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Travel Leaders: Nikki Little, General Manager, Novotel Sydney Darling Square

There’s a story that’s been doing the rounds in Sydney hospitality circles. Apparently, there’s a hotel general manager who, despite all her other work, takes time out to water the plants at the property. And there are a lot of plants. Karryon tracked her down to ask why. This is her story. 

There’s a story that’s been doing the rounds in Sydney hospitality circles. Apparently, there’s a hotel general manager who, despite all her other work, takes time out to water the plants at the property. And there are a lot of plants. Karryon tracked her down to ask why. This is her story. 

Nikki Little is the General Manager of the Novotel Sydney Darling Square. Adjoining the hotel is the renowned Pumphouse Sydney. With over 350 plants, Pumphouse is one of the greenest indoor dining venues in Sydney. Nikki has taken a vested interest in those plants. She ensures they are watered, named and kept company each week.

“There are a lot of plants,” she admits.

“One of the things I love to do is go upstairs in Pumphouse when it’s closed and check out my crazy hair plants in particular, which is what I call the succulents that we’ve got up there.” 

Pumphouse was fully refurbished during the height of the pandemic and was relaunched in November 2021. Originally built in 1891, it was the first large multi-purpose hydraulic pumping station in New South Wales, Nikki tells Karryon. And the refurbishment mandate was to not only highlight its industrial elements, but to also create a softness. 

“We’ve taken our time to get that balance right,” she says. 

“And I feel really proud when we see the surprise and delight guests get as soon as they open the interconnecting door from the hotel through to Pumphouse. People are wide-eyed when they see all this green.

“I don’t see the water from Pumphouse. But we wanted to bring that element of having an escape from the busyness of the city. In the Terrace you get to relax and be playful, enjoy spending time with people and you can just while away the afternoon. And you see people that do that and it’s lovely.”

A hands-on GM

The motives are commendable, but most GMs aren’t quite as hands-on as Nikki.

I ask why she feels compelled to do it. 

“I like working with the plants in Pumphouse because it’s different. It’s not a report. It’s not clearing tables – which I love as well for other reasons. It’s something that’s very different to what we do every single day. And it’s something that brings joy. 

“I enjoy being in that space when it’s open. But I also enjoy it when it’s quiet. And just to see how everything has grown and it has grown so much. It’s just a great spot, a great environment.”

Nikki claims to be an introvert. And in an industry that is very much a people-pleasing one and in a role that is very much about dealing with people, I think this is interesting. 

“Being an introvert doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the extrovert in me,” she says. 

“It just means that I need to make sure that I give myself time every day, to have some reflection and some quiet time, so that I can recharge the batteries and be ready for whatever comes next.

“Pumphouse gives me a space where I can go and have a bit of quiet. But it also gives me just a moment’s pause and then I can get going again. Get my coffee and I’m on my way.”

But before she leaves, Nikki will often have a chat with Malcolm the landscaper about something that needs to be changed.

“I’ll say, ‘Malcolm, I think we need to try something a bit different’. I don’t want it to be the same. I want it to look different and feel different. Different plants, different textures… And Malcolm has been terrific with us. He’s done a wonderful job, and he collaborates with us. He’s the one who knows the plants. I’m just the one that says, ‘I like this one because it’s crazy’.

A heartist with a call to connect

Nikki says that in Accor, there’s a real focus on being ‘heartists’. 

“It’s all about not only connecting, but connecting with a bit of flair and artistry and having those two pieces connect together. 

“So there is a big focus in our business on how do we empower our teams to be able to feel confident to do something that is going to surprise and delight our guests. And we talk about it all the time to make sure that our team want to, and feel confident to do something that’s just a little bit special.”

Nikki has been with Novotel Sydney Darling Square coming up to three years now. But she’s been in hospitality since 1987. 

“When I was a teenager I worked at the old Pier One which, back then, was an amusement centre. And I just loved it. That idea that I could work and talk to people all day long, I just loved it. I’ve loved hospitality ever since and continue to enjoy our industry and all the vibrancy that comes with it.”

Nikki started in Reservations when it was mostly done on the phone. And it was while talking to people that she learned the importance of really listening and finding solutions quickly. 

“There’s no standard way of doing things and in hospitality there’s no one pathway. I probably haven’t done things in a very traditional way,” she says of her pathway to becoming a general manager.

Nikki went from Reservations, and moved into Sales and Marketing. She’s headed up Sales and Marketing teams and Operations.

“You learn to tell stories, and learn to understand how to influence commercials through stories and influence change. And I think that’s one of the things that I’ve enjoyed doing.” 

But she’s not doing it alone.

“I’ve had some wonderful general managers who have mentored and shaped my thinking. I’ve got some fantastic colleagues who continue to challenge that thinking and shape different ways of doing things. And then within my friendship groups, I’ve got some terrific coaches and mentors who really challenge me to think differently.”

Nurturing talent, community… and plants

Darling Square is one of Sydney’s newest communities, Nikki says. 

“So while we are in a big city, we’re surrounded by community. And I think for Pumphouse we have always wanted it to be a place where community connects. 

“That’s our story. Yes, we are in a big city and it’s a vibrant, diverse city, but it’s still a community. And at the heart of that is connection.”

Nikki Little

I’ve been talking to Nikki a while now and after comparing Bon Jovi hair plants (you’ll know it when you see it), I very much feel I’m in the presence of someone with a lot of knowledge to share. 

I ask her how she finds opportunities to share that knowledge with those new to the industry to make the industry better. 

“I think there’s a couple of different elements to that,” she says.  

“One is fostering learning and development and encouraging people’s curiousity. I think that curiosity is such a driver for anyone who’s interested in hospitality. 

“We have available to us a wealth of learning and development programmes within Accor specifically to give team members the support that they need, that they can be nurtured along the way so that they’ve got the opportunity to go as far and wide as they want to go.

“We have a lot of diversity in our teams. And there’s so much diversity in the roles and the opportunities that are available. And like I said before, there’s no one pathway to get there. Wherever you want to go. There’s a pathway and a way of getting to achieve as much as you want to do.”

Seeing the GM watering the plants just makes you realise how achievable those goals can be. 

“The sky’s the limit in the hospitality industry.”