Thursday, June 26, 2008


NAVITALAI Gagalia sent his figure juggling skills to the backburner as soon his senses calculated he was a natural in the kitchen.
Decades later, he now considers himself a Jack of all Trades in tourism. He views all hardships and difficulties faced on the job as "just another challenge".
Growing up, Navi, as he is known to friends, always wanted to be a banker. He loved accounting and mathematics throughout his school days.
But his career path took a change in direction while waiting for a response from the first interview for his dream job. To kill time, Navi decided to take up a few classes with the catering school in Suva. There was no turning back once he fell in love with the concept of pleasing the senses with food. By the time the bank called with a job offer, he had made up his mind and turned down the position.
Navi calls it his fairy journey into the tourism industry where he has made a significant contribution during the 20 years of his working life.
While studying at catering school, Navi carried out his practical studies at The Fijian (before it carried the Shangri La name) and Musket Cove resorts.
Straight after completing his education at catering school, Navi secured a position as butcher hand at the Hyatt Regency Fiji (now known as the Warwick Resort).
The lad from Wailoku in Suva worked hard making his way up the ladder into the larder section then into the kitchen main line where he started preparing meals for guests of the five-star property. He was not about to settle with what he was doing as he continued his progress by moving into the pastry section.
Willing to try everything out in the diverse tourism industry, Navi even took a dab at waiting tables in the Food and Beverage Department.
In 1990, he accepted the challenge of manning the hotel switchboard. It was during this period that his "big break" ultimately came through his voice.
"One evening while I was on duty, the then general manager, Giovanni Roghi called for room service and I happened to take the call," he said.
"After we spoke, he asked for my name and said that he wished that I became a receptionist. I became the first male receptionist to work during day shifts, handling the PABX system which was new at the time."
Navi, adorned with his large white hibiscus tekiteki, eventually became the welcoming sight for guests arriving at the property along the Coral Coast.
Motivated to continue with his impressive career at the resort, he moved on to become a night auditor, reservations clerk, reservations manager, duty manager, front office manager and reservations/front officer manager.
During his employment, he was named Employee of the Month three times, Employee of the Year once and has also been the runner up for the Air New Zealand Young Achiever of the Year Award.
Navi was also the first secretary for the Fiji Men's Netball Association. While you may think he has completed his rise to the top of his well rounded career think again because in May last year, Mr Gagalia was promoted to sales manager.
And judging from his highly-motivated, outspoken and energised personality, Navi is bound to reach new heights in his career in the years to come.
He said even though he never thought of a career in tourism during his school days he has never had any regrets since joining the Hyatt Regency Fiji.
He said he could not imagine himself moving and working for another resort especially since he was present for most of the property's transformation including the name change from Hyatt Regency to Warwick Resort.
He said with the resort being only an hours drive away from his family home, his life revolved around the property. He has his sights on managing a property.
He said as his career progressed, there could come a point where he would consider taking up the challenge of managing a property, probably a smaller boutique resort in the country.
He said like him, others could find a whole new dream in the tourism industry especially since one becomes exposed to people of different backgrounds.
Navi said he was fortunate to have worked with people like Jamal Serhan, Jack Stark, Tammy Tam and Petero Manufolau, from whom he has and continues to draw inspiration from.