By Charndré Emma Kippie
Tracey Bolton is the recently appointed Director of Sales & Marketing for Banyan Tree Group’s brand-new ultra-luxe Ilha Caldeira resort in Mozambique. She survived a terrifying pulmonary embolism and one of the worst urban explosions in living memory over the course of just 13 months. The odds of one person surviving both of these devastating events are slim at best, but Tracey did, crediting her positive attitude and passion for everything she does for giving her the strength she needed to come back stronger than ever.
Now based in South Africa’s St Francis Bay, Tracey is excited about her new position with the Banyan Tree Group and the challenge that launching a brand-new product – only the second resort in Africa under this prestigious brand’s umbrella – presents.
Briefly tell us about your background.
Born and raised in South Africa’s Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), I always dreamed of travelling the world and meeting people so the decision to study for a Travel and Tourism Diploma when I left school was an obvious one. After graduating I moved to Johannesburg and started out as a travel consultant at Pentravel but quickly found out that a desk job was not for me and moved across to sales, working for SAA Indojet Travel in a position that was created especially for me.
It was the beginning of my passion for not only the travel industry but for sales in particular. I have always known and therefore been focused on where I needed to grow in order to reach my full potential in my career which was to lead a sales and marketing team.
After a successful spell with Imperial Car Rental as a sales executive and key account manager I was offered a position with Sun International as a key account manager based in Cape Town. Eventually moving back to Johannesburg, I joined hospitality representation company Extraordinary as National Sales and Marketing Manager, finally achieving my goal of leading and inspiring my own team. Working with Extraordinary gave me extensive experience on strategic budgeting and financial management and really paved the way to where I am today. After two years with Extraordinary I was head-hunted by the Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel in Johannesburg to be their Director of Sales and Marketing. My dream job – heading up a team for an international hotel brand. I spent five years helping to build the brand into the leading corporate hotel in Sandton, but then felt the need for a bigger challenge. I felt I had done all I could in South Africa so I began to look abroad to see if I could find a fresh challenge in the overseas market and make sure my success at Radisson and in South Africa could be replicated. I was offered the position to head up sales and marketing at the iconic InterContinental Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut, Lebanon, and jumped at the chance. Just 18 months later I was awarded the Commercial Leader of the Year Award at the IHG IMEA Commercial Leaders Workshop – affirmation of my skill as a leader, inspirer and innovator.
How did your new role at Banyan Tree Ila Caldeira resort begin?
I moved back to South Africa in November 2019 to recover from my injuries in Lebanon after surviving one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in a warehouse in Beirut, close to the apartment where my husband and I lived. Unfortunately I lost the sight in my right eye, damaged a tendon at the base of my spine, and broke an ankle as a result of the bombing.
Once again, unexpectedly I was head hunted via LinkedIn for this challenging position. I was immediately drawn to the position and the Brand Banyan Tree Group, for what they stand for and their philosophies which really resonated with me after everything I had been through in Lebanon.
What excites you the most about your role at Banyan Tree Group?
I love a challenge, and I am passionate about my career and hospitality. There is nothing more exciting than being given a project from the beginning and building it up to be the most talked about destination to travel to. I love the team at Banyan Tree Group I have chosen to take on this journey with me, and once again I am excited at the fact that I can inspire them to be the best that they can be and likewise for them to challenge me to always strive at being the best I can. Together we will ensure the success of our actions but more importantly to join Banyan Tree Group philosophies which revolve around sustainability, the community and Leadership – all which really resonate with me.
In what ways do you think the business will enhance the Tourism sector?
Banyan Tree Ilha Cadleria is the first 5* ultra-luxury certified private Island resort in Mozambique, this island has never been inhabited before and will be 100% solar powered, all water will be desalinated on the island and we will be providing jobs to the local community. This is a first for Mozambique and a massive drive for the South African and International markets to come to Mozambique for an ultra-luxury holiday in a sustainable eco-friendly way.
Do you think your field is diverse in terms of gender equality?
I love this question because typically our industry is divided into 2 parts, sales/marketing/PR which has always been female driven and operations which typically in the past has been male driven. However in the past few years it has been exciting to see more female leaders taking centre stage in senior positions such as General Managers because they are not afraid of speaking up and putting themselves forward for new opportunities.
It is so important for females to empower each other as we are fearless in voicing our opinions and are building our own path to success at unprecedented growth.
What are your top 3 tips for ensuring the success of a resort during the pandemic?
- We need to first and foremost focus on cleanliness and hygiene standards in accordance with Covid-19 regulations to provide a safe environment for our guests and ensure all staff are vaccinated.
- Respond quickly to what the customer wants. Making the guest feel comfortable is and always will be the aim of a resort and its staff.
- Adapt to modern technology. Guests will be doing business in a hybrid way so we need to ensure we have the technology to accommodate them. Create ways in which the guest does not need a traditional method of checking in to ensure social distancing is adhered to, such as checking in via a smartphone. Ensure WI-FI is top focus, fast and efficient etc.
What have been some major obstacles in your career, as a woman, and how did you overcome them?
Two years, 26 July 2019, I suffered a pulmonary embolism from a Deep Vein Thrombosis in my calf. Due to the actions of my husband when I stopped breathing he put me in a stranger’s car to get me to the hospital all whilst giving me CPR all the way there to then have the ER Team spend 40 to 45 minutes trying to resuscitate me and about to call my time of death before trying just one last time only to hear my heartbeat. It took my hero, Dr. Walid Faraj to take the chance and do exploratory surgery on me so they could understand why I could not stabilize. He gave me a 0.008% chance of survival rate but if they did not explore I was going to die. They discovered I had a severed liver from all the compressions trying to resuscitate me and Dr. Faraj did a procedure which had only been done a handful of times in the world to save my life – and he did! The bond, love and respect we have for each other will last a lifetime. If that was not enough of a fight to survive, my kidneys stopped working due to the damage done to my liver. I was in ICU for 10 days and then High care for a further 19 days then an outpatient for 1 month doing dialysis 3 times a week before my kidneys functioned 100% again. BUT the other heroes in this story are all my colleagues from InterContinental Phoenicia who when my “call for life needing blood” was sent out everyone with my blood type came to the hospital to donate their blood and platelets, without them I would not have survived. It took a team from ER, to Doctors and Nurses whom most I don’t even know to keep me alive and I will be forever grateful to EVERYONE.
Then on August 4 2020 at 18.07 when the major Blast rocked Beirut, we were both at home, our apartment was roughly about 1km from the epicentre of the blast – our home was totally destroyed. My husband was knocked unconscious but I was awake throughout everything. By God’s grace we were kept alive considering our location. Unfortunately I took most of the damage physically and again literally a year later I was in ICU and hospital for 7 weeks. I lost the sight in my right eye, damaged the tendon at the stem of my spine, broke my ankle and due to the shattering of glass, have severe scars on my legs, arms and face. I have life changing scars that will be my constant reminder that I am a Survivor, I choose to not let what happened to us define my future, instead I focused on recovering and looking forward to what our next adventure in life would be.
I am thankful every day that I get to carry on doing what I love doing surrounded by people who love me.
Both of these obstacles were life changing events in my career in different ways, The Pulmonary Embolism affected me mentally as I had to retrain and strengthen my brain to be at its peak performance and with the blast physically, I had to learn how to live with losing a limb and adjusting to life with one eye. I believe I survived both of these near death experiences because the fire within me burned brighter than the fire around me. My positivity to not focus on what had happened but to look at what the future held kept me fighting to be stronger mentally and physically every day. The journey to recovery is never easy but I never doubted once that I would not recover fully and overcome these obstacles.
What are your goals for the future?
I have an absolute love and passion for the hospitality industry so I would like to definitively stay there but more so I love inspiring people whether it be in their personal or business space to be the best that they can be and no matter what the circumstances a positive attitude will get them there. I always say to my team, if I have made a positive impact on your life whether it be personally or in business, then I know I have done my job. I would like to become a public speaker and hopefully inspire people with my life changing events and how one can come out the other side even stronger than before and who knows, I will hopefully one day write a book about my survival story, once again to inspire and give hope to people who are in despair.
What important/life-changing books have you read?
I really enjoy biographies of people who have come from nothing and really made a success of their lives:
- Long walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
- Good Morning Mr. Mandela – Zelda Le Grange
- I have Life, the story of Alison Botha – Marianne Thamm
What advice do you have for young women entrepreneurs who aspire to work in your field?
- Choose a career you are passionate about. There is a saying, “if you love what you do then you will never have to work a day in your life.”
- Set specific and actionable goals on where you see yourself in the future and what you need to do in order to achieve your goal
- Stand out from the crowd, always go above and beyond what is required and you will be noticed by senior management.
- Knowledge is power, make it your own responsibility to constantly self-develop yourself to ensure you are evolving towards your end goal.
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