1. Please give us a brief introduction of yourself
I was born and brought up in Mauritius. I studied Hotel Management in the UK. I exercised my early years of the profession in Mauritius, which is a tourist destination par excellence and the right “school” to learn the ins and outs of the industry under great professionals. It provided a solid base to build and grow my career. I am very passionate of this profession and enjoy non-stop dealing and interaction with employees and guests. I am very much available to them. I practice an open door policy. I accommodate the creation of the right environment for team members to perform and grow. We bear in mind that growth is a vital element for all individuals. In spite of my busy schedule, I allocate an adequate part of my time walking around the property every day—“Management by Walking Around” (MBWA)—to see and to be seen. I attach much importance to details; to be quality minded and result-focused. I have a firm and fair policy, and I am also a good listener and an understanding person.
2. How is it like, working in the Maldives?
This is my first experience in the Maldives—since October 2016. It is unequivocally one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in the world with the rare concept of one island one resort. Amazing people visit Maldives. The whole structure constitutes a unique work environment and provides me exciting sensations, motivation and pleasure to practice my job. I have always believed that my career would not have been completing without adding the Maldives experience to it. After a long and rather successful career as an international hotelier, Cocoon Maldives is the “cherry on top”. I am happy to be here!
The other interesting and enriching experience is managing a team of so many nationalities—there are 14 nationalities at Cocoon! It does require good organization and planning to keep everyone performing in togetherness and harmony, and optimizing such richness. Richness lies in the diversity and best practices—unity in diversity is the key to success.
I also consider the fact that working on an isolated remote island—beautiful and organized as it may be—social life can be rather limited and after sometime, one can feel the place suffocating. But overall conditions combined, Maldives is an exciting and preferred place to work at.
3. Could you tell us a bit about Cocoon Maldives?
The owning company is Italian-Sri Lankan.
Located in Lhaviyani Atoll, lies the first Design Resort in the Maldives opened in December 2016. Cocoon consists of 150 villas and 60 are over water, is designed by the Italian visionary interior designer Daniel Lago based on the concept of floatation and lightness. This is the connecting thread throughout the Resort: reception, rooms, restaurants, “floating beds”, glass-legged tables, 200-year old wild oak wood tabletop and talking furniture that resulted in a fresh and modern contemporary resort in the harmonious nature and beauty of the Maldives. Together with the dedication of our team members to provide high level service and customer care, good and varied cuisine, dynamic and strategic marketing plans resulted in a high occupancy rate for the first operating year too. Cocoon is a multi-award winning resort at the very early stage of existence. “What does not progress, stagnates” is a very right saying. Our employees believe in the success of their resort. It is an asset.
4. How does Maldives and Mauritius differ, with regards to people, culture and environment?
Mauritius is composed of 1 Main Island of 1865 square meters and 1.2 Million inhabitants.
It is a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious Country. The population originates from various countries.
Each descent contributes to the diversity and richness of the cultures, food, dress, festivals, languages, traditional dances, songs, etc.
The population is basically bilingual—English and French are widely used in daily life together with few oriental languages like Hindi, Chinese, Urdu and the new generation comes up with a thirds European language (German and Italian mainly).There is also the Creole which is the local language.
In Maldives, the concept of One Island one Resort, surrounded by the lagoon and all the pleasures and excitement and amazing unique experience it provides does not exist in Mauritius.
On the other hand, Mauritius offers wildlife and mountains as part of their tourism while Maldives lack both. Maldives being made up of Islands, offers white sand beaches everywhere and every resort has a dive Centre whereas in Mauritius, it is not systematic although there are many reputed ones over the Island. The fabulous overwater lagoon villas are essentially in Maldives. Maldives offer a barefoot paradise for people looking to kickback and forget all about the world. Tourists staying in the resorts won’t find busy crowds and would not generally mingle or interact with the local inhabitants and visit traditional markets and cultural areas of importance. Instead it is a perfect escapade. In Mauritius, tourists can easily soak up the local culture and enjoy stunning coastal drives, spectacular waterfalls, magnificent hiking trails, national parks. Both are lovely in their own way!
5. You have more than thirty years of experience in the hospitality industry. What was the start of your career, and how were the first few years of work?
I Joined the Hotel School for a basic waiter’s course at the age of 18. After one year of practical training in 5 Star hotels, I went abroad for my Management Course and in parallel I was employed as a Management Trainee in a large group of Hotels in UK for nearly three years. I developed a real passion for the hotel operations and invested myself as much as I could to learn the job and bring any little contribution to the business. I was having an admiration for my GMs who—to my eyes—were talented, good leaders, exemplary, powerful and respectful who demonstrated their multi-qualities and skills every day. I nourished the ambition to be one of them.
I understood that only hard work, good work, learning, dedication, personal investment, seriousness, natural curiosity, self-disciplined, patience, time and strong hopes will make me grow. Moreover, I was told that “Managers are born, not made” and I had that willingness to strengthen my inborn qualities. It also happened that I was at the right place at the time.I had the opportunity to occupy junior managerial positions at a young age and I became an Instructor at the Government Hotel School in my mid-twenties. I gave it up after a few years of coaching to return to the active hotel’s life. One of the best ways to learn is to teach. I learnt a lot during those four years of tutoring. I am thankful to the GMs I have been working with and who provided me support, guidance, offered me the favorable conditions to grow.
I realised that I had that “drug” of hospitality in my veins and this industry would be the one and only career I would embrace.
6. Before taking up your position at Cocoon Maldives, you have served properties in Zanzibar, Mauritius, Morocco and Tunisia. How were those experiences?
Indeed, I am among the privilege ones who have had the opportunity to manage hotels in different countries. Each country has its own identity, culture, strength, challenges and opportunities. One has to adapt to the particularities and optimize the strength and opportunities that exist. Tunisia and Morocco though having some similarities implies different approach. Zanzibar is very different; authentic with African traditions and is a developing tourist destination. The locals have a lot of potential and perform well under close supervision and training. Mauritius is a matured tourist destination. It is always a big satisfaction to achieve something for the local people, owners, for oneself and for the destination itself. The experiences gained are invaluable. A lot is expected from an expatriate who must bring his expertise to make the place and the people grow. At the same time, you gather new (best) practices and discover the beauty of the countries. These experiences enlarge ones fields of vision which constitutes a huge professional and personal wealth; an added value to the company.
7. Both Maldives and Mauritius are island nations and famous beach destinations in the Indian Ocean. Having had the experience, how would you describe the similarities in the tourism scenes in both countries?
Both countries are top and selective tourist beach destinations in the world. Two very welcoming nations with a strong sense of hospitality. Both have tropical climate and tourists can travel all year round. Both are appealing for an amazing honeymooners experience, wedding etc. World class resorts and international hotel chains lift both country’s image by their presence. Underwater attractions are great in both countries. Both countries are having a growth in terms of tourist arrivals and average length of stay almost similar (1 week).
8. How does a typical day start and end for you?
The days are long. I am an early bird. I am in the office by 7.00 am. This is probably the only quiet moment of the day before I am sought for numerous interventions, decisions and matters of various nature to attend to. I go through the arrival list—I always say that this is the most important document without which there would be no business—and note down and instruct particular attentions required for the arrivals; who to meet personally on arrival and any special or personalized service to provide. I check and approve all requisitions and purchase orders, analyze previous day’s business, read and answer mails that have reached my inbox overnight.
I prepare for the first meeting of the day with the Front Office Manager and Executive manager—a meeting that lasts 15 minutes. At 8:15 am, I hold the daily morning briefing with all department managers about yesterday, today and tomorrow’s plans. Breakfast is generally around 9:00 am, before which I interact with guests and staff. Meetings with other departments will follow as required. I then attend to various multiple duties and ensure operations are smooth. I walk around outlets and other parts of the property and request interventions wherever needed. Before lunch, I spend about two hours for office and managerial works, while receiving staff for operation matters and seeing guests upon request. I enjoy spending at least one hour in the main dining room during lunchtime to interact with staff and guests. Other “inspections” are carried out in the afternoon. Later afternoon, I try to play volleyball with the team and the guests, and then freshen up to be back on scene by 7:30 pm Again I go around the restaurants and bars to ensure everything is smooth. I would retire around 11:00 pm after attending to other duties.
9. How big of a team do you have working with you at Cocoon Maldives? How is it like to lead such a team, and how supportive are they for your work?
I collaborate with a team of 290 members for the 150 villas and a maximum of 350 guests. It was quite a challenge during the first few months to find and keep the right, skilled employees. Some adapted quickly to their new work environment and others found it difficult to cope with the situations on a small private Island. Also, we had to sort the ones who could promote our core values and who are positive about delivering the service within our philosophy. At present, the team is made up of fantastic individuals who are dedicated to their job and are definitely our most valuable asset. They are making the difference. I witness it and I hear it from the guests every day. I practice an open door policy. Our managers are experienced and skilled. They take care of their staff. We are one team; well-organized, and the rules are clear. We all work according to our policies and values. The support and response are positive from the line staff, mid-management and management. I have the responsibility to watch that social climate and environment favorable to enable everyone to carry out their duties to the best of their abilities.
10. What are the facilities available for staff at your property, and what is done for staff development and training?
A recreation center is available where team members get together during free time to socialize and play billiard, carom, table tennis, etc. A large screen TV room is also available. We have a futsal pitch, a volleyball court and a badminton court. Ferries are organized to nearby islands for swimming, to play cricket, for shopping and to chill out. We also organize fishing trips.
Occasionally, dinner is open-air buffet with entertainment. Every department is granted chance to have their own party followed by private barbecues. Birthdays are also celebrated. During the FIFA World Cup, we set up a giant screen for the matches. We have plans to improve recreational facilities for our team members. Myself being a former trainer, I am obviously very favorable to training. Training within Industry (TWI) is very important to maintain standards. HODs also conduct training sessions to improve identified weaknesses. A professional development plan is implemented and performance assessment is conducted. Competent employees with potential to move to the next level are identified, supported and trained. Whenever possible, internal promotions are preferred too.
11. How much of a challenge is it to handle and manage the property?
Cocoon is a new property which is on rail and progressing quite smoothly. We have established our action plan for the next months to improve the product. Beach erosion, extreme weather conditions and some logistical obstacles in the domain of supplies, guests and staff transportation from Male constitute the few challenges that we attend to and overcome. A multinational team working and living on site requires due care, attention and close management. Hospitals are far away for advanced medical care. With new resorts opening, the turnover of local staff can be a challenge too.
12. Part of your work responsibility would obviously require coming up innovative ideas and solutions. How does a typical brainstorming session go for you?
Our team members coming from many countries bring with them a wealth of knowledge.
I optimize this big advantage and encourage and implement best practices. I am open to ideas. We set up thinking tanks when necessary and motivate our staff to come up with ideas and suggestions and we show recognition. We do run brainstorming sessions to obtain team’s input on a topic. The right people are chosen to participate according to the subject.
13. How often do you keep in touch with your family while working overseas?
In the modern world, contact and communication are no issues. I am regularly in touch with my two independent children; Directors of Marketing—one in Mauritius and one in the UK. I go to Mauritius twice a year, but not so often to the UK. They have the possibility to visit me in the Maldives as well.
14. You have been working in the Maldives for two years now. From your observations, what are the biggest challenges to the local tourism industry?
I do not see any fundamental dangers that affect the tourism industry in Maldives. The industry is blooming and Maldives remain a selective high class destination.
However there is a debate that following recent and upcoming openings in the luxury segment, as to whether we are about to drop the rates when supply will exceed demand. All stakeholders are to work together to maintain Maldives as an exclusive destination. It has to be perceived like this. It must not lose its identity.
The park is not enough diversified—we have to be creative. Upcoming resorts should not be, yet another one with similar offers and look alike. Cocoon sets the example of a resort which is different.
There is no proper star-rating of the resorts, hotels and guest houses. Room rate is not controlled and this can be harmful in the long run with disloyal competition.
I believe there also is a shortage of skilled local labor.
15. What is the biggest success you have achieved with Cocoon Maldives?
I am happy with the level of service and guests satisfaction that we have achieved in relatively short time, though we still have room for improvement. A high occupancy rate, a profitable business and many awards won for our first year operation. It is a big success for the whole team.
16. When going down the memory lane, what is the most unforgettable moment in your career?
At the gate of the Sahara Desert in the year 2000—Sofitel Tozeur, Tunisia. I discovered the immense powerful Sahara and its natural and cultural wonders.
We hosted a convention group of 400 participants for two nights and three days in the desert, in the decor of Star Wars. We created a tent hotel with furniture, hot shower, restaurant, kitchen, entertainment, souvenir shops, medical center and a huge meeting room in a Caidal tent especially for this convention. That was an amazing, memorable experience which was enhanced by an unexpected sand storm which did not prevent the convention to be a huge success. All participants and employees who were concerned still remember and talk about this phenomenal realization.
17. What are your hobbies and favorite pastime activities?
I love playing football and watching Premier league. My favorite team is Tottenham Hotspur FC. I enjoy playing volleyball too. I like to travel.
18. Do you enjoy Maldivian food? Which dishes or delicacies do you enjoy the most?
I like Italian, Indian, Chinese, Thai, and also more classical cuisine, fine dining, fusion cuisine.
Maldivian dishes are very tasty too and have some similarities with Mauritian dishes. The dishes that I like to eat from our Maldivian weekly buffet are Kulhi Mas, Kandu Kukulhu and Mashuni.
19. Have you visited any islands of the Maldives?
Few islands. The first one I visited is obviously Olhuvelifushi, the neighbor local inhabited island to Cocoon. I was agreeably surprised with the general organization of a small typical Island lost in the ocean. This is yet another interesting discovery for me.
20. Who are the biggest supporters in your life?
My family definitely, and few close friends
21. Where do you see yourself and Cocoon Maldives in the next two years?
The company is expanding and there will be prospects, certainly.
Cocoon will continue to grow and will soon have a sister Resort in the Raa Atoll called You&Me by Cocoon, due to open on 1st December this year. Cocoon will continue to be part of the luxury Resorts in the tourist landscape of Maldives and of the region and will no doubt stand a good candidate for more awards.
22. If not the hospitality industry, what other career options might you have considered?
When I was at College I was dreaming of becoming an airline pilot. It turned out to be just a dream. I am happy to be a hotelier. I have no regrets. Being a hotelier is such an enriching, amazing and exceptional profession.