We caught up with Jessica Meza, one of Ecuador’s most inspiring female entrepreneurs.
Jessica Meza is a serial entrepreneur having launched several businesses including Palmazul Hotel & Spa, Fashion Legacy Ecuador, La Selva Jungle Lodge and Haugan Cruises and if that wasn’t enough she is also Ecuador’s Tourism Ambassador.
L.N Jessica, can you tell us a bit more about yourself, who you are, what you do for a living and which part of the world you call home
J.M I am a strong and independent woman that loves to be active and work. You could say I am a workaholic but I enjoy the activity so much that I don’t consider anything I do a job. I am also a travel and luxury addict, however, my biggest accomplishment in life is being the mother of two amazing teenagers. What is home for me it is hard to say because I see it more as a place where the people I love are. Right now it is Oslo in Norway but almost half of the year I spend it in Ecuador when I spend too much time in either of these places I miss something from the other so I guess home is an imaginary place in my mind where I can have the best of both worlds.
L.N You are a true entrepreneur and have an impressive portfolio of businesses under your belt including Palmazul Hotel & Spa, Fashion Legacy Ecuador, La Selva Jungle Lodge and Haugan Cruises. Have you always known you would run your own companies?
J.M Well, I have a “bossy personality” hahaha so I guess that has been a sign! The few times I tried to have a boss it didn’t work out so well, I was lucky to find a good partner who taught me a lot and allowed me to develop some of my ideas, these ventures were created thanks to our joint skills, right now we are still partners at La Selva Jungle Lodge.
L.N Can you tell us a bit more about your focus on designing luxury atmospheres including designing and co-designing high-end yachts for the Galapagos Islands and co-owning and designing the high- end Jungle Lodge – La Selva Jungle Lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
J.M Designing luxury atmospheres is not only about Interior Design which by the way I am not an expert at. It is rather more about creating a full experience for the people visiting our places. It is important that our guests feel pampered, enjoy good food, staying in a comfortable room despite being in the jungle or in a fishermen village by the Pacific Ocean. The luxury atmosphere is more about experiencing the authenticity of the locals, savouring Ecuadorian food and being able to create memorable experiences.
L.N It seems like you have a natural flair for aesthetics and beauty, is that how the Image Coaching Academy – Fashion Legacy Ecuador where you help women not only look their best but also find their essence, came about?
J.M Well, actually, it came out from a personal crisis! I was in a moment where I wasn’t feeling my best and my self-esteem was very very low, so I met the incredible Leon Hall, who created the show Fashion Emergency together with Joan Rivers in the US. He decided to retire in Ecuador and we became best friends! He did what he knew best – “makeovers”, so he started with changing my image but I noticed that it also helped me heal on the inside. That is how Fashion Legacy was born, during the following four years we were active, we helped hundreds of women to regain their self-confidence and learn how to look their best! This is one of the most gratifying things I have done in my life. There is this saying that “you teach what you need to learn” and this was the case for me. At the same time, we also created a community of women supporting each other, a very special experience for me.
L.N Tell us a bit more about the process of creating Palmazul Hotel & Spa, the award-winning boutique beach hotel, all the way from construction, designing the hotel to training the staff.
J.M My then-husband (now my business partner) and I wanted to build our “beach house” and in that process, we started to think about how many rooms we wanted and we both agreed we wanted several bedrooms so we could invite friends and family. That is how the project grew up to be a boutique hotel with 15 bedrooms and Ecuadorian fusion cuisine, Cocomar. During the construction of the property, I volunteered at the local high school to teach tourism and ended up inviting some of the best students to come and work for us. We noticed that it was difficult to bring staff from the main cities in Ecuador so as a result, we decided that it was important to give back to the community, so we trained 13 people (fishermen, housewives and construction workers) to deliver a warm and elegant service that I call the Rustic Luxury™. We trained our staff to keep the charm and warmth of the local culture whilst delivering a service where the luxury is not stiff or formal rather personalised making each guest feel special.
L.N You recently became the owner of the leading luxury cruise line in Ecuador, Haugan Cruises. What, to you, is important when it comes to luxury cruising, what do guests look for?
J.M Absolutely the luxury of being disconnected!! In this world right now where you are bombarded by information and being online and connected feels like a second skin, I love the fact that at the Galapagos Islands we can enjoy a bit of going back to socialising and talking face to face with people. We don’t offer WI-Fi onboard our cruises as a major luxury treat for our guests. The Enchanted Islands is the best-preserved place in the planet and on the top-ten bucket list in many major travel magazines and with its limited number of tourists allowed to visit every year, it would be a shame not to enjoy this pristine place to its fullest hence the encouragement to get people offline whilst being there. Our cruises are boutique and experiential yachting, with only 16 passengers hosted onboard however our cabins are the biggest in the industry with 25 to 30 m2 with private balconies.
L.N With an increasing awareness of our planet and how to protect it, what sustainability activities have you implemented across your companies?
J.M The most important one I would say is social responsibility. We hire most of our staff from the community we are in, and this gives them a better understanding and teaches them the importance of our resources after seeing it from our guests perspective. At the beach hotel, all the sinks have a draining system that goes straight to our gardens so we can use the water from showers and basins to irrigate them. We use biodegradable products and we have our own organic garden where we get the fresh produce for our restaurant. Our swimming pool is heated in a very clever way, we are not using tiles at the bottom but painted concrete that attracts the warmth from the sun, which is a great energy saver. We also support the local artisans by buying their furniture and our guests always receive sweets made by locals as a courtesy.
In Galapagos is easier to be environmentally conscious as the National Park already has very strict operation rules. Some food and plants are not allowed in from the continent and we have a special water plant and toilets and we have a maximum amount of waste allowed per cruise.
L.N What does sustainable luxury mean to you?
J.M It means having comfort and enjoyment without harming our planet more than we already have done, like what’s happned to the Amazon jungle for example. Air conditioning is a big NO for us, instead, the rooms are designed with nets allowing natural airflow to avoid extra contamination. And all the waste is taken out to the main city (three hours away by boat) in order to protect the area.
L.N With so many plates spinning at once as well being a mother of two daughters, how do you manage your work-life balance?
J.M It wouldn’t be possible with the support of my family. My mother manages all the companies permanently so I can come and go as I do. The father of my children is also very present which allows me to focus on work when I have to. My siblings give me a hand with social media and bookings and we also invest a lot in our staff in order to provide them with a good work environment to guarantee their commitment. And of course, you always need that loving person that is cheering you on. Without all these elements nothing could be possible.
L.N Lastly, you’ve also been appointed as Ecuador’s Tourism Ambassador which showcases your passion for your country. For those who haven’t had the chance to visit yet, why according to you should they make sure to put Ecuador on their bucket list?
J.M Ah, that’s easy! Because Ecuador is four worlds in one small country. Within a 30-minute flight, you can be in the Amazon jungle, at the Pacific Coast or the Andes mountains, so we have something for everyone. Ecuador is also the most biodiverse (per mt2) country in the world and has the highest concentration of Orchids, amphibians and birds. And we have something that you won’t find anywhere else in the world – the Galapagos Islands. This place is truly remarkable where animals are not afraid of humans as they don’t see us as predators, where baby sea lions will come to play with you while snorkelling…just an incredible experience that you can only experience in Ecuador.
Read more about Jessica and her businesses at www.jessicameza.com