Special Feature: Homegrown Hospitality Brands
Earlier in the year, Hotelier Maldives joined with Sphere Conferences of Singapore as a Media Partner for the second annual Hospitality Investment Conference Indian Ocean (HICIO). While it’s the second year we have partnered with the event, this year’s event’s participation increased several fold with close to 150 participants from 13 different countries. And whereas the focus of the first conference was on Sri Lanka – and Maldives only marginally – this year’s event focused on the Indian Ocean (IO) region. As such the event provided a platform to reassess what differentiates each destination from the other and what were the collective strengths of the region.
The Maldives was represented at the event by several hoteliers, suppliers, developers and investment brokers. In addition, keynote speeches were presented by Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb and leading hotelier and entrepreneur Ahmed Siyam Mohamed of the The Sun Siyam Group.
Other noteworthy speakers included Bill Barnet of C9 Hotelworks and David Keen of QUO, leading brand consultants for hospitality establishments in the region.
While presentations and roundtables focussing on specific destinations were featured throughout the two-day event, an overview of the changing dynamics of the holiday traveller was also presented by the likes of Dilip Rajakarier, CEO of Minor Hotel Group, Nihat Ercan, Executive Vice President, Investment Sales Asia, Hotels and Hospitality Group, JLL, Mark Lettenbichler, CEO of Regent Hotels & Resorts and several other representatives of leading hospitality brands with an active interest in the region.
In an insightful presentation, David Keen of QUO highlighted the emerging landscape for destination marketing in the region. Backed by recent statistics and informative visuals, he revealed that “seismic shifts in travel patterns, airlift, consumer behaviour all mark change in Indian Ocean tourism.” The claim was corroborated by several other speakers.
Destination marketing in the Maldives centres around providing guests with a unique experience, something extraordinary, and arguably most importantly – something authentically Maldivian. Having been in the country since the beginning of the tourism boom, international brands such as Four Seasons and Hilton have somewhat paradoxically been at the centre of moulding what Maldivian hospitality looks like. Yet, parallel to the presence of these big names, there is a small but growing number of home grown brands that over the years have developed a uniquely Maldivian service style, an authentic form of hospitality. And, as Mr Ahmed Siyam Mohamed of the The Sun Siyam Group expressed in his keynote speech, this Maldivian service culture is now fine-tuned, and ready to take to the global stage.
The first international hospitality brands began to operate resorts in the Maldives in the 1990s. And over the years various renowned hotel management companies have made their special hospitality brands serve some of the most discerning travellers to visit the Maldives. While the trend continues even today – this year alone more than a handful of established and well reputed brands have announced their entry into Maldives – there are also some homegrown hospitality brands, although fewer in number, that are offering some of the best service and experiences in the Maldives.
Coco Collection Resorts, Retreats & Spas
Perhaps leading the pack is Coco Collection Resorts, Retreats and Spas. Launched in 2005, the brand develops and manages desirable Maldivian destinations, catering to those who have a passion for holidays that are stylish, sophisticated and sustainable. The authenticity of Coco Collection is rooted in the origins of the company being a specialist travel agency founded by Shabeer Ahmed, who is the chairman of the board and oversees the parent company, Sunland Hotels in this capacity.
Inspired by Maldivian roots, the design of the resorts is further complimented by carefully curated experiences; gastronomy events with visits by international chefs, eco-friendly engagement such as turtle conservation, and a constant effort to maintain impeccable levels of service in all areas of operations.
At present Coco Collection operates properties including Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu, Coco Bodu Hithi and Coco Privé Kuda Hithi. The ultra-private Coco Privé is an exclusive retreat for those wishing to book an entire island for their exclusive enjoyment. The brand has remained as the ultimate in Maldivian luxury, and this attests to the culture of service and product standards that Coco Collection has successfully sustained over several years.
Properties managed by the brand have won numerous international awards including and most notably the title of Leading Private Island for Coco Privé at the World Travel Awards this year.
In step with market changes, the brand’s visibility in key markets is evident in the demand to stay at a Coco Collection property amongst travellers.
Atmosphere Hotels and Resorts
Positioned as an ‘Indian Ocean Resort Brand’, Atmosphere Hotels and Resorts is promoted by Eon Resorts, the developer of some of the most successfully managed properties in the last decade; Hideaway Beach Resort and Spa, Dhonakulhi, Jumeirah Dhevanafushi, Jumeirah Vittaveli, and Viceroy Maldives. The brand Atmosphere was launched with the opening of Atmosphere Kanifushi in Lhaviyani Atoll in 2013.
As experienced developers, Atmopshere has sought to bring some vibrancy to a product and industry now in its fourth decade. The brand set out to achieve this by blending value and luxury with a hassle-free experience of a holiday; and this has proved highly desirable to all demographics and markets.
Atmosphere has recently unveiled two new properties opening later in 2015 and 2016 and in doing so has further diversified the brand’s offerings by including both a four star superior resort and a five star luxury resort in addition to the presently operating Atmosphere Kanifushi.
OBLU by Atmosphere at Helengeli, located on the north eastern perimeter of North Male’ Atoll, will open its doors in November this year and will offer travellers a chance to experience the signature Atmosphere service culture in a 4-star setting. OBLU will offer an all-inclusive package, in line with the flagship property in Lhaviyani where the Platinum Plus package has proved extremely popular with guests.
The 2016 opening will launch Atmosphere’s luxury sub-brand OZEN. The resort, OZEN by Atmosphere at Maadhoo, is located in South Male’ Atoll and will offer guests a chance to enjoy an experience at the high-end of luxury.
Whilst both of the new properties will offer guests an intrinsic experience in line with their market positioning, the service culture in both resorts will aim to reflect the core values of the mother brand.
Despite most brands taking many years to establish themselves within the market, Atmosphere’s burgeoning growth within such a short time frame is a testament to the maturity of Maldivian hospitality and to the success of its ‘Indian Ocean Brand’ profile.
The Sun Siyam
And most recently, The Sun Siyam brand has made its entry onto the Maldivian hospitality scene. Whilst the brand may be new, the foun-der is no newcomer to Maldivian hospitality. Mr Ahmed Siyam Mohamed is a veteran of the country’s tourism industry.
With the success of the brand’s flagship property The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi, as well as Vilu Reef Beach & Spa which will be launched under the Sun Aqua flag in November, the company successfully launched the sub-brand Sun Aqua with the beautiful Sun Aqua Pasikudah, located on the east coast of Sri Lanka. The resort’s opening this year marked a milestone for the Maldivian hospitality brand, being the first time a local brand had been exported abroad.
The brand is now expanding rapidly, both domestically and abroad. In addition to the Sun Aqua Pasikudah, Sun Siyam will be developing an overwater villa resort in Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka.
Whilst developing abroard, the brand is continuing to make its mark on the domestic tourism scene. The latest project announced, a mammoth 600-room development on the island of Dhigurah, aims to accommodate a wide variety of visitors, and open up the Maldives as a destination for travellers on a variety of budgets. When completed, the resort will be the largest tourism offering in the Maldives, creating more than 2,500 jobs for the local Maldivian community.
What these three brands all have in common is a foundation in home grown Maldivian service cultures, a commitment to creating uniquely authentic travel experiences and a drive to expand both regionally and globally. What’s more, the emergence of these highly successful local brands signals a new phase for the Maldivian hospitality industry.
Chairman and Managing Director of The Sun Siyam Group, Mr Ahmed Siyam Mohamed, speaking at the HICIO conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka in May describes the challenges and potential of taking Maldivian hospitality global. Here are some highlights:
“Like all our neighbouring countries here in this region, we have something really special in our island nation that can enrich both guests’ experiences and property investors’ portfolios. Maldives has a form of homegrown service culture and industry know-how that is currently not being utilised to its full potential domestically, and certainly not on the international stage. But just like the well-known Swiss, Indian and Thai forms of hospitality, Maldivian hospitality can create desire and demand in any region.”
“The diversity of incoming traffic and the lower barriers to development mean that the future of the Maldives will offer many more types of accommodation to a wider market mix. An early sign has been the rise of the guesthouse. Offering affordable accommodation, the segment grew an average of 60% each year over the past 5 years.”
“Maldives is no longer just once-in-a-lifetime trip, or solely for the leisure class. It’s a place that anybody who can afford to travel internationally can visit.”
“The world is now ready for the Maldives. And it has never seen anything like the care and compassion of our service culture.”
“Because with the Maldives receiving a diverse set of customers from a more diverse set of markets, our country’s developers including myself, can no longer try to create European luxury hotels on islands. Now, our biggest opportunity is to create truly Maldivian resorts, where all are welcomed.”