As the first new hotel to be built in Key Largo in more than 21 years, to say that there’s a lot of pressure to provide travelers with a new level of service and experiences would be an understatement. Not only are we up for the challenge, but our team is confident that once our doors officially open, we’re going to give our guests an experience that’s “exactly like nothing else.”
Let’s do a quick rundown of Playa Largo: 144 luxurious rooms, 10 private bungalows, a secluded beach house, Key Largo’s first full-service spa, a world-class steakhouse, a private marina and thousands of square feet of meeting space. Whew! But that only scratches the surface of what this Marriott Autograph Collection resort has to offer.
So who oversees everything? Who will make sure that guests have a fresh towel after hopping out of the pool or grahams for their ‘mallows at the sunset bonfires? None other than the General Manager, Shakir Hussain, who’s the subject of this week’s Playa Profile.
Q: Shakir (pronounced shocker) – that’s an interesting name – Where does that name originate?
Shakir: Haha! I didn’t even realize my name was interesting until after I migrated to the United States for college. I was born and raised in India but lived in London, Baghdad, Iraq, a number of countries in Southeast Asia, even Africa for a little while, and I never knew my name was interesting. Supposedly it means ‘sacrifice.’ I don’t speak Arabic, so I’m not sure if that’s true, but that’s what I’m told. It definitely makes for a great conversation starter!
Q: So how’d you make your way to the Keys after all of those international destinations?
Shakir: When I lived in Manhattan, we’d vacation in Key West or in Holiday Isle, but I knew that one day I’d visit and never return to New York. Key Largo allowed me to live a no-stress island life and still be only an hour away from Miami. I finally moved to South Beach in ’98 for a little more than a decade, then relocated to the Keys in 2011.
Q: What do you like about the Keys?
Shakir: I love being by the water! When I moved to South Beach, most of the restaurants, with the exception of three or four, were either across the street from the water or at a marina, whereas in the Keys, there are 60 or 70 places to eat literally ON the water. I’m also a certified PADI scuba diver, so I like to explore the island’s best dive sites. The locals here are also the kindest and most laid-back people you’ll meet, which makes for very little crime. And it’s nice to live in a place where I can have beautiful sunsets and dinner on the bay almost every day.
Q: Shakir, we know that you went to Cornell and that’s where you earned your master’s degree in their hospitality program. What originally made you decide to get into this industry?
Shakir: Growing up, my family lived in a British-style government town in close proximity to an air force base. My eyes would light up when I’d see the guys whiz by in the jet planes, so I always dreamed of being a fighter pilot.
At 18, I gave it a shot with the hopes of traveling the world and started off as a radio operator. However, I quickly found out how boring it was. When I returned home, I started working for The Oberoi Grand, a five-star hotel in Calcutta, India, and worked my way up from a dishwasher, to the kitchen staff to a front desk clerk. Eventually, I was accepted into The Oberoi’s management program where many of the professors are former Cornellians. I rose in the ranks and met the Cornell hospitality school dean who suggested I apply for their master’s program. The rest is history.
Q: Give us your 30-second elevator pitch for Playa Largo.
Shakir: What will differentiate Playa Largo from anywhere else is the experience. We’re going to tailor the experience to each of the five senses, from the way the staff speak, to the materials we’ve selected for the interior design, to the music playing at La Marea. We’re trying to synchronize the senses so that guests say, “Wow that resort has great ambiance, and I feel good staying there.” If anyone isn’t dying to come back to Playa Largo after they’ve left, then we haven’t done everything right.
Q: We’re going to play a game. Tell us the first thing that comes to mind during a few rapid-fire questions.
Q: We’re so excited for the resort to open. Before we conclude, can you give us an insider tidbit about Playa Largo?
Shakir: Statistically, Playa Largo will be the most eco-friendly company in the Keys ever. We won’t have ANY plastic disposable water bottles on property – only reusable water bottles. We’re spending $6 a bottle, whereas typical hotels spend 35-40 cents per bottle. It’s going to be quite an expense, but we feel it’s completely worth it. Eventually we’ll discourage guests from bringing any plastic bottles to the resort. Reducing our carbon footprint and protecting the environment is one of our ultimate goals.