THE STORY OF VILLA SAIA
A FRENCH-INSPIRED PARADISE ON GILI AIR
“Quit your job. Pack your bags. Travel the world.” Does it not sound awesome? Many of us have been dreaming of doing the same, yet only some have actually done it. And even the most courageous ones would probably return back home at some point. Lise, Rodolphe and Cindy took their adventure to the next level and decided to settle and build a guest house on the paradisiacal island of Gili Air. The arduous and inspiring journey full of challenges led to launching of their dream-project in 2016. Today, Villa Saia is a gorgeous accommodation facility offering French hospitality, excellent service and fine Indonesian ambience.
Villa Saia, Gili Air, opening 2016
￼1.Hi guys, tell us something about yourselves.
We are three friends and business partners, all originally from France.
- Cindy : former scuba diving instructor in Gili Air
- Lise & Rodolphe : a couple and former scuba diving instructors in Gili Air
2.How did you get to know each other?
We met on Gili Air – a small island in Indonesia, near Bali. We all worked as scuba diving instructors. It didn`t take much on a tiny isle like Gili Air. Same job, same friends, same parties and here we go!
Lise, Rodolphe and Cindy
3.Tell us briefly your story and how did you discover the Gili Islands?
Lise: I worked 7 years in Paris for an event management agency. Suddenly, I got the urge to escape from the daily routine. So, I packed my bags and set out on a 7-month long solo trip through the South East Asia to find out what I really want to do. I decided to become an underwater photographer to combine my two passions – diving and editing. I came back to France to improve my knowledge in order to realise my dream. At the same time I met Rodolphe – my spouse and we decided to open a guesthouse somewhere in Asia.
Rodolphe: Scuba diving has been leading my life for the last 20 years. I completed a Sport Teaching degree and a few years later, I specialised in hyperbaric treatment. That gave me the opportunity to work as a scuba diving instructor and I could perform jobs such as underwater repairs. Thanks to my profession, I got a chance to travel and work around the world, including French Indies, France, Thailand, Egypt, New Caledonia and Indonesia.
The dream under construction
￼Cindy: I spent 8 years working in human resources and hotel management in Paris when I decided to have a longer break in 2011. I left for the South East Asia to learn about new cultures and explore new places. During this trip, I fell in love with Gili Air, learnt to dive and became a professional scuba diver. I returned to France after a while but only to realise I didn`t want to get back to the Parisian life style, and so, I returned to Gili Air and started to work as a diving instructor. After few years in Gili Air, I got a desire to start my own business, however, I couldn`t do it on my own – being a solo female doesn`t make it any easier here.
4.When and how did the ‘Villa Saia’ project start?
We (Rod and Lise) wanted to set up the business long time ago but our tight budget did not allow us to do it in France. As we had already known culture quite well, the next step was to get to know the administration and law. That’s why we needed to get a job locally first in order to experience daily life and make connections. After the ‘first test’ was passed successfully we proceeded with the project and bought a piece of land of 12.5 acres in 2014. In the meantime, we were looking for another business partner to support us financially. That is how Cindy joined us and Villa Saia was born.
Villa Saia, King size bedroom, open-air suite
5.What was it like to deal with the local people and the Indonesian bureaucracy?
When you start dealing with people from other cultures, you have to start from the scratch. Everything is different, from quality of service to building material. Obviously, one cannot expect an Indonesian electrician or a plumber to deliver the equivalent performance to the one in your country. One needs to be prepared for the same concept when it comes to deadlines, quality, design and taste. It was extremely important to be present at all times and double-check every single step and move to get the job done according to our expectations.
Regarding the local law and bureaucracy, it wasn`t easy either. When setting up your company, you have to work with consultants and pay heaps of money to get all the paperwork done. However, there is no other way to deal with the administration network. Nevertheless, the good thing is that after a while, you get more and more independent and eventually, you save a lot of money!
Villa Saia, open-air bathroom
6.Now that you are well-established, how do you spend your days here?
It is truth that we are quite happy with the results so far but there is still so much to do; improving internal organisation, training our staff, taking care of the facility and so on. We pretty much have to be around the entire time. Being three partners will hopefully allow us in the future to take turns in travelling or simply having a break so there is always one of us around to make sure everything runs well.
7.What makes Villa Saia different from the other Guest houses on Gili Air?
Our aim was to provide real privacy to our guests, as if they were in a ‘green cocoon’. That’s why we purchased enough land to have a garden and a swimming pool of a decent size. Rooms and bathrooms have been designed to express elegance, with a hint of both Indonesian and European style.
Villa Saia, private swimming pool
What we find to be the most crucial element is the constant presence of us – the owners. You could have the most stunning accommodation ever, if you are not available for your guests the business will never work. That’s why we do everything we can to ensure our reception is staffed at all times and we offer an excellent customer service. Being responsive and caring – that’s our credo.
8.Can you imagine yourselves living here in Gili Air in the long run?
It is hard to say and difficult to plan at this stage. In Indonesia, business goals and life frame need to be planned in the middle term. You never know what could happen, politically speaking. Moreover, there is no doubt that some day we will want to get back to our European roots and re-connect once the homesickness occurs. We are still French..
Lise, Rodolphe and Cindy
9.Is there any message that you would like to pass on your peers – the likewise people with similar ideals and dreams ?
Be patient and do not to rush headlong to a country you do not know properly. Firstly, you should spend enough time at the place you wish to set up a business in order to get familiar with the local culture, customs, atmosphere and law. Secondly, you need to understand if you are OK with it, especially if it is a developing country as there will be plenty of challenges and you will need to be ready to go through them.
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