Day in the Life: The Dubai resort boss on balancing lifesaving and face painting

Buntu Malgas makes fun a full-time occupation but his team is ready to take on any challenge that crops up

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Buntu Malgas’s job as a complex recreation manager at a major Dubai resort is “full on” but with a side order of fun.

The South African oversees pool and beach attendants, lifeguards, a water park, a children's club, gym and recreational activities at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort, and neighbouring hotels The Westin and W Dubai.

Mr Malgas, 36, worked as a lifeguard before travelling to the US, UK, Switzerland and later Dubai in 2008.

Climbing the ranks from lifeguard supervisor, he spent time at Abu Dhabi’s Monte Carlo Beach Club and rejoined Mina Seyahi in 2019, beginning his current role two years ago.

The National goes behind the scenes of his working day.

5.45am: The first of 40,000 steps

Three times a week, this early riser heads from his home in The Gardens to Dubai’s Kite Beach.

“I prepare protein bars, shakes and water, and my wife and I go our separate ways,” Mr Malgas says.

“I join Vikings Surf Lifesaving group for exercises in and out of water.”

He says fitness is key in a job clocking up 25,000-41,000 steps daily, maybe joining in children's club activities or testing water park rides.

“You need to be ready, anything might happen … it’s full on.”

8am: Leading the lifeguards

It's straight from workout to work, shower, change and a quick bite to eat for the Cape Town native, who inherited his lifeguarding passion from his father.

“I sometimes jump in and join them [hotel lifeguards] for training,” says Mr Malgas, who still has his certification. “They’re like, ‘let’s see what you can do’.”

The resort lifeguarding team came third at the national championships in Sharjah recently and is top within Marriott’s Mena properties.

“Part of my responsibilities is to ensure lifeguards are ready to react to any situation … we’ve had a child have a fit, choking after eating, people getting out of their depth. Generally, lifeguards pick it up quickly and activate a rescue.”

8.30-8.45am: Checking in with team of 80

Mr Malgas, who oversees about 80 staff, checks emails, grabs coffee and meets supervisors or the duty manager before morning briefing.

“They’ve been doing rounds and getting the area ready from 5am/6am,” he says.

9-9.45am: The 'conductor of chaos'

At a heads of department and general manager meeting budgets, upcoming events, incoming VIPs or corporate team building groups are discussed, before Mr Malgas tours resort hotspots with his team.

“Normally, areas with highest traffic volumes first, so our Jungle Bay waterpark, water sports, kids club and pools … the heartbeat of the hotel.

“We pinpoint anything we need to check or highlight, then I’ll do a general round of the whole facility with my leaders.”

That can include adult-only areas, tennis courts, the library or the indoor children’s climbing area.

Jokingly describing himself as a “conductor of the chaos”, among Mr Malgas’s challenges is ensuring the many types of guest are having a good time.

“You’re sorting it out as you go or taking notes on your phone, maybe we’ve identified wear and tear or need to add another first-aid kit,” he says of morning walkabouts. “It is a well-oiled machine.”

Midday: Making connections

This is lunchtime for most of the complex recreation manager’s crew.

“It’s a good way to connect with them, sometimes we don’t talk about work … a lot are from countries that really love cricket, so that’s a hot topic.”

And English isn’t the first language of some, which can produce interesting "entertainment".

“You can go to the cafe and they are humming Sweet Caroline … songs they picked up from brunch,” says Mr Malgas, citing The Westin’s famous Bubbalicious fixture. “There’s a great rendition of the Sri Lankan boys singing I Come From A Land Down Under …”

1pm: Face-time and face painting

A chance to catch-up with the administration team.

“They are the engine of my departments,” Mr Malgas says, taking care of gym members, corporate clients, procurement of cleaning product to art supplies in the children's club.

The latter demands much of his attention, ensuring safety beside the fun.

“I’ve come back to the office many times with a Batman face-painting and had to clean myself up,” he admits. “Or a makeover and walked into the gym with red cheeks.”

2pm: In the driving seat

A resort tour with the guest buggy drivers – “the guys driving you from A to B” with knowledge of restaurants, pool timings, ATMs” – takes Mr Malgas to all three properties.

“I’ll link with concierges and front offices, [hear about[ families that have requirements, such as tennis coaching or swimming lessons.

“We have plunge pools, like an ice bath, good for recovery, sauna and steam rooms, so [professional[ sports people come with their families, wake up early and use those facilities, or meeting rooms for strength and conditioning training in private.”

Familiar footballers have also stayed, but Mr Malgas cites a synchronised swimming squad rehearsing as his favourite sporting visit.

3pm: Reviewing the reviews

Being the quietest time for personal trainers and coaches, Mr Malgas connects with them before the next wave of traffic “to make sure towels are ready and we are good to go”.

He examines guest reviews, online ratings and comments before the 4pm tea break. “I use this to say, ‘congratulations, you’re mentioned by a guest on TripAdvisor’…it’s a great motivator”.

4.30-6.30pm: Evaluating the day

Some closing admin before Mr Malgas begins his 6pm final site round.

“This gives me a chance to speak to team members … did anything break during the day? Anything to send to engineering to repair? Then my day ends about 6.30, I go home and relax.”

8pm: Food and family

Mr Malgas prepares dinner, sometimes with help from Google and a YouTube video.

“I want my wife to have her feet up because we are expecting our first child in September and I cook things that don’t take too much fuss,” he reveals.

After watching some TV, the hotel professional is usually bed-bound by 9-9.30pm.

“Although, lately it’s later because right now I go to malls and to baby shops."

Updated: November 10, 2023, 12:23 PM