Lusting after a change from their demanding banking careers, Bettany and her husband went in as opposite a direction as possible − the hospitality business, and on an island, no less. As there is no shortage of resorts in Africa, it takes a certain type of entrepreneur to be able to create something that stands out. Driven, focused and committed to making positive change, Bettany is the epitome of what it takes to succeed in such a competitive industry. The Bettanys own Azura Benguerra and Azura Quilalea, and are also currently working on a number of different beach sites in Mozambique and Tanzania. The future holds exciting things for this couple, who have made a name for themselves in the African hospitality scene.
SLOW: sat down with Bettany to discuss her unconventional journey into the world of hospitality, why she loves what she does, and what Azura means to her.
SLOW: Where did you grow up and what did you study?
Stella Bettany (SB)
SB: I grew up in Cornwall, right next to the sea, which is where my love of the ocean started. I studied a BSc Hons in Economics, Accounting & Finance at the London School of Economics and an MBA at the University of Cape Town.
SLOW: How did you find yourselves in hospitality?
SB: My husband was one of the main shareholders and developers of a luxury hotel in the Seychelles, which whet his appetite for building a hotel group of our own, using our extensive global travel experience to design our own brand ethos. Our mantra is: ‘Remote, authentic, pristine, making a difference’.
SLOW: How did Azura start? What was the reason for embarking on the venture?
SB: We had just got married and wanted a change from high-profile banking careers. With our passion for travel and desire to make a difference, Azura was founded. We chose Mozambique to start because the country lacked a true luxury offering, we love diving and the marine environment, and the country was one of the poorest in the world, with a desperate need for someone to commit to making a difference.
SLOW: Where do you currently live and what does your day look like?
SB: I live in a few different places between Africa and Europe and spend much of my time travelling. Now that I have two of my children at boarding school in the UK, I am trying to spend more time at our Jersey home. It’s by the sea, just as I like to be. Of course, I have to spend a lot of time at the hotels checking on standards and developing new ones.
SLOW: What is your favourite part about the industry you are in?
SB: We have over 300 people directly employed and many more to whom we make a difference. We call it the Azura family. The smiles on their faces make up for all the daily operational and business challenges we face. And trust me, creating paradise for our guests is not as easy as it looks!
SLOW: In your opinion, what makes a resort stay stand out?
SB: We are usually the last stop on someone’s African itinerary, and I want them to Text: Maxine Volker Photography © Azura A Lifelong Love leave Africa smiling and wanting to come back – it’s our job to create that feeling. We have a philosophy whereby every day is different and we must ‘wow’ our guests in some way. The Azura ‘wows’ are core to what we do and make us stand out.
SLOW: What is the overall message you try to bring across as Azura?
SB: Our mantra – remote, authentic, pristine, MAD (making a difference) — and yes, we are slightly mad to operate in the challenging remote places we do. It’s the making-a-difference part that is key to our message. There are plenty of beach hotels but we are different – we help the community and help protect the reefs and the pristine environment we are in. We also make a difference in terms of the experience a guest will have with us. It’s not just a beach holiday − it’s a marine paradise experience.
SLOW: Where is your favourite place in the world and why?
SB: Any of our hotels – obviously, or we wouldn’t have built them! I also love spending time at our home in France, and discovering new places with friends and family. I am an addictive traveller – it brings so many new ideas from wherever I go.
SLOW: How often do you visit Azura and what is your favourite thing to do?
SB: I visit more when we are building a new hotel, like we are now [Azura Marlin Beach], or like last year when I was planning our new beach club, Pero Peri Beach by Azura. I have to be on site to visualise things and describe what I want to the builders and interior designers. I often start by drawing what I want on a serviette on an aeroplane flight! When I am there, I love to go diving, check on the community initiatives done by our Rainbow Fund charity (we just spent $60,000 on a health clinic I had been after for a while), but also to take some time out – sailing on our dhow is good for that, visiting the wild side with the family, lying on a floating cushion in the ocean with some rosО from our [wine] farm in France, so many things. My husband and I never miss a sunset, which is why we always serve sunset cocktails to our guests at Azura. It’s such an important marker of one day ending and another coming due. It helps focus the mind on what’s been achieved and what still needs to be done, and it’s when we talk about our plans.
SLOW: If you were to be stranded on a desert island and could only take three things, what would they be?
SB: I have three children so I would want all three of them. That’s my first thought as I am such a family person – especially if they could bring three things each as three things is not much! But I guess that’s not practical, so a fishing rod and a means to make fresh water so I could survive until I wanted picking up – the escapism might only be fun for a while. Then a satellite phone to call for help when I was ready to leave.
For more information on Azura Retreats, please visit www.azura-retreats.com.