A newly married couple got so drunk on their Sri Lankan honeymoon, they bought their hotel — and now run a successful bed and breakfast.
After a rustic December wedding ceremony in Tuscany, Italy, Gina Lyons, 33, and Mark Lee, 35, of London, set off for a monthlong honeymoon in Sri Lanka, where they had booked a beachside hotel in the town of Tangalle.
After checking in at the Reggae Zone Beach Resort, the couple of six years purchased a bottle of rum and sat on the beach, chatting with hotel staff. “We must have drunk 12 glasses of rum each — we’re British, it’s what we do — and we became friendly with a barman named Isuru,” Lyons tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We said how dirty and undecorated the hotel was, and he mentioned that the owner was ending the lease in June.”
Intrigued, Lyons, a television producer and Lee, a sales director for telecom events, inquired about the cost of the lease. “It was drunk banter, but Mark and I are dreamers — we egg each other on, and we’re not good at being voices of reason,” says Lyons.
After learning the lease was £12,000 per year (nearly $16,000), Lyons and Lee got excited. “We started writing numbers down on napkins and envisioning what the hotel could look like,” she says. “Isuru offered to introduce us to the landowners if we were serious.”
The following morning, while waiting for previously scheduled massage appointments, the couple started panicking at the enormity of their plans. Then, Lyons got inspired by a young general manager named Milinda who was running around, delegating duties. “After 30 minutes of observing him, I asked if he would be interested in working at a smaller hotel we were considering taking over,” says Lyons. “We offered to match his pay and give him a profit share.”
The deal sounded sweet, and later that day, Milinda accompanied Lyons and Lee to a bar to meet the husband-and-wife owners of the Reggae Zone Beach Resort. After hours of negotiations — and cocktails — much of which was translated from Sinhalese (or Sinhala), one of the two main languages in Sri Lanka, the newlyweds agreed to take over the three-year lease for £30,000 (roughly $40,000) paid in two installments, with Isuru and Milinda as managers.
Back in London, the couple started saving money and clipping coupons, avoiding parties, restaurants, and clothes shopping. “Our life was all work,” says Lyons.
In March, Lyons noticed that despite a busy exercise schedule, she wasn’t losing weight. So, “feeling different,” she took a pregnancy test, which was positive. “I was like, ‘Oh sugar,'” says Lyons. “I felt like an awful mom, guilty as if we were doing something irresponsible and stupid.” The couple briefly considered pulling out of the deal, but they were encouraged by the commitment of Isuru and Milinda.
Over the next few months, Lyons and Lee traveled back to Sri Lanka to rebuild the hotel with their bare hands, replacing its tin roof to prevent animals from entering, building beach and interior furniture, gutting the kitchen, and reviving surfaces with fresh coats of gray-and-white paint.
In July, the seven-bedroom Lucky Beach Tangalle was open for business, a two-hour drive from safaris and surrounded by waters known for whale-watching. “We wanted the word ‘Lucky’ in the name because we were praying for luck,” says Lyons. The couple also adopted two dachshund dogs named Lucky and Larry, who live at the hotel and frollick among visitors.
At seven months pregnant, Lyons is excited for her daughter to spend time in Sri Lanka, and she’s excited to give back to the community. “Crazy ideas require biased self-belief and a bit of naivete,” she says. “The staff is now our family and this hotel our second life.”
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