Voyages of Discovery: A 35 year journey in the tourism industry
This year, Voyages Maldives turned 35, making it the oldest liveaboard company in the Maldives. Its fleet of boats is instantly recognisable – traditional, rustic wooden vessels that evoke endless possibilities of getting lost in a bygone Maldives and the prospect of real adventure. Indeed, Voyages Maldives is built on the kind of authenticity that is rare in a country most commonly associated with (a largely imported) opulence.
And like so many of the tourism enterprises that were forged during the days of the industry’s infancy, Voyages Maldives was conceived of a mixture of fortitude, vision and daring…
When Salah Shihab returned to the Maldives at the end of the 1970s after a period of studying in Australia, the country was on the cusp of its now well-documented tourism revolution. Resorts were beginning to spring up in several islands, and adventurous tourists were becoming a more familiar sight. Enticed to the archipelago by the prospect of some winter sun, these visitors were enthralled by the beauty of its underwater realms.
Soon after his return, a chance encounter with a representative from Australian adventure travel company World Expedition planted an idea in Shihab’s head that would ultimately change the face of tourism in the country. What if, the rep suggested, tourists could stay on the water fulltime? Rather than returning to the islands each night, what if tourists could live aboard a boat for the duration of their stay?
Along with his compatriot and friend Mohamed Shafeegu, Shihab realised the potential of the suggestion and together they wasted no time in turning the idea into a reality. In 1980, the Voyager 1 was launched and Voyages Maldives was born.
In partnership with World Expedition, Voyager 1 began receiving guests from Australia and the UK and after a year of operations, was joined by Voyager 2. And as guests increased in number, so did the fleet. Over the years, Voyages Maldives has seen 12 boats cruise under its name and today six remain. Of the six, five are very similar in design. These are fairly small safaris, with wooden hulls that sit low in the water, spacious seating areas at the bow, sun decks and all bear the Voyages Maldives hallmark double masts.
“These boats were built to the highest standards, with the best material available,” explains CEO Aminath Salah, “and to keep up with our partners’ and customers’ needs, we invest a large sum in maintenance every year. They were built to last.” And that is what they have done. Sea Coral, the fleet’s oldest boat, was built in 1988 and underwent a major renovation in 2007. The remaining four were all built in the early 90s. “We’ve never been a company that looks at the short term,” Salah continues.
The sixth vessel, Gurahali, is a significantly larger offering. Built in 2008, the semi-luxurious safari is a 29m cruiser. Although larger than the other boats, with its wooden deck, double masts and traditional design, Gurahali still encapsulates the spirit of the Voyages Maldives experience.
Soon into operations, it became clear that one of the greatest difficulties in running a smooth operation was the issue of supplies, explains Salah. Boats that cruise throughout the year need good quality equipment and this was tough to come by in the Maldives at the time. In response to the challenge, Seagull Group, Voyages Maldives’ sister company, was founded in 1984 and began supplying all the gear necessary for the expanding flotilla.
All the while, Voyages Maldives continued to solidify its position within the sector and the company’s directors soon began developing relationships with global partners that extended well beyond the boating field. In 1983, Voyages began officially representing Italian travel agency Francorosso in the Maldives. The next year, the company became the GSA for British Airways as well as being named the representative for travel industry heavyweight Kuoni. By the end of the decade the company branched out into resort operations with the opening of Athuruga Island Resort, which nowadays operates under the name Diamonds Athuruga Beach and Water Villas. Fifteen years later and Voyages Maldives represents more than 15 other travel companies, such as TUI UK and Thomas Cook Germany, as well as handling supervision for a number of airlines including Edelweiss, Bangkok Airways and most recently Lufthansa.
A Crew to Value
When asked what the secret to their longevity and success in the industry is, Salah is unhesitant. “Our team,” she replies. “We are proud to have an extremely dedicated group of people working for us. These are people who have grown up with the company. Many of our captains joined in their early twenties and have been with us ever since. They take ownership of their roles; they train new staff, help with recruitment and always go the extra mile for our guests.” The team and crew are, Salah explains, embodiments of the company’s core values of integrity, innovation, safety and respect. As a result, the level of service that guests can expect on a Voyages Maldives holiday is of an extremely high standard. Alongside value for money, it is this unique service culture that keeps guests coming back, year after year. To recognise the loyalty and drive of these employees, who now number 88 in total, the company’s 35th anniversary celebrations are dedicated to the staff members.
Charting new waters
As the Voyages Maldives fleet continues to offer its signature approach to liveaboard holidays, the tourism industry that it was so instrumental in shaping, is once again changing. Emerging markets are now dominating arrival figures, guesthouse tourism is growing and previously solid European economies are faltering. Despite this, Salah insists that Voyages Maldives’ “old school” philosophy of long-term planning, supportive relationships with foreign partners and flexibility in the face of change, is what will ultimately maintain their position with the sector. Voyages Maldives continues to pursue conventional markets as it focuses on upgrading services and growing in what they do. What’s more, with a 35-year old foundation built upon solid partnerships and a reputation for excellence, the demand for the Voyages Maldives experience shows no sign of diminishing.
Meet the Team
Moosa Hassan, commonly known as Dhon Moosa served for a period of 12 years, before rejoining us in 1996.
When Dhon Moosa joined us initially in 1983, there were 2 dhonis in the company. He was actively involved in building the new boats of the company while working as a crew member. At present, he holds the position of captain of Gahaa safari boat. A person of quiet disposition and normally dressed in a traditional sarong, one should make a trip with him to see how he transforms winning the hearts of the guests onboard.Shahidha Ismail, Chief Cashier
– Since 1985
Shahida has been working for the company since 1985 in the Accounts department. From the beginning she has been involved in handling money for the company and we couldn’t find a more trusted employee. She now holds the position of chief cashier of the company. Shahida has a way of making everyone comfortable around her as age is not a barrier for her in the way she socializes and gets along with the young and the old in the company alike.
Mohamed Manik, Senior Office Assistant
– Since 1983
Since 1983 Manik has been involved in the administrative and maintenance related work of the company. Manik is a very talented and trustworthy employee who delivers work to our expectation. The way he goes around completing the tasks required from the government authorities and his know-how on office maintenance is commendable. He now holds the position of senior office assistant.
Mohamed Shiyam, Manager: Special Services
– Since 1982
Shiyam has been working since 1982, non stop. He has always been working at the airport – receiving clients, handling charter flights and cargo clearance. He now holds the position of manager – special services. No one stops in the airport, be it a Maldivian or a tourist, who doesn’t know Shiyam. Office hours don’t apply to him as he takes his work as a 24-hours job.
Ignaz Mansoor, Head of Airport Operations – Since 1996
Having joined as a charters executive, Ignaz has developed himself by delivering work through others, giving directions and managing people. As head of airport operations, Ignaz leads two very dynamic teams of the company – aviation and customer services. Well known amongst colleagues and business partners, Ignaz has proudly completed 19 years of service this year and continues to be a role model to junior staff.
Mohamed Ali, Captain: Koimala
– Since 1985
Mohamed Ali (Hanimadhoo) completed 30 years with the company this year.
Unlike most other captains, Hanimadhoo arrived with a knowledge of captaincy and started off as a captain and since then he has been a captain on most of the boats in the Voyages fleet.
Currently he is the captain of our safari boat Koimala.
Mohamed Hashim, Senior Office Assistant – Since 1985
Hashim is one of the first employees of Voyages Maldives who initially started work in 1980, until he left for government service. He joined us again in 1985, and since then has been working in our Administration department performing numerous duties but mostly involved in the difficult task of sorting work permits for our expatriate employees and tour operator staff. Though he is quiet by nature, Hashim is very active and passionate about his work.
Mohamed Jinan, Head of Tour Operator Operations – Since 1996
Jinan has completed 19 years of dedicated service with the company. Starting off as an airport representative he has performed various roles in managing the airport operations and customer service.
Throughout the years, Jinan has participated in various customer services programs as well as having undergone management level trainings.
He currently holds the position on head of tour operator operations. Jinan is a people person, he can get along with almost anybody.
Mohamed Waheed, Captain: Sea Coral – Since 1981
Mohamed Waheed (Mohode) initially worked from 1981-1995. After a short break he rejoined us in 1997. Since then he has been working at our safari boats as a captain. Though Mohode only speaks Dhivehi, he finds a way to communicate with our clients in the most effective ways possible and we never receive a complaint about the language barrier. We only receive good comments with satisfied customers from all the trips he under-takes. Mohode is currently the captain of Sea Coral safari boat.
Abdulla Ali, Captain: Gurahali
– Since 1988
Abdulla Ali is one of the longest serving captains of Voyages Maldives Safari and has worked for 26 years as of now. He was only 17 years old when he started off as a crew member and has gone through different areas of our safari operations and has been the captain on many of the boats in the Voyages fleet. It’s a testament to his hard work and skills that today he is the captain of our biggest boat Gurahali. Abdulla is one of the best at handling staff as well as pleasing our guests.
Mahjoob Abdulla, Manager: Aviation Services – Since 1997
Mahjoob joined the company in 1997 as a trainee for our Charter Flight Handling department.
During his time in the company, he has undergone various in-house trainings and numerous trainings overseas for his career development. The company is extremely delighted by his voluntary participation in looking after the training needs of the company. Under his leadership, junior as well as senior level staff members have undergone various in-house trainings which he has conducted with professionalism. He now holds the position of manager – aviation services.
Shardha Abdul Gafoor, Head of Safari Operations – Since 1995
Joining as a reservations assistant in 1995, Shardha has handled FIT bookings, hotel reservations and safari boat reservations. She is now the head of safari operations. Shardha is a one woman unit and there is nothing she can’t or won’t do because the word ‘no’ is not in her vocabulary. Her friendliness and high energy levels in the office are remarked upon by everyone.