Las Qolqas' Luciana Martinez Angulo: Hospitality and Sustainability in Peru's Sacred Valley
Luciana Martinez Angulo is the new Resident Manager at Las Qolqas, a newly built eco-resort and spa located in the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley. Drawing on more than two decades of experience––from Switzerland and Dubai to Chile and her native Peru––Luciana now oversees day-to-day operations at the resort including accommodations, food and beverage, spa, retail, guest programming, vendor relations, and outreach with the local community, and most importantly Las Qolqas’ commitment to bringing innovation, sustainability and luxury to the hospitality industry in Peru. We chat with Luciana about her career path and tourism in the precious Sacred Valley of Peru.
What drew you to a career in hospitality and what was your first job?
I decided to study hospitality because I love to travel and wanted to be able to incorporate it into my work. Along the way, I also realized that I really enjoy meeting people from different countries and learning about their cultures and customs.
While I was studying hospitality, part of the program was doing internships each year. My first internship was as a waiter at the Bristol Hotel in Geneva, and my first job was at the Grand Hyatt Dubai as a receptionist, which was a unique experience both culturally and professionally. During this time, I learned a lot and I discovered that I really enjoyed being part of the hospitality industry.
When I returned to Perú after 7 years abroad, I realized that I also really enjoy showing the wonders and hospitality of my country. It was here that I discovered my love for being a teacher to others in the industry.
Do you think there is a hospitality gene or you can train people?
I believe that to work in the hospitality industry you really have to love what you do. Then, as you learn more and have more experiences in the field, you fall more in love with it! There is joy to be found in witnessing people’s most unforgettable moments on their trips––for some the trip of a lifetime––and you know that you helped make it happen.
I also believe that to be a better manager it is crucial to continuously retrain and critique yourself throughout your professional career so that you can offer a better and differentiated experience. Then you can bring this to your people and train them so the entire team can offer the best experience.
Speaking of training, you spent several years as a training manager for Swissotel, what is your best advice for creating successful training programs?
The first thing is to understand that even though each property is different, there is something in common that we all seek from working in the hotel industry— excellence in everything we do and achieving an unforgettable experience, and that can only be accomplished with people who enjoy what they do. So, all good training programs begin with bringing the group together with a common understanding and a little fun too!
After that, it is essential to understand how a specific property’s operation works, what each player does and why, what the property (and or owner) aims to accomplish, and what have been the short/long term results of the present strategy in order to create an effective training program. Hierarchies in place as well as previous individual experiences will have an impact on how the property functions.
It is important as well to constantly acknowledge that different people have different learning styles and that you will have to choose which best applies to your goal in each given scenario. Employees need to have fun while they learn–they need to enjoy the process–to effectively internalize the new knowledge.
Switching gears, what is the hotel industry like for women in Peru, is it seen as a good career?
The hotel industry in Peru has exploded and sustained growth over the past few years and women are playing an important role in the sector. Many women are being hired in various roles throughout each property. While the presence of women has been increasing in the industry over the past few decades, the rapid rise of new hotels in Peru has shown this to a greater extent.
In general, the hospitality industry is perceived as a particularly equitable industry in terms of career growth opportunities for women. Nevertheless, I think that we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality, especially in senior management positions. While women may make up the majority of a property’s staff, men still often hold all of the senior roles. Women have a more difficult time achieving a balance between professional development and personal life, given the distribution of the family burden. But little by little, we are gaining ground at the managerial level, and there are more and more female hotel directors. I believe it will continue to be this way.
How are you working with the local communities to create more career opportunities for women?
As part of our sustainability project, Las Qolqas has developed a 360-degree sustainable plan that extends from the design of the property to the core operations. We built this sustainability plan on the basis that, in the Sacred Valley specifically, sustainability should be seen as multifaceted—which includes the furtherance of female development.
One main aspect of our sustainability plan is locality, 80% of our employees and collaborators (local farmers who provide crops, etc.) are from the area where we are located, which is “Quebrada de Patacancha.” If we cannot find someone in this area, extend our search to Ollantaytambo town, the Sacred Valley, and lastly to Cusco city— of which 45% of the employees are women, and we hope this will continue to rise each year. Each employee is given extensive training at Las Qolqas so they can develop their knowledge of hospitality and grow in their profession, allowing the women who work at Las Qolqas to continue to develop their careers in hospitality and advance to higher roles.
Another aspect of the sustainability plan at Las Qolqas is the NGO started by the property that’s main focus is dedicated to designing and carrying out projects locally in four areas: economic growth, social structures, cultural preservation, and environmental maintenance. Among these projects is a health program that gives psychological support to women and children from “Quebrada de Patacancha,” as well as an education optimization program that works with the six public schools in the Ollantaytambo district to maximize the opportunities for girls in the classroom.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman in hospitality?
I am lucky as to not have faced many difficulties as a woman in the hospitality industry. The main challenge I have faced–which I’m sure many hospitality professionals can relate to–is attaining a balance between my personal and professional life. This is mostly because over the past few years I have worked in remote places which don’t allow for much personal time and put a great distance between my home and me. However, I have managed to balance this by negotiating my days off and being able to travel.
Tell us about Las Qolqas, what is it like working in the Sacred Valley? Does being in this special area of the world present any extra operational challenges?
Las Qolqas is one of the most beautiful places where I have worked in the world. It is surrounded by the wonders of nature, exciting tourism, beautiful people, and wonderful places to visit. It is a place of total disconnection. Everyone who visits or lives here agrees— the Sacred Valley is a very special place with a unique magnetism.
I believe that the location of Las Qolqas is part of its magic— being surrounded by mountains, rivers, and nature, away from the noise of the city. However, operationally, the logistics of buying and receiving products is a massive challenge. We must be very well organized and focused on the needs and requests of our guests since simple requests can sometimes become a challenge given our proximity to the nearest city (two hours away). Nevertheless, we are well practiced in organization and being in tune with guest needs at Las Qolqas.
What else are you doing at Las Qolqas to offer sustainable travel?
As previously mentioned, Las Qolqas has developed a 360-degree sustainable plan extending from the design of the property to its operation whose mission is to minimize the negative impact and enhance the positive impact on the planet throughout a guest’s stay.
Here are some examples of aspects of our plan that help us offer a sustainable travel experience to guests.
We have a policy of zero plastics, and we avoid working with any disposable elements. To get water, guests may refill their water bottles at the bar.
We have a water treatment plant, which has helped us reuse the water treated to irrigate the gardens time and time again.
At the bar, all the drinks offered are in glass format and only Peruvian distillates are served, such as black Whiskey made of purple corn, Vodka 14 Inkas made of Peruvian native potatoes, Ginka made of Peruvian botanicals, and cane distillates “Caña alta” produced in Ollantaytambo.
For us, a core aspect of sustainability has to do with the traceability of products— that is knowing where each product came from, what the production chain looks like up until it reaches the moment of consumption, and finally what is done with the waste generated by it. At Las Qolqas, we are all about providing the most local product possible. We have a farm where we make a large percentage of the produce that is consumed in our restaurant Pututo, and all produce that is served must be certified organic, local, and seasonal.
I’ve always wanted to visit Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. What are the top things not to miss?
Wow, what a difficult question! There are many wonderful places, but if I had to choose, I would say that you should just visit the Sacred Valley first and foremost in Peru. We always recommend to guests to arrive in the Sacred Valley first to be able to acclimate to the environment and altitude, and second because it is so beautiful.
While there are many beautiful places in the valley, my favorite is Ollantaytambo, which is considered the last living Inka city. Las Qolqas is only 2km from it! Within the district of Ollantaytambo are the autochthonous and indigenous Quechua communities, among which are Willoq and Patacancha. Pumamarca, an Inka construction site, is also nearby. On the way to Pumamarca you can see Inka agricultural terraces, irrigation systems, and one of the Inka trails that connect various points of the empire together.
Another site to see nearby is the Perolniyoc waterfalls. There you can see elegant natural erosion, and above another Inka construction site. The waterfalls are a very impressive work of nature.
A must-see is the city of Cusco. There, you can see many beautiful archaeological and colonial sites. In fact, Cusco has just recently been selected as “the best city in Central and South America.”
Of course, while in Peru it is a must to visit Machu Picchu. In my opinion, the best way to get there is by walking the Inca Trail, which is a trek of 4 days and 3 nights. You walk on the ancient system of roads established during the Inca empire, where you will see a variety of different landscapes, including a natural mixture of jungles and cloud forests, as well as a variety of impressive archeological sites.
Gracias, Luciana for sharing your story! Wishing you lots of success in your new role! Click for more on Las Qolqas.