are not after that bling luxury. These guests are looking for that real experience, something is authentic, I think. We’ve got great staff loyalty, so they've developed over the years sort of a connection with our staff. It becomes a family.”

Lessons learnt from building the first private island, Nikoi

“From Nikoi, it’s to try keep things simple and authentic. Sometimes you can get a little bit carried away with trying to do things (which) sound like a better solution, but often on an island anyway, the simpler solution is the better one.”

Differentiation between the two private island resorts, Nikoi and Cempedak

“When we built Nikoi, we were surprised at how many couples we were getting to visit us. We designed it with families in mind. We would get a complaint from couples every now and then, there were too many kids. Ok, thanks (laughs), noted in the survey. As we were developing Cempedak, we did a little bit of research around the area. There's not a lot of places that have an adults-only policy. So, we felt that there was a real opportunity to stick out from the crowd in that sense. A differentiator (and) not cannibalise our own business, but also differentiate ourselves from other resorts in the area as well.”

What else did you need to get right with the business?

“I want it to have a very friendly, unpretentious service sort of culture where guests and staff feel comfortable being able to chat. There weren't a lot of boundaries or rules put in place. We don't have a rule book around how staff should talk to guests. We want them to feel they can naturally just speak as they want. We were lucky (in that) we hired some really good people early on, and that helped develop a nice culture within the staff, and I can only think that that’s strengthened as we've gone on. That has meant that we've been able to attract good staff. We put a lot of effort into staff training.”

Framework around sustainability

“For us, it's not just about environmentally friendly. We joined a group called The Long Run six years ago, and they have a framework they call the 4Cs, which are community, culture, conservation, and commerce. What you're trying to do is get all those 4Cs in balance and that's helped us a lot in terms of framing our efforts around sustainability. The community aspect we largely do through The Island Foundation, but then there's other parts that we do through the business as well by supporting suppliers, helping set laws to develop it. Some of the best solutions we can have are ones that go across all 4Cs.”

How has travel changed your life?

“It's changed it in many ways. What I like about it is that my day is different, every day. I'm never doing the same thing, so the variety of what I'm doing is (what) I find really interesting. Every day is interesting, and every day is different.”

Note: This interview was recorded in the early part of the year before Covid-19 shut down travel. Andrew’s island had guests staying at the time restrictions were imposed, and some chose to stay on. Why wouldn’t they? Andrew started a Staff Fund to help his staff through the difficult days, and his employees were encouraged to use what they could find on the islands to make and sell. The farm was also made available to them and the kitchen was turned into a place where they could run a food delivery business. Anecdotally, his staff also told him they began to see more wildlife and fish on the islands. Otters even began to make the villas their home during the shutdown.

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This season is brought to you by Expedia Group – Bringing the world within reach.



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