If we asked you to name one characteristic that differentiates between people and animals, what would you say? Some might list compassion, while others might say self-awareness. We, however, would put forth the argument that what truly sets us apart from beasts is our ability to make cool, collected decisions. Animals, on the other hand, mostly rely on instincts and impulse to see them through their troubles. Of course, that isn’t to say us humans are completely immune from those.
In our moments of weakness, we throw reason to the wind and make decisions with our lizards brains. There can be many things that lead to these rash decisions, but probably first and foremost for most people would be adult beverages. Intoxication, as it happens, reduces our resistance to temptation as well as self-awareness. Most adults realize this, and try to guard against it. Most, but not all – like this couple, who woke up hungover – and owning a new hotel.
We bought a hotel
Gina and Mark are newlyweds from London, who love nothing more than to travel abroad. After tying the knot, it was obvious to them there was only one way to enjoy their honeymoon – by traveling. And so the two strapped on backpacks, and left for the South Asian island nation of Sri Lanka.
Pretty soon, they were settled into their beachside hotel and doing some heavy drinking. When they woke up the next morning, however, they were nursing more than just a hangover. They discovered they had bought their hotel!
Meet Mark and Gina
Before delving into how exactly these two English tourists happened to buy a Sri Lankan hotel, though, we should roll back to the beginning. Just who are these tipsy lovebirds? Well, Gina Lyons, 33, and Mark Lee, 35, met seven years ago after meeting in a London bar. They both shared a passion for travel, and visited Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam together.
For their Clark Kent jobs, Gina works as a producer of television comedy while Mark is a sales director. Both are high-powered jobs with big responsibilities, so it’s only understandable that they felt the need to let down their hair and just have fun. After getting hitched, they found the perfect destination to do just that – Sri Lanka.
A dream honeymoon
Mark and Gina got married in June 2017, and immediately decided to set off for a backpacking adventure. On the itinerary? Three weeks of traveling through the island paradise of Sri Lanka, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka is extremely popular with British tourists, but it has actually been a touristic hotspot for literally centuries.
In fact, way back in the 12th century, Italian adventurer Marco Polo claimed it was the “best island of its size in the world.” And if it was good enough for Marco Polo, it was good enough for Mark and Gina. They spent their vacation staying in cheap B&Bs, which is how they eventually stumbled on a little beach town called Tangalle.
Falling in love
Tangalle is a town pretty large by Sri Lankan standards, with about 73,000 residents. While accounts differ on how the town got its name, one local legend tells of a holy man who once ate a meal at the spot the town was later founded on, which turned nearby rocks to gold. Since “ran-gala” means “golden rock” in the local language, the settlement was eventually called Tangalle.
Located on the country’s southern shoreline, it’s incredibly popular with tourists for its beautiful, pristine beaches. It’s no wonder, then, that Gina and Mark got there, and immediately fell in love with it. True beach bums at heart, they began scouring the beach for a place to stay.
The lease is about to end
There it was, staring them right in the face. A rundown little hotel that looked, to quote Gina, “grotty (British slang meaning ‘poor quality’) and very cheap.” It wasn’t much to look at, and actually just wasn’t much in general, but it was right on the water and had that “wooden treehouse” vibe that both of them loved.
Striking up a friendship with a local bartender, they learned that the current lease on the hotel was about to expire, and that the owners had no intention of renewing it. This led Gina and Mark, as they sat on broken furniture drinking, to daydream about one day owning their own B&B. They’d certainly do a better job of decorating the place!
Partying the night away
Walking into the hotel, Mark and Gina ran right into a group of old Sri Lankan men, who were pretty deep into the bottle already. Wanting nothing better than to join them, they ended up having a night heavy on the drink and short on common sense.
In fact, the more intoxicated the two got, the more their jokey little conversation started to look like a genius business plan. It was easy – they’d just fix up the hotel and run it from their home in the U.K. – easy peasy, right?
We did what?
Twelve glasses of the local delicacy later, Gina and Mark pretty much passed out. When they woke up the following morning, they learned they had made more than one bad decision the previous evening.
They had actually signed a new three-year lease on the hotel at a cost of £30,000 (about $40,000), despite living in a tiny apartment in south London and still paying off their wedding a few short months prior. Who knew drinking and making major business decisions didn’t mix?
How it all went down
How did they get from point A to point B? Well, still very much inebriated, the two spent the night hashing out the details of the most basic of business plans. Probably due to the state they were in, which was extremely deficient in sobriety, they actually thought it might work.
That aforementioned bartender who tipped them off about the lease earlier, Isuru, contacted the landowners on their behalf and communicated their offer. To their utter amazement, they accepted – three years for $40,000.
Needing a translator
However, sealing the deal wasn’t quite easy. It turns out making real estate transactions in a foreign country when you’ve had a few too many isn’t a walk in the park. They agreed to meet the elderly landowners the following day to iron out the details and do the paperwork.
They did just that, but the couple didn’t speak English. Luckily, Gina and Mark brought along some friends they’d made recently, and they did most of the negotiating while the two Brits kept doing what they were good at – drinking.
A now or never moment
After some last-minute bartering, the contract was finally set – Mark and Gina would pay $40,000 for the three-year lease. Half of that was to be paid the first year, while the remainder was to be paid by March, 2019. Since it was December, 2017, they theoretically had time.
Soon, however, the hidden costs came to light. More than $9,000 were to be paid in legal fees, for instance, for obtaining licenses and such. Gina described it as their “now-or-never moment,” and it really was. They took a leap of faith.
A haphazard team
Since what Gina and Mark combined knew about running a hotel wouldn’t fill a shot glass, they had to get creative – and quickly. They needed some boots on the ground. In other words, they needed people with the knowledge that they didn’t possess to actually run the place.
Completely spur of the moment, they appointed Isuru the bartender as their front-of-house manager. They then offered another local they’d only just met, Milinda, the general manager job. He was the general manager of another hotel, but for some reason agreed.
Thinking they’re crazy
Things were moving at a breakneck pace now, but that doesn’t mean that everything was smooth sailing. Back home, for instance, more than a few eyebrows were raised at the young couple’s decision. Their own friends and family thought they’d gone mad. And they might have!
To save money, they became recluses, taking packed lunches to work and having a ban on buying new clothes. It also strained their relationship, with Gina getting mad at Mark for an expensive night out and him griping at her for buying brand-name groceries.
Doubts begin creeping in
Slowly, they began to wonder if maybe all those naysayers had a point. “I felt so naïve,” Gina recalled, brokering a deal in shorts and flip-flops while completely intoxicated. They didn’t know anything about the country, or about running a B&B.
The most vivid memory they had was of that first morning, after sealing the deal. Gina remembered waking up, her head throbbing and her stomach lurching. For a second, she was completely blank, but then it all came flooding back. “What were we thinking?!” she croaked to her husband.
An $8,000 remodeling job
Regardless, the deed was done. They now owed a hotel, and they had better go about making it habitable for their future guests. They were over a barrel enough as it was! It would be almost a full year before they could afford going back to Sri Lanka to look at their hotel.
Taking a closer, more critical look at the property, however, yielded less than encouraging conclusions. The hotel needed work; a lot of work. $8,000 worth of work, in fact. It was once again time to get creative.
Stretching every dollar
Necessity is the mother of invention. Since Gina and Mark needed some cost-effective labor, they did some searching. What they found was a company that helped people with disabilities find jobs. They ended up with a brilliant team, as Gina put it.
They both took a month off from work and started renovating – plastering, painting, and buying new fixtures and fittings. The fact they had deaf and mute carpenters actually turned out to be an advantage, as they could communicate in hand gestures and drawn pictures, eliminating the language barrier.
One bit of good news after another
Things were going incredibly well, with Gina and Mark, and their local co-conspirators Isuru and Milinda, working around the clock to get the place into tiptop shape. It was crazy, but they were so close to pulling off the whole thing without a hitch. Well… Almost.
Three weeks before work was done, Gina found out she was pregnant. At first, the couple was over the moon. Soon, however, they realized the expenses involved. But their determination never wavered. “The timing wasn’t ideal,” Gina revealed, “but we resolved to just make it work.”
Say hello to the Lucky Beach Tangalle
All their hard work had finally paid off. In late July, 2018, after eight grand in renovation work and tens of thousands of dollars more in other expenses, Mark and Gina’s little seven-bedroom bed-and-breakfast was now open for business.
They even picked up a new name for it – the Lucky Beach Tangalle – hoping that their decision to buy it, made on that very same beach, would prove lucky. So far, it has! Business is booming, and they’ve since enjoyed a steady flow of customers. “We couldn’t stop smiling,” Gina said.
The beach baby
In fact, finding out they were expecting couldn’t have been more symbolic. Only minutes after wiring part of the payment to Sri Lanka, they realized they were about to have a new bundle of joy. Still, they were perfectly pleased with trying to juggle parenthood with owning a business half a world away.
On December 21, 2018, Denver Lee-Lyons was born. Her folks couldn’t be happier – and more terrified! They had only been in business for five months at that point, and were about to have a lot less time on their hands.
Only making decisions sober from now on
Indeed, new parents and slightly older hotel owners Gina and Mark made their second and final payment in March, 2019. Gina has been running the hotel from home, on top of her TV production work and being Denver’s mom.
Isuru and Milinda, meanwhile, have been holding the fort in Sri Lanka. The whole thing turned out to be such a positive experience that the two have already decided to buy more land there so they can build and rent out cottages. “But this time, we’ll do our decision-making sober!” Gina promised with a smile.
Making headlines around the world
This incredible story about a honeymooning couple getting a bit sauced and buying the hotel they were staying in was so remarkable that media outlets all over the world jumped at the chance to cover it.
It was picked up by the The Sun and The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom, but even made its way across the pond to new outlets such as the New York Post. Their story even made it as far as Argentina and Australia!
Commenters have their say
As you might expect, people commenting on the story online had quite a lot to say. “Your decision, your move, your money, your risk – why not!” one supportive commenter wrote. “That’s a spirit only entrepreneurs have.” And our fearsome twosome have not let these comments go unnoticed.
Commenting on the hotel official Facebook page, they wrote, “People can’t get enough of our antics. What should we buy next?” After thinking about the matter some more, they added a postscript in parenthesis – “We can’t, we’re poor.”
No guts, no glory?
This turned out to be a beautiful story about two people who made a spur-of-the-moment decision, which so far seems to have paid off. Of course, with these many moving parts, so much could’ve gone wrong. And no one was more aware of that than Mark and Gina themselves.
Gina said she already felt like a bad mother because she “wasted (so much) money on buying a business that might not work.” It was a sink or swim moment, and thankfully they ended up swimming, but we wouldn’t recommend trying this at home!