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Beyond tangerines and honeymoons: a new vision for JejuHyatt General Manager Roger Habermacher discusses personal goals and hopes for Jeju’s future
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승인 2009.10.15  13:03:29
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▲ General Manager of Jeju’s Hyatt Regency Roger Habermacher, originally from Switzerland, has spent the last two years living and working on the island. Photo courtesy Hyatt Regency Jeju

Roger Habermacher had just turned 35 when he became Hyatt Hotels youngest General Manager two years ago. It was a milestone in the Swiss national’s long history with the business, which he joined as a 21 year-old. Originally a student of Graphic Arts, he took a job as a commi chef to make some extra money to support his studies, “I was a bus-boy, I peeled potatoes,” he says, “but I really liked it and stayed true to the hotel business ever since.”

Habermacher’s enthusiasm for his occupation is immediately apparent and he speaks as one who has found his real calling in life. Working his way up through the ranks, he became a chef and then later worked at Hyatt Regency Dubai, Bali Hyatt, Grand Hyatt Jakarta and as Executive Assistant Manager of Food and Beverage at Grand Hyatt Mumbai, before coming to Jeju.

As General Manager of Hyatt Regency Jeju, he is charged with the day-to-day running of the establishment and often meets and welcomes guests, and ensures that all their needs are met. Having worked at the hotel for just over two years he could be moving on soon as Hyatt Hotels operate a policy of rotating general managers every two years. For the time being, however, he is just happy to see what happens. “The last two years have not been easy but I would say challenging is the right word. I’m enjoying myself here, what’s not to enjoy? I enjoy sports, I enjoy photography, motor-biking. I like hiking. The beach is a five-minute walk from here. It couldn’t be better,” he smiles.

While living in a private apartment in a five-star hotel, a stone’s throw from what is arguably Jeju’s most beautiful beach, certainly sounds like the good life it has not been without its difficulties. “Working with islanders in general is not easy because of the cultural background. I did that in Bali already, during and after the bombings. It gave me an understanding,” he explains.

Island communities can often be very close-knit in nature and wary of outsiders but when asked how Jeju compares with the other places he has worked, he replies thoughtfully: “In terms of life and living, you know, the grass is always greener on the other side. I think it’s up to me or the individual to blend in with the local culture. I think that Jeju has a bit of an identification problem. Not to themselves but to the outsider. What they want to be and how people perceive them are completely different in my opinion.”

Keen to maintain relations with the KTO (Korean Tourism Organisation) Habermacher meets with them regularly to discuss the future of Jeju’s tourism industry. “We have had many conversations about it. The perceptions of tangerines and honeymoons, you cannot survive with that. Mt. Halla is beautiful but it’s not the only thing which is sellable. I think Jeju needs to see their potential. Have they really taken the so-called independent governorship to the full potential? What would happen if you actually opened casino gambling to local residents in Korean?” he muses. “I think they are somehow scared of losing their family and traditional aspects which is not necessarily true.”

Habermacher does feel, however, that the government is working hard to create a new image of Jeju and attract younger people to the island. Jeju’s hosting of the International Ironman Competition and many high-profile surfing events are certainly a step in the right direction but he also feels that in the Jungmun area, entertainment for 20-35 year-olds still needs attention: “something is missing for this age group. There are no clubs, no beach parties. Excitement is missing.”

He is optimistic that Jeju’s community would be able to balance its history and culture with the things needed to attract young, independent travelers. This strength of character is an aspect of life on Jeju that has enriched his time here: “I think the community is very strong in Jeju and I think that’s a great thing. If it wasn’t that way they wouldn’t survive. I think sometimes people don’t appreciate that enough. I like that very much myself, and I’m very thankful for the last two years.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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