Meet Hurawalhi Bars Manager — Lalith Payu

The opening of a new property is the pinnacle of any hospitality manager’s career. The excitement of new concepts and the bond that forms among team members with the coming together of a new resort is a magical experience. Hurawalhi Maldives is no exception: its 5-star character combined with the beauty of the island is a major draw not only for guests but also for the people who will soon call it ‘home’.

The recruitment is underway and in addition to a number of new faces, we are thrilled that Hurawalhi guests will be taken care of by quite a few team members who developed their expertise at the sister resorts Kuredu and Komandoo. One such individual is Lalith Payu who has been entrusted the Bars Manager role. His dedication to delighting patrons ensured he was one of the first talents to be selected for the opening of Hurawalhi Maldives. Lalith’s eye for detail and his charming social graces, paired with the luxury surroundings of Hurawalhi, is a winning cocktail in itself.

Lalith’s experience has seen him work at the 5-star Mövenpick Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai, the Wateredge Inn in the UK and several other properties; yet although Lalith’s heart is scattered around various places of the world, it is the Lhaviyani Atoll where he is happiest. Having said that, it is our pleasure that we can help him climb the career ladder and introduce his talents and joyful character to Hurawalhi guests.

Lalith will showcase his talents as a master mixologist in Coco Bar, Aquarium Bar and the Champagne Pavilion – three very different venues with equally stunning oceanfront vistas, charm and intimate ambience. He will also oversee the beverage service in Canneli and 5.8 Undersea Restaurants.

On behalf of the whole Hurawalhi team, we say welcome Lalith and a heartfelt congratulation!

Dusit Thani Maldives wins Gold Travel Weekly Magellan Award

Dusit Thani Maldives, a Thai-inspired 5-star luxury resort, recently won, for the second year running, the coveted Gold medal in the luxury hotel/resort category of the prestigious Travel Weekly Magellan Awards.

Arranged by US-based publication Travel Weekly, an influential B2B news resource for the travel industry, The Magellan Awards are judged and overseen by a unique panel of top travel professionals representing the best names and most accomplished leaders from the industry. Entries do not compete with one another, instead, they are judged against a standard of excellence based on the extensive experience of Travel Weekly.

Located on Mudhdhoo Island in Baa Atoll – Maldives’ first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – Dusit Thani Maldives comprises 94 luxury villas set on stilts overlooking pristine white sands and the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean.

Ocean Villa Terrace, Dusit Thani Maldives
Ocean Villa Terrace, Dusit Thani Maldives

Guests can dive and snorkel, swim in the oversized infinity swimming pool or indulge in a serene treatment at one of Devarana Spa’s treetop treatment pods. Gastronomes, meanwhile, are well catered for at the resort’s five award-winning restaurants and bars, including the signature Thai-inspired restaurant, Benjarong, which serves modern interpretations of classic Thai dishes in a stunning setting right over the water.

Joachim Schuette, General Manager at Dusit Thani Maldives, said: “We are delighted to receive this prestigious award for the second year running, as it truly highlights our continuous commitment to enhancing our resort and creating even more memorable experiences for our guests.”

9 Little Things From the Maldives

When people travel to the Maldives, more often than not it is for the big things; expanses of aquamarine, sublime sunsets and captivating coral reefs.

However, with more than 100 resorts to choose from across the 26 atolls, the race is on to give guests the ultimate experience. With the world’s hospitality experts working night and day to outdo one another, it’s the fine details – from service and design to architectural quirks – that set the resorts apart.

So, here are a few of the ‘little’ things that we’ve noticed on our recent trips.

Stingrays at Coral Reef

The relaxed atmosphere of Taj Vivanta’s Coral Reef resort is accentuated by the daily feeding of the stingrays, who have become firm favourites in the island community. 5pm every day means it’s time to head to the beach and watch these normally-graceful creatures slurp up the surf, with  guests encouraged to help!!

Photography: Naj
Photography: Naj

Champagne Phone at Finolhu

In a resort with such keen attention to detail, classy quirks can be found all over Baa Atoll’s Finolhu beach club haven. But this 1960s vintage model phone, provided exclusively to order champagne, is perhaps the best example of the retro luxury on offer.

Bicycles at Six Senses

With most islands averaging between 1 and 2 km squared, getting around your resort is never a problem. But, for those who find themselves racing to catch that sunset, or a little late for their spa appointment – bicycles are often provided, which is nice. Even nicer is YOUR own bicycle, personalised and waiting for you upon arrival at Six Senses Laamu.

Photography: Naj
Photography: Naj

Club Med Kani

Better known as a hive of activity, with an endless array of activities and entertainment, life on Club Med Kani is overseen by a towering Banyan tree around which the resort seems to revolve. The presence of nature in the midst of luxury.

Photography: Naj
Photography: Naj

Solar Power at Finolhu Villas

Designed as the first fully solar-powered resort, Club Med Finolhu Villas proudly shows off its renewable raison d’être with a corridor of panels greeting guests on their arrival. The solar streets continue up to your water villa.

Photogrpahy: Naj
Photogrpahy: Naj

Wedding Pavilion at Taj Exotica

With its wealth of dining options, even regular guests at Taj Exotica will struggle to make their way through the menu. For the more romantically-inclined however, they can spice up their meals by reserving the wedding pavilion. Its unusual stone construction puts one in mind of a sacrificial altar – though candles and fine wine is probably sufficient to demonstrate your feelings.

Photography: Naj
Photography: Naj

Pillow Menu at Naladhu

The gated island community of Naladhu is designed as the ultimate home from home – if you happen to live in a tropical paradise. With 24 room service and the personal touch spreading to the contents of the bookshelf, guests can even choose from a sample of pillows, bringing new levels of ergonomic excellence.

Photography: Naj
Photography: Naj

Wooden Hearts at Anantara Veli

Dedicated to couples, those celebrating special occasions while on Anantara Veli may well find themselves invited for cocktails in the island’s garden, after which they can leave their mark amidst the orchids.

Photography: Naj
Photography: Naj

Bathing at Dhigu

Clearly a favourite of architects, bathrooms in the Maldives never fail to impress – from liberating outdoor rain showers to cinematic views from the tub. Anantara Dhigu’s water villas are a perfect example, with the artistic simplicity of your tub almost as thought-provoking as the view beyond.

Photography: Naj
Photography: Naj

Maldives participates at the Sichuan International Travel EXPO 2016

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) along with top industry professionals worldwide are taking part at the Sichuan International Travel EXPO (SCITE) in the Emeishan City of Leshan in Sichuan Province from 23rd September to 28th September 2016. This year buyers and sellers from 45 different countries are scheduled to appear at the Expo.

The expo which kicked off today targets on featuring the highest level, larger scale and variety of travel products of different ranges from various countries or regions.

During the SCITE expo, this year the EMEI Global Summit and the Asian Pacific Tour Operator Seminar will take place on the first day. From the 23rd to 24th September will be B2B where Buyers and Sellers will be conducting business meetings whereas starting from the 25th to 28th September the fair will be opened to general public.

To diversify and raise number of participating countries as exhibitors in SCITE, Maldives was invited to take part in this 3 rd Edition of SCITE. Eminently, Maldives is already a popular beach destination among Chinese travellers. By exhibiting in SCITE the destination can reach new potential travellers and raise awareness about the destination and in this specific, vivid and interactive approach to the market will provide Maldives with a major platform to boost visitors to the destination. Hence this expo is a great platform to showcase the products and services offered in Maldives and to conduct one on one meeting with top buyers from both domestic and international sectors.

As the Chinese Market remains the number one source market for the Maldivian tourism industry. By July 2016 a total of 194,220 Chinese tourists has spent their holidays in the Maldives. To ensure a steadier flow of tourist from the market more marketing and promotional efforts need to be carried out. Hence this expo is a great platform to showcase the products and services offered in Maldives and to conduct one on one meeting with top buyers from both domestic and international sectors.

Participation in the 3rd SCITE will ensure destination awareness to a new potential region in China. After a successful event, more Chinese travellers could be attracted to the destination.

Greater at Anantara

In a nation famed for its reclusive reefs, the Maldives’ single-island resort concept has produced more than 100 little pieces of paradise for the ultimate tropical getaway.

In this sense, Anantara’s slice of South Male’ atoll is no different, offering the romance, the tranquility and the adventure of a Maldivian holiday in equal measure. However, at Anantara’s resorts just south of the capital, these qualities are spread across three different resorts, creating a unique neighbourhood of luxury; Greater Anantara.

Upon arrival at the airport, would-be Anantareans are taken to the resort’s airport lounge, before migrating south, past Male’ on the 35 minute trip to the cluster of islands they will make their home.

aaasq

Six islands, spread over 2.7km of coral on the eastern side of the atoll, provide options for families, couples and everyone inbetween. Dhigu – the largest of the three – features 110 family-sized beach villas and overwater suites; Veli, a few moments away caters to couples, with a range of rooms made for two; and Naladhu – the smallest of the three – offers around 20 ‘houses’ for those who really want to get comfortable.

Two ‘picnic islands’ – one with it’s own cafe for hungry snorkellers – as well as a staff island, complete the complex.

Dhigu is without doubt the heart of this coral community, housing four restaurants, the Aquafanatics water sports centre and the largest of the complex’s three spas.  It’s recently renovated water villas are particularly spacious, assisted by cavernous ceilings designed to resemble an upturned dhoni.

Dhigu - Sunset Overwater Suite

Sprouting northwards from the tip of the island, the water villas’ wall to wall windows frame spectacular sunsets and sunrises. Similarly, the island’s dining options serve up early morning sun at the Fushi Cafe, or residents can drink in the sunset at the poolside Aqua Bar on the opposite side of the island.

The Sea, Fire, Salt restaurant goes a little further west, bringing spectacular surf and turf over the reef, with ‘Salt Gurus’ on hand to change the way you feel about seasoning. Upstairs, those wishing to journey still further west can take in Italian cuisine at Terrazzo.

Dhigu dwellers looking for a new place to eat can use Greater Anantara’s transport service to Veli, taking a bicycle to the south of the island before hopping onto the cushioned ferry between the islands. Lazy hammocks and love hearts emerge from behind the tiny Moyo Island sandwiched in between, as do more of the island’s intimate water villas. Veli is Greater Anantara’s adults-only area, bringing ocean calm up the beach and into the island.

Photography: Naj
Photography: Naj
Photography: Naj
Photography: Naj

Breakfast and dinner buffets at the pavilion-style 73 degrees restaurant can be interspersed with poolside snacks at the Dhoni Bar, while Origami brings Japanese cuisine into the fold. As with Dhigu, the Veli suburb offers a range of activities, including cooking classes, watersports, and morning meditation and Yoga to kick-start a hard day’s relaxation.

Invitation only cocktails at the Orchid garden add further to the refined air of Veli, with countless Mr and Mrs’ having left their mark via wooden hearts decorating the area. Lying on a long jetty between Veli and Naladhu is the Baan Huraa restaurant – claimed to be arguably the finest Thai restaurant in the Maldives.

Naladhu itself is the smallest and the most-exclusive district in the Greater Anantara constellation. A large wooden door at the end of the long bridge from Veli is more Dungeons and Dragons than Sun and Surf, bringing an air of mystery to what is essentially a private, gated community.

Photography: Naj
Photography: Naj

This island is accessible only to residents, and no amount of riddles solved or duels won will gain you entry to this tranquil realm (residents have a key, while other Anantareans can book ahead for dinner on the island).

Twenty ‘houses’ – all named after local flora – are nestled along a weaving maze of sandy paths. Inside, a mixture of world styles furnish the apartments, making even the farthest flung traveller feel at home. Bookshelves are customised to the guests before their arrival and room service is available – 24/7 – at the touch of a button, leaving no impediment to the suburb’s glorious privacy. Enormous outdoor decking areas provide cinematic views from the outdoor bathroom, which leads into the generous pool.

Photography: Naj
Photography: Naj

The theme continues in the aptly named Living Room, where guests can live another Indian Ocean sunset as they enjoy a bottle from the restaurant’s impressive cellar – one of three in the community’s $500,000 wine treasury.

Whichever resort you choose to stay in, this tropical trio – Dhigu, Veli, and Naladhu – together provide a wide range of options to make your trip to Greater Anantara greater.

HPL appoints IHG to manage InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort

Singapore-based Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) has inked a management agreement with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) to manage an 83-room resort that will be open in Maldives in three to five years’ time.

This will be the third resort that IHG will be managing for HPL. It will mark the first time that IHG will bring its global luxury brand, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, to the Maldives, said Jan Smits, IHG’s chief executive for Asia, Middle East and Africa (AMEA).

The management contract for the upcoming InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort with HPL was inked on Monday. Construction has yet to begin, and neither HPL nor IHG would provide a number on the project’s development value.

The other two existing HPL resorts managed by IHG are: Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma Maldives, comprising 160 villas, which opened in December 2009; and the 148-room Holiday Inn Resort Vanuatu which opened in March 2010.

Holiday Inn Resort® Kandooma Maldives
Holiday Inn Resort® Kandooma Maldives

The latest Maldives signing brings IHG’s resort development pipeline to 13 across the AMEA region, reflecting a significant expansion programme, said Mr Smits.

Currently, the hotel and resort management chain operates 37 existing resorts across three brands (InterContinental, Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza) in the AMEA region.

HPL’s new resort will be located on Maamunagau island, at the southern point of Raa Atoll (also known as the North Maalhosmadulu Atoll). International travellers can take a seaplane directly to the resort from Malé’s Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

Besides enjoying the clear lagoon and pristine white beach, guests will have a range of food and beverage offerings to choose from at the resort’s bar and restaurants.

“Young travellers may indulge in specially tailored meals from the InterContinental Planet Trekkers Menu before going off for an afternoon of fun at the Planet Trekkers Kids Club,” IHG said.

InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort will also feature a Club Lounge, pool and spa where guests can lounge and relax. The range of water sports include snorkeling, canoeing and jet skiing at the nearby sea sports centre.

Stephen Lau, chairman, HPL Hotels & Resorts, said: “We see huge potential to grow our resorts business in the Maldives, and Maamunagau island is the perfect setting to develop a luxury InterContinental resort.”

As part of HPL’s growth strategy, “we continuously seek the right opportunity to expand our portfolio across the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region”, he added.

Mr Smits of IHG noted that tourism contributed more than 40 per cent of Maldives’ gross domestic product last year, and that “sentiments are positive as the country continues to be one of the world’s most highly sought after travel destinations”.

Another hotelier who has a presence in Maldives told The Business Times that room rates for Maldives resorts have generally fallen over the past year on the back of weaker demand.

Patronage by Chinese visitors, the number one market, has softened this year amid a weakening economy back home and slight fall in the yuan, among other factors. “Demand from Russia continues to be depressed due to the weak economy and rouble.

On a more positive note, demand from some other European countries has improved but resorts are coming up with more competitive packages to adjust for the weakness in the euro.” Room rates in the Maldives are denominated in US dollars.

“That said, this is still a market that a lot of operators want to go to. The ‘one resort, one island’ policy in Maldives makes resorts here very exclusive compared to say Bali and Mauritius, where you have one big island and many resorts scattered over acres and acres of coastline.”

Summer Island Appoints Mariya Shareef as Resort Manager

Mariya Shareef has become one of the few Maldivian women ever to hold position of Resort Manager at a Maldivian resort.

On 1 September, Mariya was appointed Resort Manager of Summer Island Maldives, located in Kaafu atoll.

In her new role, Mariya takes on the responsibility for the day-to-
day management of the resort, advising the Board of Directors on strategy, and helping develop and grow the Summer Island Maldives brand.

Mariya is a veteran of the Maldivian tourism industry with a career spanning fourteen years. She was previously Business Development and Marketing Manager for the Kaimoo THS group of companies, a post she held since 2013.

In this role, Mariya helped with the re-development of Summer Island Maldives and was responsible for branding and marketing the resort in the months leading up to its re-opening last year.

Commenting on the appointment, Mohamed Manih Ahmed, Managing Director of Kaimoo THS Group said:

“Mari is young, energetic and full of exciting ideas and has an excellent gauge of the innovations and developments in global tourism.

“Mari’s experience, her academic achievements, and her natural business acumen will enable Summer Island Maldives to grow and consolidate its reputation as one of the most exciting holiday hotspots in the Maldives.”

Commenting on her new appointment, Mariya Shareef said:

“Summer Island Maldives has always been close to my heart. It’s not only the beautiful island that makes it special, but also the amazing team and their hard work. I am proud to be a part of this team, and I thank the directors for trusting me in this role. It’s a pleasure, everyday, to see smiling faces and I’m confident that as a team we can continue to be one of the best resorts in the Maldives.”

Summer Island Maldives Resort prides itself on offering tourists an authentically Maldivian, barefoot slice of paradise at an affordable price.

One of the Maldives’ first resorts, and wholly Maldivian owned, Summer Island Maldives recently underwent a complete re-development. The resort now boasts fresh and zesty rooms, a spa, international restaurants, a rustic beach bar, a dive center and water sports center. Summer Island Maldives retains, though, the family-friendly, natural atmosphere that has made it such a popular destination.

Summer Island Maldives offers an all-inclusive holiday, with a variety of rooms including water villas, at 4 star prices.

Baros For Babymooners

Baros Maldives, acclaimed as the World’s Most Romantic Resort by World Travel Awards in 2015, is enhancing its appeal for an idyllic holiday on an island in the Indian Ocean. As well as being an intimate retreat for Honeymooners wanting privacy, it is also the perfect place for vacationing Babymooners.

If you missed having your honeymoon at Baros Maldives, when the baby’s on the way, why not get away to enjoy the island’s blissful tranquility before the baby’s birth? Relish precious moments together in the natural harmony of Baros Maldives as you plan the future for your child. Enjoy serenity for just the two of you before coping with those busy times ahead after baby’s born.

Experts believe that fanning the flames of love with a relaxing babymoon has real long-term relationship benefits, because transitioning to parenthood can be stressful. Dedicating a vacation to reconnecting can only help you be a better couple together.

At Baros Maldives every villa, whether beachside or overwater, is perfectly private allowing an expectant couple to share moments to treasure in dreamy solitude. Some villas have individual pools for relaxation under the sun or moon, while cares simply float away. Every villa is superbly equipped with fine furnishings, luxurious linen and elegant bathrooms.

Dine in the seclusion of your Villa or sample culinary delights at the island’s three epicurean restaurants. Whatever Mum-To-Be craves, from strawberries and cream to Lobster, our chefs will provide it, as well as meals especially prepared for the expectant mother.

Wander along sandy trails through lush vegetation with no harmful creatures and without being disturbed by traffic or pollution. Allow yourself to be pampered from top to toe in the garden Spa with a spa menu for pregnancy-specific treatments, and even a de-stressing massage for Dad-To-Be. Enjoy pre-natal Yoga in our air-conditioned Yoga Pavilion in the shade of a garden glade.

Baros Maldives, with only 74 beach and overwater villas each with private access to the tranquil lagoon, and one exclusive Baros Residence is ideal for those moments of trust when you need each other. Each Villa has a dedicated Host on call 24 hours a day. The island resort is only 25 minutes gentle cruise by speed boat from Male’ International Airport so you can be soaking up the sun and listening to the calming waves soon after touch down. What better way to enjoy some private time before the magical moments of parenthood begin?

Anantara Launches Once-in-a-Lifetime Manta Ray Experience

Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas, located in Baa Atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, offers guests the chance to get up-close-and-personal with manta rays at the world’s largest natural manta feeding destination, during their annual migration across the Indian Ocean. For the first time, guests have the rare opportunity to freedive with the gentle giants at the protected site of Hanifaru Bay, which can attract more than 100 rays around the time of the full moon. With the season well underway, guests still have time to witness the spectacle first hand before the end of November or to plan ahead for the next season which starts in May 2017.

With a wingspan of up to 7 metres, manta rays congregate at Hanifaru Bay during the south-west monsoon and, with optimum wind and tide conditions, enter a shallow cul-de-sac in the reef to feed on microscopic plankton, small fish and crustaceans. The Anantara team works closely with the rangers who protect Hanifaru Bay to get the insider scoop on the mantas’ movements so that guests can quickly reach the site, which is located only 45 minutes from the resort, maximising their chances of spotting the rays. Scuba diving is not permitted so guests now have the choice of snorkelling or freediving.

Manta Rays, Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas
Manta Rays, Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas

Hot on the heels of sister resort Anantara Dhigu Maldives’ announcement in May that it was opening the first PADI-accredited freediving centre in the Maldives, Anantara Kihavah is now also fully licensed. Whilst freediving has been popular in the Maldives for some time, the PADI certification offered by Elements, the water sports centre at Anantara Kihavah Villas, teaches divers proper breathing techniques and trains them on how they can enjoy the sport safely.

Coasting through the ocean with flowing, graceful movements that echo the natural motions of the Mantas that surround, freedivers experience a sense of oneness taking the Maldives’ manta experience to an entirely new level. Closer encounters, liberating mobility and the ability to glide with freedom from scuba or snorkelling equipment enhance an already unforgettable outing.

Manta Rays, Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas
Manta Rays, Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas

At the helm of Anantara Kihavah’s freediving centre is Talya Davidoff. A passionate, advanced freediving instructor, Talya is also a fully qualified marine biologist and a competitive freediver with a personal best of a depth of 42 metres. Adding even greater depth to her aquatic expertise, Talya will be undergoing training with freediving world champion, Alexey Molchanov, before the South African Championships in June next year.

Talya and the Elements team at Anantara Kihavah Villas are dedicated to safeguarding the wellbeing and habitat of the manta rays and enforce the strict regulations that have been set by the local rangers. Known for its commitment towards sustainability and protecting the local environment, Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas also launched a coral adoption programme when the resort opened in 2001. Over the five years to date, Anantara’s team has continued to enhance its reef initiatives to accelerate the regeneration of coral growth.

Anantara Kihavah, which offers 79 spacious private pool villas poised overwater or nestled on a private beach, is located 30 minutes from Male by seaplane and boasts an abundant and colourful house reef of its own. For guests who wish to maximise their ‘bottom time’, SEA. FIRE. SALT. SKY. offers a one-of-a-kind over and underwater dining experience.

Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas
Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas

To reserve a stay at the resort and experience the thrill of freediving with mantas, or to learn more about freediving, contact +960 664 4111 or [email protected]. For more information on Anantara’s Maldives resorts, visit anantara.com.

Q&A: Finolhu General Manager Mark Hehir

Born and raised in Australia Mark Hehir has over 30 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, including close to 20 year’s experience in the Maldives. He joined The Small Maldives Island Co. after four successful years at the One & Only Reethi Rah, where he held the position of general manager.

Mark was also part of the opening team at Huvafen Fushi by Per Aquum as well as Maldives Hilton Rangali (now Conrad Maldives) after working for various Anantara properties in Asia.

Utilising this extensive experience, Mark has been the driving force behind the recently opened Finolhu resort in Baa atoll, where he currently holds the position of general manager. Maldives.com caught up with him to discuss his career in the Maldives and latest project.

Can you tell us a little about your career?

Prior to coming to the Maldives, it was the UK and Australia – the Dorchester in London and some amazing experiences in those days. I was a chef so we did a lot of great things in London with the Queen and state banquets and Prince Charles and a lot of high level stuff – the first time in my career that I’d really dealt with that premium luxury customer.

So, that’s where I got that bug, like ‘wow’ that’s the elite of our business, and then it also gave me an understanding that, at the end of the day, they’re only human, and how to handle it.

Then I went to the Maldives for the first time to open up Rangali island in 1998, which was a Hilton. Between that time and now I was in Bali – I opened up a resort for Anantara.

I spent three years in all in the Maldives at Rangali Hilton, went from executive chef to food and beverage director, and had a dual role there doing both. Thailand, Japan and Malaysia are countries I also worked in.

When you compare the different locations in which you’ve worked, what makes the Maldives special?

The one-island one-resort concept that we have here in the Maldives is the ultimate biggest difference, because you get a chance to work and live with the team 24/7, so you get a chance to influence the culture of the team; not in terms of their personal beliefs, more the way in which they act and feel within the environment.

You can really work with them and develop an amazing work culture which then creates these experiences for customers. I’ve never seen so many customers be so excited about an experience like the Maldives. Firstly, when they see it, they’re like ‘wow’ but then when they start connecting with local people, they feel the skill level and the hospitality level of Maldivians versus other countries. They compare them.

Photograph: Naj
Photograph: Naj

They just feel that there’s a much more crisp and snappy attention to detail. Now, that comes and goes with different resorts cos there are obviously different standards, but it just seems that the local population have adapted very fast and learned very fast and can respond really well.

On our resort here we’re around 60 percent local and 40 percent international [staff] – other hotels are down probably at 45 percent; at the legal limit, if you like.

Over the last twenty years, you must have seen some changes to the industry.

A lot, yeah. I think Maldives has grown up – it’s more aware. The introduction of mobile communication has changed everything. I came pre-mobiles, so when I arrived no-one had a mobile phone. I brought one back once, but I couldn’t even use it much because of the range and whatnot.

We all talk about those days, cos we loved those days. Everything on the island was on the island; stayed on the island; was all about us. We weren’t influenced by anything that was going on outside of the island, so therefore the culture on the island was so strong. It was really amazing.

Now it’s influenced differently, that’s the biggest change. And you’ve gotta say that’s for the good, because now our people are more aware of a lot of other things, so that’s helped educate everyone, and I think that it also trickles down to our operators being more transparent, being more open and working with people ethically in a more correct way.

What makes Finolhu unique in this picture?

For us, it’s about design and architecture to fit into this beach club style, which is very warm and welcoming and with a very strong influence on retro – 60s and 70s being the era of retro that we tried to bring alive in design interiors, uniforms, artwork.

Every form of visual communication, and also the music, we’ve tried to bring it alive like that as well. In a subtle way, in some places – like you’ll look in a room and see this retro telephone for champagne; it’s a 1965 model. I went specifically and found colours that remind us of that day.

This is the era that blue jeans became famous – that type of stuff – so we introduced denim into the uniforms. Then, if you look at our artwork and the styling that we worked on, in terms of the imagery, we also went back to the illustrations and the feel of the day – a bit of a European touch as well.

Retro Collage

Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is make people feel comfortable in a nostalgic way, like ‘oh, I remember that’, or ‘my parents had that’, so it may be new again for a younger generation but it’s cool. In the older generation, they’re like ‘I remember when I had that’ too. So it’s got both ends of the scale covered, and at the same time it’s respecting the environment, like the whole washed out looks and the feel.

The other big decision we made was not to build anything on that whole sand strip, leaving it natural and then just putting this shack up there which is naturally nestled into the bushes, and that being the hero – ultimately, we’ve got this amazing sand strip that we can walk along. Then putting most of the rooms over water, so we can get the volume up with people, so there’s enough people here to enjoy it, but not crowding that, and leaving it natural.

There’s a bohemian mood facing into the lagoon, and we tried to style it that way, and then on the other side with the pool, we’re very strong into this retro, using some colours that sort of pop out a little bit. Then there is the furniture which is even more retro, with our synonymous big-blue couch, so we tried to put some furniture that is iconic.

Every room has a Marshall speaker. Marshall speakers are that retro style, so your touch points there are quality and experience of that time.

What were the major challenges in developing this kind of resort?

In general, you’ll always come with challenges in the Maldives to develop resorts in terms of pulling together construction teams and procuring everything to bring it onto the island. That’s a normal situation.

Some companies do better than others and one of our challenges that we successfully overcame was, because we worked together with the owner to build the island, he organised the construction teams within his own office, and the interior design and all of the finishes were done by myself. We were very close on how we were building and what we were finishing and the timing, because we were in the same family.

 

Sheep Beach

The challenges then were smaller. They were firstly getting our team’s attention on the concept – because our concept was a little bit quirky and a little bit different – and that took the first few months as we were selecting all of the smaller things so that they all fitted into the picture, so everything would blend well and also tell the story.

The difficult part then was procuring all of the smaller things – the furniture, the table tops, finding someone who could do a sheep with cork, the little things we’ve done are the boxes in the room with the nice print that’s around them  – to come up with the idea, to think of a pattern that would work. They were the challenges, they were the great success as well.

You must have been taken notes on your perfect resort for the past twenty years, does this come close to that?

This is definitely a lot of my dream ideas, especially this bar [Beach Bar] and the way that it’s situated with two levels, giving elevation. It goes into the pool, there’s a swim-up style, there’s a possibility of having live music and DJ music undercover cos it’s weather-proof. We can then run the concepts fully without having to worry about having to move things around.

Photograph: Naj
Photograph: Naj

The styling of the restaurant, how it interacts also through our marine centre – all those connections. Over in the Cove Club, the spa, we don’t spa, we say Cove Club cos we wanted a place that could be a place, not only to have a massage, but to hang out and to get other things done to look after yourself. To not carry all of the expectations of what a quiet tranquil spa is. We wanted this fun place with music and happiness and a bit of a spark.

It’s part of a collective of ideas over many years, so when I started drawing it came out of me very fast and when I put myself into where this was, I knew exactly what floor I was looking for, how the furniture would fit and the colours. I had it like a movie in my head, it was crazy. I drove a lot of people crazy too cos I was very particular about what it is and what it has to be.

Were there any ideas that you had to leave on the shelf? If money was no option, would there be any additional ideas you would follow?

There’s a lot of other ideas that I’ve got going on in my head about resorts, I could build you another three more, with other different styles and concepts. For this concept of this retro 60s-70s beach-style funky place, it pretty much ticked 99 percent of my boxes of what I wanted to do with it.

But there’s a lot of other ideas which I’ve got that I want to put at play for other types of products because I’m very specific about not trying to do everything in one place. This is exactly enough to get that consistency throughout this concept and we don’t muddle it up by trying to do too many different things.

I would have loved to have had a bit more land on the island for my kids club. I would have loved to have been able to have an ocean view, but I didn’t have enough land left.

You must have a lot of interesting stories about your time here. What’s the one you like to tell the most?

A couple of ideas came to fruition in the early days. I was very nervous back in the day when I first started here about being stuck inside a box of ‘this is what we do and that’s all we do’ and too many rules. I’m the rule breaker and I love to smash through that.

I wanted to have different experiences with the customers cos you’ve got this most amazing environment and everyone was like ‘food must be served in the restaurant’, ‘tables must be in the restaurant’, so I was always saying, ‘why can’t we have something under a tree or out on the water; why can’t we sit in the ocean and eat?’.

So one of my favourite stories was, one day I went with my team and we dug a hole under a coconut tree – huge hole – that could seat ten people. Then i filled in half of it, put towels down and made seats, which is done in islands – that’s not new. Then I brought a grill and I pushed the grill in and got the carpenter to build me some wood around the sides and turned it into a Mongolian teppanyaki grill, and it was the first glimpse of a Maldivian teppanyaki.

Koko Grill - Conrad Rangali

Literally, I did it with my guys with no money, and that turned into a huge success and was booked out every night, and I created the first teppanyaki out there [at Rangali].

At that table, where we were talking with the owners about what else we could do. We were discussing some crazy ideas because that was so successful – financially, very successful. Then I said, ‘wouldn’t it be amazing if we could do a staircase down and go underwater and do an underwater restaurant?’, and as it was coming out of my mouth I thought they were just gonna kill me. But our owner was like ‘yeah, we should do an underwater restaurant’, and then suddenly the next day he’s researching in America where he can find this tube glass or plastic and came back and said ‘we can build this’.

I was being transferred to Tokyo at the time with Hilton so that whole idea came out of the confidence of that teppanyaki working and then, bang, we’ve created the first-in-the-world underwater restaurant.

Ithaa Restaurant - Conrad Rangali

Off of those things came the idea to build a proper underground wine cellar and bring in proper wines and expand to another level. We were being controlled a lot from Male’ with some importers that weren’t taking care of the wines very well. So what we did is we worked with the buyer – a world-class sommelier who has the accreditation of master of wine. There’s only 360 master of wines in the world and he was one of them.

He then selected the wines for our list, which then gave us the best wine list in the Maldives and we imported all of the wines directly in and cut through what was, in those days, smaller operators bringing in wines and really changed the game.

We created a wine programme in Maldives which others later on followed, but we brought the wine straight to the island on the container, unloaded it and [put it] straight into the wine cellar. Customs came, checked it all off – everything was done properly, but in those days you could do it like that.

That’s a couple of crazy stories.Born and raised in Australia Mark Hehir has over 30 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, including close to twenty year’s experience in the Maldives. He joined The Small Maldives Island Co. after four successful years at the One & Only Reethi Rah, where he held the position of general manager.

Mark was also part of the opening team at Huvafen Fushi by Per Aquum as well as Maldives Hilton Rangali (now Conrad Maldives) after working for various Anantara properties in Asia.

Utilising this extensive experience, Mark has been the driving force behind the recently opened Finolhu resort in Baa atoll, where he currently holds the position of general manager. Maldives.com caught up with him to discuss his career in the Maldives and latest project.

Can you tell us a little about your career?

Prior to coming to the Maldives, it was the UK and Australia – the Dorchester in London and some amazing experiences in those days. I was a chef so we did a lot of great things in London with the Queen and state banquets and Prince Charles and a lot of high level stuff – the first time in my career that I’d really dealt with that premium luxury customer.

So, that’s where I got that bug, like ‘wow’ that’s the elite of our business, and then it also gave me an understanding that, at the end of the day, they’re only human, and how to handle it.

Then I went to the Maldives for the first time to open up Rangali island in 1998, which was a Hilton. Between that time and now I was in Bali – I opened up a resort for Anantara.

I spent three years in all in the Maldives at Rangali Hilton, went from executive chef to food and beverage director, and had a dual role there doing both. Thailand, Japan and Malaysia are countries I also worked in.

When you compare the different locations in which you’ve worked, what makes the Maldives special?

The one-island one-resort concept that we have here in the Maldives is the ultimate biggest difference, because you get a chance to work and live with the team 24/7, so you get a chance to influence the culture of the team; not in terms of their personal beliefs, more the way in which they act and feel within the environment.

You can really work with them and develop an amazing work culture which then creates these experiences for customers. I’ve never seen so many customers be so excited about an experience like the Maldives. Firstly, when they see it, they’re like ‘wow’ but then when they start connecting with local people, they feel the skill level and the hospitality level of Maldivians versus other countries. They compare them.

Photograph: Naj
Photograph: Naj

They just feel that there’s a much more crisp and snappy attention to detail. Now, that comes and goes with different resorts cos there are obviously different standards, but it just seems that the local population have adapted very fast and learned very fast and can respond really well.

On our resort here we’re around 60 percent local and 40 percent international [staff] – other hotels are down probably at 45 percent; at the legal limit, if you like.

Over the last twenty years, you must have seen some changes to the industry.

A lot, yeah. I think Maldives has grown up – it’s more aware. The introduction of mobile communication has changed everything. I came pre-mobiles, so when I arrived no-one had a mobile phone. I brought one back once, but I couldn’t even use it much because of the range and whatnot.

We all talk about those days, cos we loved those days. Everything on the island was on the island; stayed on the island; was all about us. We weren’t influenced by anything that was going on outside of the island, so therefore the culture on the island was so strong. It was really amazing.

Now it’s influenced differently, that’s the biggest change. And you’ve gotta say that’s for the good, because now our people are more aware of a lot of other things, so that’s helped educate everyone, and I think that it also trickles down to our operators being more transparent, being more open and working with people ethically in a more correct way.

What makes Finolhu unique in this picture?

For us, it’s about design and architecture to fit into this beach club style, which is very warm and welcoming and with a very strong influence on retro – 60s and 70s being the era of retro that we tried to bring alive in design interiors, uniforms, artwork.

Every form of visual communication, and also the music, we’ve tried to bring it alive like that as well. In a subtle way, in some places – like you’ll look in a room and see this retro telephone for champagne; it’s a 1965 model. I went specifically and found colours that remind us of that day.

This is the era that blue jeans became famous – that type of stuff – so we introduced denim into the uniforms. Then, if you look at our artwork and the styling that we worked on, in terms of the imagery, we also went back to the illustrations and the feel of the day – a bit of a European touch as well.

Retro Collage

Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is make people feel comfortable in a nostalgic way, like ‘oh, I remember that’, or ‘my parents had that’, so it may be new again for a younger generation but it’s cool. In the older generation, they’re like ‘I remember when I had that’ too. So it’s got both ends of the scale covered, and at the same time it’s respecting the environment, like the whole washed out looks and the feel.

The other big decision we made was not to build anything on that whole sand strip, leaving it natural and then just putting this shack up there which is naturally nestled into the bushes, and that being the hero – ultimately, we’ve got this amazing sand strip that we can walk along. Then putting most of the rooms over water, so we can get the volume up with people, so there’s enough people here to enjoy it, but not crowding that, and leaving it natural.

There’s a bohemian mood facing into the lagoon, and we tried to style it that way, and then on the other side with the pool, we’re very strong into this retro, using some colours that sort of pop out a little bit. Then there is the furniture which is even more retro, with our synonymous big-blue couch, so we tried to put some furniture that is iconic.

Every room has a Marshall speaker. Marshall speakers are that retro style, so your touch points there are quality and experience of that time.

What were the major challenges in developing this kind of resort?

In general, you’ll always come with challenges in the Maldives to develop resorts in terms of pulling together construction teams and procuring everything to bring it onto the island. That’s a normal situation.

Some companies do better than others and one of our challenges that we successfully overcame was, because we worked together with the owner to build the island, he organised the construction teams within his own office, and the interior design and all of the finishes were done by myself. We were very close on how we were building and what we were finishing and the timing, because we were in the same family.

 

Sheep Beach

The challenges then were smaller. They were firstly getting our team’s attention on the concept – because our concept was a little bit quirky and a little bit different – and that took the first few months as we were selecting all of the smaller things so that they all fitted into the picture, so everything would blend well and also tell the story.

The difficult part then was procuring all of the smaller things – the furniture, the table tops, finding someone who could do a sheep with cork, the little things we’ve done are the boxes in the room with the nice print that’s around them  – to come up with the idea, to think of a pattern that would work. They were the challenges, they were the great success as well.

You must have been taken notes on your perfect resort for the past twenty years, does this come close to that?

This is definitely a lot of my dream ideas, especially this bar [Beach Bar] and the way that it’s situated with two levels, giving elevation. It goes into the pool, there’s a swim-up style, there’s a possibility of having live music and DJ music undercover cos it’s weather-proof. We can then run the concepts fully without having to worry about having to move things around.

Photograph: Naj
Photograph: Naj

The styling of the restaurant, how it interacts also through our marine centre – all those connections. Over in the Cove Club, the spa, we don’t spa, we say Cove Club cos we wanted a place that could be a place, not only to have a massage, but to hang out and to get other things done to look after yourself. To not carry all of the expectations of what a quiet tranquil spa is. We wanted this fun place with music and happiness and a bit of a spark.

It’s part of a collective of ideas over many years, so when I started drawing it came out of me very fast and when I put myself into where this was, I knew exactly what floor I was looking for, how the furniture would fit and the colours. I had it like a movie in my head, it was crazy. I drove a lot of people crazy too cos I was very particular about what it is and what it has to be.

Were there any ideas that you had to leave on the shelf? If money was no option, would there be any additional ideas you would follow?

There’s a lot of other ideas that I’ve got going on in my head about resorts, I could build you another three more, with other different styles and concepts. For this concept of this retro 60s-70s beach-style funky place, it pretty much ticked 99 percent of my boxes of what I wanted to do with it.

But there’s a lot of other ideas which I’ve got that I want to put at play for other types of products because I’m very specific about not trying to do everything in one place. This is exactly enough to get that consistency throughout this concept and we don’t muddle it up by trying to do too many different things.

I would have loved to have had a bit more land on the island for my kids club. I would have loved to have been able to have an ocean view, but I didn’t have enough land left.

You must have a lot of interesting stories about your time here. What’s the one you like to tell the most?

A couple of ideas came to fruition in the early days. I was very nervous back in the day when I first started here about being stuck inside a box of ‘this is what we do and that’s all we do’ and too many rules. I’m the rule breaker and I love to smash through that.

I wanted to have different experiences with the customers cos you’ve got this most amazing environment and everyone was like ‘food must be served in the restaurant’, ‘tables must be in the restaurant’, so I was always saying, ‘why can’t we have something under a tree or out on the water; why can’t we sit in the ocean and eat?’.

So one of my favourite stories was, one day I went with my team and we dug a hole under a coconut tree – huge hole – that could seat ten people. Then i filled in half of it, put towels down and made seats, which is done in islands – that’s not new. Then I brought a grill and I pushed the grill in and got the carpenter to build me some wood around the sides and turned it into a Mongolian teppanyaki grill, and it was the first glimpse of a Maldivian teppanyaki.

Koko Grill - Conrad Rangali

Literally, I did it with my guys with no money, and that turned into a huge success and was booked out every night, and I created the first teppanyaki out there [at Rangali].

At that table, where we were talking with the owners about what else we could do. We were discussing some crazy ideas because that was so successful – financially, very successful. Then I said, ‘wouldn’t it be amazing if we could do a staircase down and go underwater and do an underwater restaurant?’, and as it was coming out of my mouth I thought they were just gonna kill me. But our owner was like ‘yeah, we should do an underwater restaurant’, and then suddenly the next day he’s researching in America where he can find this tube glass or plastic and came back and said ‘we can build this’.

I was being transferred to Tokyo at the time with Hilton so that whole idea came out of the confidence of that teppanyaki working and then, bang, we’ve created the first-in-the-world underwater restaurant.

Ithaa Restaurant - Conrad Rangali

Off of those things came the idea to build a proper underground wine cellar and bring in proper wines and expand to another level. We were being controlled a lot from Male’ with some importers that weren’t taking care of the wines very well. So what we did is we worked with the buyer – a world-class sommelier who has the accreditation of master of wine. There’s only 360 master of wines in the world and he was one of them.

He then selected the wines for our list, which then gave us the best wine list in the Maldives and we imported all of the wines directly in and cut through what was, in those days, smaller operators bringing in wines and really changed the game.

We created a wine programme in Maldives which others later on followed, but we brought the wine straight to the island on the container, unloaded it and [put it] straight into the wine cellar. Customs came, checked it all off – everything was done properly, but in those days you could do it like that.

That’s a couple of crazy stories.