Five minutes with … Sian West, Co-Owner, Ocean Blue Coastal Retreats
Finding family and pet-friendly accommodations merely 250 metres from the beach isn’t always easy for visitors to Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, but Sian West has found a way to consistently deliver just that. As a mother of two young boys and caretaker of Paddington the dog, this long-time resident of Mornington Peninsula is in a perfect position to serve this particular market and place.
Blog: What were the key moments in your career that defined your position now?
West: A defining moment for us was winning our first tourism award in 2011. We realised that we were truly a recognised provider in the industry, especially among our peers. Since then, Ocean Blue Coastal Retreats has grown from a passion to a successful business employing 15 local staff and managing approximately 30 properties.
Blog: What have been your major successes?
West: We won our first Victoria Tourism Award in 2011 and went on to win a bronze Australian Tourism Award that same year. The following year, we won again and then achieved silver nationally. Finally, in 2013, we won a Victorian Tourism Award and achieved gold in the Australian Tourism Awards for our accommodation. I have since become a judge and mentor for the Victorian Tourism Awards and love sharing my knowledge of the industry and helping others.
Another success has been our loyalty programme. It has been running for many years, and we now have over 5,000 members. We communicate with members via regular emails and provide gifts for them when they stay. It is what drives business back to our door.
Blog: What have been the challenges?
West: We started off as a very small business, and it is difficult to maintain high standards when you are a one-man show. Over the years, as the business has grown, we have employed key people to allow us to expand. It is challenging to find great staff when our seasons are so varied and to be able to employ them year-round, but our exacting standards are never compromised. We prefer to have staff, who we can nurture to provide excellent customer service, than have huge profits. It’s all about offering beautiful holiday accommodation with fabulous service.
Blog: What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
West: I have had a number of careers, including banking and teaching, and I fell into tourism because it allowed me to stay at home and look after small children. If I had known how demanding it was on my time, I might have thought twice. Having said that, it is great to be my own boss and not be answerable to anyone. I am very proud of what I’ve achieved.
Blog: What has been the most surprising moment of your career?
West: I am surprised every day as we grow bigger to see where it all started and where it is now. Sometimes I pinch myself that we have achieved so much.
Blog: Did you have anyone that mentored or inspired you?
West: I had great support from many people in the industry when I was writing my applications for tourism awards. This time of self-reflection was a real turning point for me and gave me the opportunity to work on improving my business, which lots of small operators just don’t have time to do. Alva Hemming, the former CEO of Mornington Peninsula Tourism, was a fabulous support and provided enormous amounts of encouragement. She is a real inspiration and has such a passion for the area and for tourism. I also have to shout out to Natalie Pickett who was my mentor at that time. She made me look hard at my business and really pushed me to shine.
Blog: What one piece of advice would you have for someone starting out in the travel industry?
West: Love what you do. It’s hard work, but if you love what you do then that will shine through above all else.
- Sian West turned to accommodation after initially working in banking and teaching. This change in direction aligned with her roles as parent and pet owner, both of which ended up informing the marketing direction of her accommodations business
- In the span of a decade, this pet and family-friendly business has grown steadily to encompass nearly 30 properties cared for by a staff of 15 locals. Its loyalty programme has grown to 5,000+ members
- Participation in tourism awards programmes motivated Sian to spend time improving all the details of her business while acquainting her with mentors in the tourism industry