The GM’s View: Graham Kiy, Jumeirah Vittaveli Maldives
Graham Kiy grew up in London, England, where he attended hotel school in Westminster. He worked his way up from food and beverage into management. Kiy has had experience working in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East; his first stint as a GM was ten years ago in China. He was the “Number Two” at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray in the UAE prior to taking up the reigns at Vittaveli in November 2012.
HM: How does the Maldives compare to other places you have worked?
GK: The Maldives is very special, it’s such an exotic and premium destination. It’s on everyone’s bucket list. It differs from others as it’s a remote location, so you’re responsible for a lot of things, power generation, water treatment. You’re responsible for your destiny, your future. There are other places in the world where some of those things happen, but I think not to such an extreme as they are here.
HM: How would you describe the work ethic of Maldivian employees?
GK: I think when you train and guide Maldivians, and keep them motivated, they can be just as good as a person from any other nationality. It’s also crucial that you find the right individual for the right job. Also, a very strong point in favour of the Maldives is that education happens in English in public schools. That’s one of the first things that strike you when you come here, that many people speak very well in English.
HM: What have you observed about Maldivians through your interactions with them?
GK: I’ve learnt that they have a good sense of humour, and that they are actually a very humble people.
HM: How would you describe your management philosophy?
GK: I think it would have to be 360 degrees, especially in a resort like this. You have to bear in mind that in a senior leadership position, people look up to you. And it’s very important that you set a good example, first of all, in terms of behaviour and attitude towards colleagues and towards guests. Good communication is vital so that people understand what is expected of them and know where the team is headed. I like to interact with colleagues regularly, and I have monthly meetings with colleagues. In these meetings the entry level and rank and file colleagues can talk to me without the presence of other senior management staff. We talk about the issues affecting them, and it’s a chance for me to explain where we’re going and some other big picture items that don’t trickle down so well.
HM: Do you see Maldivians moving up through the ranks of international hotel chains and holding senior management posts?
GK: I see no reason why it can’t happen. I think that in order to do so, it’s probably wise for Maldivian candidates to move abroad for a few years to look at the bigger picture and learn some best practices from other remote island destinations or even just international destinations. Even if you are in one country or one department, it’s good for you to branch out, to see some different things and move back in again.
HM: What do you consider your achievements so far?
GK: Putting Vittaveli on the map as one of the premier luxury resorts in the Maldives, and probably the premier luxury resort in Male’ Atoll. Also enhancing and improving our facilities, and landscaping – the island is much greener than it ever was. After three and a half years of operation, Vittaveli is beginning to look like a mature resort. On a more personal level, I think I’ve achieved a much better understanding of the Maldives and island destinations in general. Previously, I hadn’t worked on a full-on remote resort such as this. I’d always worked in city centre hotels. So for me it was a tremendous learning curve. Also, I completed my advanced open water diving certificate here, which helped me appreciate the underwater world, which so many tourists come here for. If I hadn’t done that it would be like running a golf resort without playing golf.
HM: What are your challenges?
GK: I think the challenge is always that the Maldives is an expensive destination. That means we have to try very hard to meet guests’ expectations, whether they’re on honeymoon or a family holiday. Being in a remote location, we have to use our creativity and ingenuity to come up with solutions for their requests. We have to come up with creative ideas to keep them entertained, to enhance their experience. We’re providing experiences and memories. It’s a challenge to continue to do that for different kinds of people, from different age groups and nationalities, and to treat guests as people and not as numbers.
HM: How do you see the future of the local tourism industry?
GK: It can be very bright. But we must continue efforts to protect the environment, our biggest attraction. And everything about the guest experience including the airport experience should continue to improve to maintain the Maldives’ reputation as a premier remote island destination. I think so long as we work together with our colleagues in government, there’s no reason why the Maldives cannot continue to shine.