Power Players: Sharing Nature With His Guests
Joel Meyer, general manager of The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island, laughs while telling the story of how he came to be interested in the hospitality industry.
“I remember watching an old movie when I was about 12 years old,” he says. “In the movie, a woman checked into the hotel, the bellman took her to the room and she turned around and gave him money. He said, ‘Thank you ma’am ’ and went away. I thought, ‘Wow! You can get paid just for carrying bags.’”
Meyer jokes, but in his case it turned out to be true. He was a bellman at the historic Arizona Inn for six years while attending the University of Arizona in Tucson. He made a lot of money, for a student, and discovered he liked the business. “It’s one of those careers that hook you,” he says. “If you like it and you’re good at it, you’ll do it the rest of your life.”
It’s a long way from Meyer’s hometown of Tucson to Little St. Simons Island, and he took the scenic route. Armed with a degree in film production, which was never put to use, Meyer began working for the Sheraton Corporation at a Tucson resort in 1982. Two years later he moved to Florida and entered the corporate management training program, then hit the road helping open new hotels around the country.
“I was with Sheraton for six years, and during that time I worked in 13 different hotels around the country, from Miami to Anchorage,” he says.
Next Meyer became a resort manager at Innis-brook, a luxury golf resort near Tampa. While there, he met the owners of The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort on St. Simons Island. He was offered the position of general manager of the resort and made the move to Georgia in 1994. He stayed at The King and Prince for six years before moving to a bigger property, the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach. He was the second in command at the PGA National, but decided to leave after a couple of years and take a break from work altogether.
For about a year, Meyer traveled around the southeast with his brother, but in 2004 he got a call from a former Brunswick-Golden Isles Visitors Bureau colleague asking whether he’d be interested in returning to the area as general manager at The Lodge.
“You have to understand, the general manager’s job at Little St. Simons Island has come up twice in 25 years,” says Meyer. He jumped at the opportunity to return to coastal Georgia. “People talk about how beautiful it is, and it is,” he says. “But the people are so nice, and the property is remarkable.”
Visitors to The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island aren’t just taking a vacation; they’re enjoying a one-of-a-kind experience. The resort accommodates only 32 guests at a time and offers unique nature excursions. Island naturalists serve as the resort’s hosts. “We have some of the best people in the southeast who know a lot about nature and who are good at sharing it,” he says. “That allows me to step back and do my job.”
His job includes finding the right people for the right job and making sure everyone has the tools to do their jobs. Employee turn-over is rare. “It really is like a family,” he says. “Two thirds of the staff live on the island, and we’re all on the same page.”
The staff was the driving force behind the resort’s “green” initiative, resulting in the Green Globe 21 designation, an internationally recognized sustainability certification.
The Lodge keeps a USDA-certified organic garden, uses a geo-thermal heating and air conditioning unit and maintains a strict recycling program.
“It all came out of a meeting we had with our staff about things we could do to be more conscious of the environment,” says Meyer, who also credits the island’s owners with buying into the often expensive green concept, lock, stock and checkbook.
If it sounds like Meyer has a dream job, he’ll gratefully agree. “One of the best things for me, personally, is that I’ve been able to assist the owners with other business interests in the area. I’ve never done that in any other job,” he says. “It really is spectacular. People say I have the best job in the county if not in the state.”