David’s impressive career spans more than three decades in senior corporate and strategic roles across six countries within the hospitality industry. I’m keen to learn the story behind his return to Australia.
David’s journey has taken him around the globe, but he started in familiar territory. Born in Tamworth and raised on the sunny Gold Coast, he ventured into leadership roles worldwide in prestigious properties.
“When our daughter was about to reach high school age, my wife and I made the hard decision to permanently return ‘home’ to Melbourne Australia to offer more family stability,” David said. “On return, I had a nerve-racking four-month career break. It was difficult because I have always been so career-focused, but on reflection, it was perfect as it helped us settle back into the Aussie lifestyle and our kids settle into school.”
In 2019, David embarked on a new chapter, joining Quest Apartment Hotels as Chief Operating Officer (COO). Shortly thereafter, a period of transition saw leading global lodgings provider, The Ascott Limited acquire this family-led business model.
David assumed the role of Managing Director for the Australian arm – The Ascott Limited, Australia (Ascott Australia).
“The biggest attraction for me was the chance to learn about the franchise model. It was a new discipline, and I could add value to the corporate side of the business,” David said.
“Now it all feels very natural to me. In a managed hotel you can tell the GM what to do but with a franchise model you need to build relationships and trust is very important. If you don’t have trust, you have nothing.”
Taking on his leadership role at the onset of the pandemic presented challenges. David acknowledged the difficulties but also described this period as one of the most exhilarating in his career.
“It challenged the hard wiring of my brain on so many topics that I never thought I would change my position on,” he said.
The pandemic offered the Ascott Australia leadership team the opportunity to ‘step up’ and guide Quest franchisees through the uncertainties. As they weathered the storm together, they re-evaluated their business model, which is now stronger than ever.
David considers the pandemic a significant catalyst for positive change and growth.
“We looked at our purpose, vision, mission, and revised values, and we put them in place on the back of all the change. The rest is history,” David said.
“The pandemic gave us the opportunity to look in the mirror and see where we were not doing well. We fixed our shortfalls, and we will not forget the lessons of the pandemic.”
Strategic and sustainable growth is now the driver of Ascott Australia’s plans. The company is determined to increase the number of Quest properties in Australia from 121 to 200 by the end of the decade. Additionally, it is expanding the newly introduced Citadines brand to almost every capital city in Australia. Ascott has also acquired the rights to own and operate Oakwood, with plans to expand this brand in CBDs and suburban areas.
What excites David the most though, is the opening of the groundbreaking lyf Collingwood. This brand takes an innovative approach to co-living, with careful consideration given to the needs of the modern digital nomad. lyf revolves around the concept of communal and flexible living, offering more than just a place to stay. lyf Bondi Junction is already under construction and set to welcome guests late next year and David revealed there are plans for another lyf in Sydney, near Darling Harbour, with three more locations under consideration.
“It’s safe to say that the lyf brand is truly coming to life (pun intended),” David added.
Modern travellers, especially digital nomads, David said, seek more than just accommodation. They yearn for an experience, a sense of belonging, and a space that adapts to their unique lifestyle. The expanding lyf portfolio is designed to meet these needs, offering a new and exciting way to live and connect with like-minded individuals.
David underscores Ascott’s commitment to making a positive impact in the communities where they operate. He emphasises their focus on serving the community and putting customers first.
As the Managing Director, David recognises that he answers to all stakeholders and must uphold the highest standards of ethics and integrity and inspire those around him to do the same.
“We approach every decision through a lens of empathy,” he told me.
Reflecting on his own accomplishments, David said navigating Quest Apartment Hotels through the pandemic was “a career highlight of all highlights”.
He values being part of the Accommodation Association of Australia’s amalgamation process.
After recently attending the HICAP summit, David said he was particularly impressed at how unified the industry is now, especially compared to the pre-COVID era. “A refreshing change in the industry is palpable since COVID,” he said. “There is more of a focus on equality, diversity and leadership which has brought about positive change.”
Importantly he is very proud of Quest Apartment Hotels’ partnership with Accessible Accommodation and the work underway to improve accessibility throughout Quest properties and the design of all future developments. He is animated when he speaks about the work being done to meet the needs of guests with disabilities and said it will “not just meet mandatory requirements but far exceed them”.
What continues to motivate David is the network of business owners who rely on The Ascott Limited, Australia to deliver their vision every day. “It gives me joy to be able to look our people in the eye and say we adhere to the values we set,” he said.
When it comes to effective up-and-coming leaders, David explained it is important for them to have the right values and a strong commitment to the core vision. He believes in retaining the right people in the business and introducing others who share these values.
David revealed he draws inspiration from his own children and is “inspired to ensure the fruits of this industry can be enjoyed by the generations that follow”.
In his downtime, David immerses himself in new cultures. He’s looking forward to an imminent trip to Japan with his family and speaks highly of a recent thrilling experience in Uluru.
And when he’s a guest, David humorously said he judges the quality of a hotel by the quality of wine served by the glass at the bar.
Looking towards the future, David told me he is excited about the path ahead, he firmly believes that Ascott is truly making a difference and that an incredible journey is only just beginning.
Mandy has over 17 years of accommodation and tourism industry writing experience and is Editor of AccomNews & Resort News, Publisher of SchoolNews & Director of Multimedia Pty Ltd. She is a retired registered nurse with a 25-year NHS career that followed a few unforgettable years in hotel housekeeping.