THE INSIDER | Dispatches from behind the scenes of the travel industry

A Weekend in the Life of a Resort Hotel Manager

[Map: Vieques, Puerto Rico]
By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 14, 2008

The dream: Quitting your hamster-wheel job in a grinding city to run an enchanting hotel in the tropics, where the daily routine includes ocean swims and cocktails at sunset.

The nightmare: The pool is under construction, and the guests are hot and desperate to swim; the hotel's snorkel equipment leaks and must be replaced; and a hurricane is brewing offshore.

"This is not a job, it's a lifestyle," said Bob Gevinski, 40, who paused his life as a freelance photographer in Boston in October 2007 to manage the Hix Island House on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. "When I was a guest here, I thought, 'How can I extend this feeling or make it part of my life?' "

Many people share this fantasy: the never-ending vacation that comes with a paycheck. They mull the idea of trading in long commutes, 7.5 hours of desk time, Dilbert bosses and plain old monotony for a life of simple pleasures and unusual challenges. They imagine escaping, yet not fully dropping out.

Yet what is the reality of running Hotel Paradise? After a weekend spent shadowing Gevinski, I learned that the truth lies somewhere between dream and nightmare.

* * *

I first met Gevinski at my sister's wedding, where he spent most of the time behind the lens, orchestrating our poses and propping up our smiles. Months later, I received a mass e-mail from him, in which he detailed his life-changing plan: "For the next two years, I've committed myself to a sleepy island in the Caribbean. I'm taking the time down here to manage one of my favorite hotels," Gevinski wrote about his career upheaval, the second in twice as many years.

Gevinski, who once worked as an ad sales manager at CBS Television Stations, later explained how he landed this gig. As a photographer, he frequently shot destination weddings on the tiny isle once controversially inhabited by the U.S. Navy and now an open secret of white sand beaches and lush landscapes. He stayed at the Hix Island House three years in row, befriending owners John and Neeva Gayle Hix, who divide the calendar between Vieques and Toronto. The couple needed a manager to run the place and sent out a letter that tapped into the fantasy: "There must be someone who has the dream to run a hotel in the Caribbean?" Gevinski's sister responded, but eventually she and her husband started to crave mainland life. They returned to New York, passing the keys to another couple before Gevinski took over.

"He is very fortunate," said Joe McInerney, president of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, when I asked him about "civilians" like Gevinski who vacate their former lives to run a hotel. "You usually need experience.

"A manager has to be a jack-of-all-trades," McInerney continued. "He is the host, but he also cleans the rooms when there's a no-show. He does the accounting, the marketing, the managing and the operations. He does everything."

* * *

Gevinski showed up at the tiny airport with stubble on his tanned face, his shorts and T-shirt crumpled and worn after a day of labor. It was October, a slow month, and the staff of five was finally shifting its attention to repairs and renovations that had stockpiled during the high season, which runs December to April. The top chore on Gevinski's list was resurfacing the pool.

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