The Maldives is a coral archipelago located in the Indian Ocean, some 480 kilometres southwest of India and 720 kilometres west of Sri Lanka. Twenty-six natural atolls and 1,190 islands—only 200 of which are inhabited—make up the region, home to a total of 87 resorts that are all keen to capitalise on the country’s tropical climate and exquisite beaches. Ninety-nine per cent of the Maldives is in fact water, which explains the hordes of tourists who visit the area each year in search of world-class diving and watersports facilities.
Tourism to the Maldives really began to boom in the 1970s; today, the industry accounts for almost 30 per cent of the country’s GDP. Fishing is the second-largest source of revenue behind tourism but the two are closely linked; Maldivian seafood is world-renowned and undoubtedly a big draw for visitors to the area.
One resort that makes the most of its exceptional surroundings is the 133-room Olhuveli Beach and Spa Resort. Lying 34 kilometres from Malé International Airport—45 minutes by speedboat—the resort is famous for its award-winning beaches and numerous secluded sandbanks.
Deputy general manager Abdul Shakoor has spent time in varying roles at Olhuveli, including a period in charge of the food and beverage remit and a stint heading up operations.He takes a very hands-on and personal approach to ensuring that every need of his guests is catered for. “I will often visit the guests during mealtimes to ensure everything is of a high standard,” he explains. “Or I’ll visit them in the bar to see how everything is and check there are no problems. We want the very best service for our customers.”
To achieve ultimate quality of service, Shakoor emphasises the importance of staff training, which takes place across the resort on a daily basis. To get it just right, the hotel has set aside a classroom for staff learning; there is also a dedicated HR function and a commitment to invest in this area going forward. In fact, in conjunction with marketing, staff training accounts for the largest chunk of the resort’s budget. “Because we are going for the very best in customer service, we invest a lot of money in training,” Shakoor explains. “We are looking to give a butler-style service to every guest.”
Marketing is carried out by the Malé-based head office of Sun Hotels and Resorts, the company that owns Olhuveli and its sister resort, Vilu Reef Beach and Spa Resort. The firm has a presence at international travel exhibitions throughout the year and also offers familiarisation trips to travel agents.
Marketing has been of particular strategic importance following recovery from the tsunami that hit Indonesia on Boxing Day 2004. Having incurred extensive damage from the waves, Olhuveli closed for repairs for just under a year, opening again in November 2005. The owners took advantage of what had, conversely, become a golden opportunity to almost completely re-build and upgrade the devastated facilities, enabling Olhuveli to emerge from the crisis as a truly first-class resort.
This story was echoed in resorts across the Maldives. Going forward, tourist footfall to the area is expected to keep increasing due to the number of resorts that embarked on complete refurbishment and upgrading during that time. In fact, Maldivian tourism as a whole held up with remarkable resilience in the wake of the disaster. As each resort operates independently and self-sufficiently, tourism didn’t grind to a halt following the tsunami—while some closed for repairs, others were able to continue, which was crucial to the overall health of the Maldives’ number one industry.
Olhuveli, currently a combination of four- and five-star facilities, has taken advantage of this year’s low season to implement further changes. “Across May, June and July, occupancy at the hotel has been around 52 per cent,” Shakoor explains, “but as the resort heads into high season, it picks up pace. So we are currently implementing a lot of changes in preparation for the high season. We are continuously improving and enhancing the resort, reflecting our desire to exceed our customers’ expectations.”
One top priority for Olhuveli is that it offers choice, as Shakoor explains. “We aim to provide choice and comfort for the customer. There are six categories of villa: the lead-in deluxe room, the deluxe water villa, our beach villa, the jacuzzi water villa, our honeymoon water villa and finally, the luxurious presidential water suite.”
Olhuveli serves mid- to high-endguests, primarily from the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Japan; but it is also drawing increasing interest from countries such as Korea, China and Dubai. The resort is able to strike a balance between the charter and high-end markets through its choice of accommodation, variety of food and beverage outlets and other facilities, Shakoor explains. A typical length of stay is two weeks, and there are a number of packages and benefits in place to reward returning guests.
Health and safety is also key at Olhuveli. On islands where tourists come to enjoy some well-needed relaxation, health and safety is crucial, Shakoor acknowledges. To this end, the resort has an ongoing contract with an external health and safety firm that visits and inspects the premises every month, paying particularly close attention to food hygiene.
Given its spectacular setting in the Indian Ocean, it comes as no surprise that visitors from all over the globe flock to the Maldives for its diving. The warm temperature and high visibility of the water surrounding Olhuveli, which is set in a shallow lagoon, means that many customers return time and time again for the diving opportunities afforded by the resort’s Five Star Gold Palm PADI diving school. The lagoon is also home to the very first registered kite boarding school in the Maldives, along with a variety of other watersports.
A further benefit that comes with being a resort surrounded by water is that Olhuveli avoids many of the problems commonly experienced at luxury mainland resorts, such as soliciting. An island location ensures utter peace and tranquillity, asserts Shakoor. A section of beach adjacent to the staff quarters has recently been reclaimed, giving guests views of the lagoon and additional opportunities for privacy and isolation.
For further relaxation, the resort’s Sun Spa provides a myriad of treatments based on Asian rituals, the Five Element theory and Ayurveda natural healing methods.
However, peace and tranquillity do not have to equate to being ‘cut off’. Far from it—Olhuveli is well-versed in technology, with 72 PCs, wireless internet, satellite television and a dedicated IT manager. The management staff also keep up to date by way of the latest software, ensuring a seamless and efficient customer service provision for guests.
Shakoor explains that although the resort imports the majority of its food and beverage products from overseas—aside from water and soft drinks, which it sources from Malé—the resort is well positioned to take advantage of the excellent fresh and very local seafood on offer all the year round, a strong pull for those seeking to experience authentic Maldivian cuisine. As such, the resort hosts a weekly Maldivian-themed buffet, complete with local entertainment.
Olhuveli is clearly a resort that will keep innovating, upgrading and improving its facilities in order to provide the first-class service its guests have come to expect—which is why they will keep on returning, year after year.