ABOUT 40 years ago a young Australian tourist arrived in Fiji after some convincing by friends.
His name was Geoffrey Shaw and he planned a short holiday. He ended up staying longer.
He was introduced to an industry and a people he had never before seen.
And thus began one of tourism's most endearing and enduring love stories.
"I was on my way to university to enrol for agricultural science but I went back to Sydney and instead of doing agricultural science, I did hotel management," shared Mr Shaw.
"That's how it started."
A visionary is born
When Castaway drifted into receivership in 1992, Mr Shaw had already bought the Reef Resort in Korotogo, Sigatoka.
He saw the opportunity of a cross-sell between a larger mainland property and an outer island resort.
His accountant thought he was nuts.
"I thought at the time what a wonderful opportunity it would be if I could purchase the resort and bring it up to the standard that it is today and then go back and look at the redevelopment of the old Reef Resort.
"My accountant at the time thought I was crazy. He said I couldn't do it because I didn't have the money.
"I said if I cross-collateralised the properties at the time, I had sufficient mortgage potential to raise the money to buy Castaway.
"He maintained that I was crazy and I could lose the lot but I said, 'maybe not'."
And that's what happened.
Resurrection of Castaway and birth of Outrigger
In 1992, Castaway changed ownership for the third time. Mr Shaw moved to the Qalito Island property with his family and with the help of staff lifted its ratings by improving the guest experience.
"I learnt a tremendous amount. I learnt what a private island resort was all about and the difference of experience that we could offer our guests in this type of environment.
"So, when I went back to revisit the redevelopment of the old Reef Resort in 1997, I wanted to drag a little bit of that outer island hospitality and experience back onto the mainland."
It had never been done before.
"We did this by having a combination of hotel rooms and bures — it was a first in those days.
"Many bures have been subsequently built in other larger properties. So many people, when they come to Fiji, like to spend time on the mainland and some time on the outer islands to get that rounded out Fiji experience."
Fate brings two families together
An astute businessman, Mr Shaw was motivated. He had enough experience in the industry to foresee that with good planning, demographics could spawn his new idea into a thriving business.
"I thought just because we were smart enough to operate the Reef with 70 odd rooms and Castaway with 66 bures, maybe we weren't smart enough to operate a larger 250-room property without an international brand.
"So, whilst I was thinking about this concept, Outrigger Enterprises, a Hawaii-based family-owned company, had business development guys around, knocking on doors of various accounting firms looking for opportunities.
"I subsequently flew up to Hawaii, stayed at a number of Outrigger properties there.
"They were mostly three or four star and I can honestly say there was not one Outrigger property that I went to that did not possess the very thing that I thought we sold very well — and that's the heart and soul of the destination.
"It had a warmth and a depth that other brands, for me, didn't cut."
And that's how the association between the Shaw and Kelley families began.
A deal in 1997 resulted in Outrigger putting up the brand and management to what is today known as the Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji.
Ownership change and the future
As announced last week, the Kelley family are now owners of both Outrigger and Castaway.
The employees, especially those on Castaway, were shocked, most unsure of what the change would bring. Mr Shaw is a recognised and respected industry leader. If those in the industry are to be believed, including those in rival properties, he is arguably the best employer in the business.
Many, including landowners on Malolo Island, regard him as family.
Mr Shaw says staff have nothing to fear because the baton change is from one family to another.
"It's been both a privilege and an honour to have the association with the Kelley family.
"Outrigger Enterprises were part of the Outrigger on the Lagoon's ownership structure from the beginning in 2000.
"It is a family company and this is the one thing that was absolutely all- embracing to me.
"The values that Outrigger Enterprises has are the values I aspire to.
"The Kelley family is my family and my family is the Kelley family. We both think the same.
"We recognise that the greatest asset that any business has are the very people that make the business work — the employees.
"We both recognise that and we honour them and we support them."
* PART II SATURDAY — The Kelleys have confidence in Fiji