Carla Petzold-Beck is joining Epic Morocco as its new Managing Director. She has moved to Morocco to take up the position from a background in the luxury hotel industry. She has quickly fallen in love with the country and is looking forward to sharing that with Epic Morocco’s clients. We caught up with her to find out more.
Carla, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am Swiss born to a German father and an American mother. Being a 3rd generation hotelier, I spent the last 25+ years in the industry, graduating from Cornell Hotel School in the US, then starting my career with Kempinski Hotels in 1996 as a Groups Coordinator, worked with companies such as Starwood, GHM (sister of Aman resorts) and Orient-Express (now Belmond) and brought my last 10 years in Asia to a close as General Manager with Nihiwatu (Sumba, Indonesia) just last year.
What lessons and experience from the luxury hotel business will you be bringing to the company?
Well, I sure know how to fold napkins really nicely. Jokes aside, my 5* pedigree in the hotel industry will hopefully come to use in terms of teaching the teams with whom we work to anticipate, and then exceed, guests’ expectations, and not, as is commonly found, to react to a request. Being pro-active, ensuring follow up is done, executing events just like I hosted the many high-end travellers whose expectations are exceptional. The way we handle our clients’ journeys through this stunning country will be handled as if they were lodging in a suite at one of the resorts I managed. HR and Marketing will be a big focus too. Taking care of your staff will in turn take care of your clients. Sharing all our wow experiences on the currently thriving media platforms needs to be done continuously to ensure that Epic Morocco is always on the radar and at the forefront of an impending traveller’s mind.
What first brought you to Morocco and what were your impressions of the country?
I think it was always meant to be. My parents spent their honeymoon in Morocco back in the early 70’s, we always had a red Moroccan thread running through our lives. Be it playing on the Berber carpet my parents had brought back with them, or the tajines and meshoui my father cooked, the tea serving sets or ceramics still in one piece in our home. Then, I attended the PURE fair in Nov 2015 as the GM of Nihiwatu which was the first time I had visited Morocco in person. Unfortunately I saw mostly the inside of the Palais de Congres, but a side visit to Imlil with friends and roaming the frenzied souks left me wanting to discover more.
I came back last year for 2 months and did the most amazing circuit around Morocco. A few corners have been left undiscovered but I can safely say that in those twp months I fell full frontal flat on my face in love with Morocco and could not believe my luck that an opportunity arose with Charlie Shepherd at Epic Morocco. He offered the chance to live my dream of spending more time outside in nature, being hands-on with clients, and directing a much smaller team. Going from 350 employees in my last post to under ten now is a blessing.
How did you get involved with Epic Morocco and what will your new role be?
At first it was a bit of observation from the sidelines, to see if the synergies of Charlie and I would click and evidently they did. With the imminent growth of business in the pipeline, I will be stepping into Charlie’s shoes as Managing Director, so he can concentrate more on sales and acquisition. I will need to soak up as much as possible in terms of the experiences he’s had and which we offer our clients. We are keeping the bespoke touch of either he or I meeting each and every client, and he is fully in charge of the large events. In the course of the years ahead, I will hopefully gain the same level of knowledge and expertise. His 15 years of experience leave me with big shoes to fill!
What makes a great travel company in your opinion?
A one-stop-shop and direct, personal contact. Nothing is worse than being put on hold, talking to automated staff who evidently sell 1000 tours a day, or having to talk to four different people because you are traveling to four different cities. I find it imperative, that at a time where we are all glued to phones and hooked on social media, not to let the personal, face-to-face contact disappear. We meet the clients, each and every one of them, either prior to or at the end of their stay (all depends on start and ending point within Morocco) and we consult, revise, review, advise and amend, tweak even at the last minute – with a small travel company, this is feasible. With Charlie’s experience, we can go off the beaten track and single out the secrets of the land. The clients have returned to their countries being absolutely blown away, their experience here far exceeding their expectations. The amount of return clients we handle speaks volumes. For international tour operators we are a breath of fresh air as the word “no” does not exist in our vocabulary. Our small company covers 6 languages, (Arabic, French, English, Spanish, German and Swedish) so we don’t have to resort to sign language which guarantees transparency and avoids many misunderstandings.
What are you hoping to bring to Epic Morocco?
Keeping in line with the service levels already found within EM, I am using my hotel background to add some nips and tucks and increase the wow factor even further. Having spent close to two decades in Asia, it has been a privilege to see the possibilites to pamper our clients to a level unknown in the Western world and I hope to slowly but surely bring in some of these service traits. These are not materialistic items but rather service-oriented add-ons. We want to keep the ethos of “adventure” in the forefront, but lace it with Moroccan luxury. Moroccans are by nature unbelievably kind, nurturing and hospitable people, the idea is just to polish their skills and especially keep it consistent.
With many years of heading large teams, those years of leadership will help me focus on more of the human resource side of the company. With the growth in sales, we will need to introduce and keep to an internal organisational structure which supports the external demands of operations. I hope to bring in pillars of trust, support, teamwork and empowerment to ensure that the team grows to understand and take ownership of their responsibilities. That it is not just a job, but also becomes their passion and will propel them up the career ladder.
Why should visitors come to Morocco? What’s the attraction of the country?
Morocco reminds me of Malaysia and to some extent of Switzerland in terms of culture, as bizarre as this may sound. Three very different types of ethnicities, languages and cultures culminating in one. The Arab, Berber and French, just like the German, French and Italians in Switzerland, or the Malay, Chinese, and Indians in Malaysia. Their culinary culture is internationally renowned, the topography of Morocco is unlike any country I have ever seen. Just an hour’s drive away from Marrakesh you are either in a stone desert or at the foothills of 4000m peaks. The North is so diverse from the South or the West or East, you may think you’ve visited four different countries. The astounding sunsets, their handicrafts from carpets to leather to iron work or ceramics; it is a sumptuously delicious, a royally impressive, extremely romantic yet also adrenalin-packed Kingdom.
Have you any exciting new plans or ideas you can share with us?
Since my arrival, we’ve added another member to the team who will be helping us further along the path of development. It is too early for me to relay specific ideas, as I need to gauge if they can be executed within the boundaries of Epic Morocco’s ethos and service culture. I do not want to change any of Charlie’s vision, simply add to the “yes we can” mission by going beyond anyone’s possibilities and simply searching for new frontiers to tickle the intrepid travellers palate. Having witnessed some outstanding events at the hotels in which I worked, I am sure we can add some of those ingredients to an extraordinary experience here in Morocco. The idea is that every client leaves Morocco having woven their own tapestry through the experiences they had. Better yet, to entice them to return and add more and more layers to their personal “magic carpet ride”.
Does your arrival mean that we are saying goodbye to Mr Morocco, Charlie Shepherd?
Yes and No. Whilst he will be just a hop, skip and a jump away in Porto, he has decided with his family to start afresh in an up-and-coming country of Portugal. Despite his physical absence, he will be actually even more immersed in the daily life of Epic Morocco, as he now will have the time to develop additional bespoke itineraries, which was a challenge during the past years of managing EM on his own.
And your Desert Island Discs question… if you were stranded on a desert island what would you take to remind you of Morocco? You can have one book, one piece of music and one luxury item.
- I would take with me “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese, which, despite it not being about Morocco, is a story about Ethiopia, so it takes place on this great continent of Africa.
- I have always loved Arabic music, and I could listen to Rashid Taha’s “Ya Rayah” on replay for hours !
- I would take one of the most beautifully hand-crafted copper lampshades you see every where and every day. I cannot get enough of the light they emit or the stories they tell. 1001 Arabian nights. I am living it!