Ismail, please tell us a little bit about yourself; how has your journey in this industry been so far?
First and foremost, I am a proud Maldivian. For me, this journey began with the Four Seasons, though I did briefly work in two other places for a short period as well.
With the Four Seasons, I first started in the Maldives before moving to Singapore, and then to Mumbai and Tanzania.
My first job was as a Receptionist and I trained in HK and Reservations. Over the years, I moved up as Front Office Manager, and even did some time onboard the Four Seasons Explorer as Cruise Director. Working as a manager in competitive markets like Mumbai, Doha, and remote destinations such as Tanzanian was very rewarding.
After almost 13 years with Four Seasons, I moved to Doha with Minor Group as the Director of Guest Services and was later promoted to Director of Front Office Options. After my time in Doha, I took a break of almost two-and-a-half years before restarting with Joali.
And what has been your source of inspiration towards joining the tourism industry?
Honestly, I think it was the circumstances; for whatever reason, I wanted to work out of Malé and somehow got drawn to it.
During my time, however, I have met a lot of people who have moulded me into who I am today. I drew a lot of inspiration from them, and I continue to do so.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have had to overcome while working towards success?
Stereotyping. I think some of the international companies still have doubts about local talents. However, it has significantly decreased. There is still a cloud of uncertainty whether we (the locals) can pull it off – in many cases, one has to go through an informal grace period to show that they are capable.
How do you position the JOALI brand and its approach to hospitality?
This is the model for the future of luxury — an extraordinary product with a matching luxury service that is very customised to the Maldives. At Joali, we actually don’t address our guests by their last names; we call our guests by their preferred name which, in many cases, are what their friends call them. We truly believe that a personal touch and bespoke experiences are the future. Every property promotes themselves as “home away from home”, and in which home are you greeted with a “Good Morning Mr. Smith, how are you doing today?” – we don’t do that. Of course, there is definitely a fine line between a host and a guest, but it’s in these very personal services that we can form relationships and value them. It clearly shows in our return customer rate, peaking at 25 percent of inhouse guests at, with over 90 percent occupancy.
As much as being a very qualified Resort Manager, you also have a remarkable passion for freediving! Last year, you participated in the AIDA Dahab Apnea Competition and won Maldives a new national record in the discipline “Constant Weight Bi-Fins” category. How has freediving become part of your life, and what is the BEST part about it?
I got into freediving by accident and found that I actually had a good pair of lungs, considering I deplore smoking. When I realized that I could hold my breath for over 5 minutes and equalize in the deep, that motivated me to try and learn more, which later became a semi-profession. I did two competitions last year and on the second one, I broke the free immersion record as well with a 61-metre dive.
Freediving is the only time that my mind and neurons aren’t firing off unnecessarily. It’s the only time that I am totally in the moment; the silence, the cold and the water squeezing you – for me it is very addictive,
Being a freediver, how do you feel about the current state of the Maldives’ marine ecosystems?
Unfortunately, life below water in the Maldives needs more attention. Our current status and approach are inadequate to sustain the underwater life.
Everyone who lives in Maldives must actively preserve and do more for the ocean.
How do you balance your job as Resort Manager while also having your bit of fun in the water?
When the occupancy is low, I get to dive more often. Normally, I get up at 5am, stretch and we hit the water by 6am so that we can be back at work before the daily morning meeting. I go with my colleagues who I have trained here.
Also, on my days off I try deeper dives. I get three R&R days and I try to make two of them as freediving holidays.
Since the debut of JOALI Maldives, the resort has been paving the way for eco-friendly luxury travel in the Maldives. What are the highlights of JOALI Maldives’ sustainability story and how is the community involved?
At Joali, we are continuously doing things that have a positive impact on the environment. We have planted trees on neighbouring islands as a CSR initiative, and we are currently working on a project to stop fumigation. We’re even upgrading our garbage sorting and disposal facilities, and have completely banned single use plastics; even on the seaplanes, all the water bottles provided are glass. Additionally, we’ve involved school children from neighbouring islands in these initiatives and have conducted educational programs. When the pandemic hit, it slowed down, and once the travel restrictions are lifted, we will be back on track.
With so many big-name competitors already here, can a squeeze in the high-end hospitality competitiveness be felt? Do you think demand in this sector is already being met?
For sure, the market we are catering to is the 1%, the ultra-rich. Also, regardless of the market, I think the expansion of the Maldives tourism sector is too fast – our airport can’t cater to all the guests, the lounges get full, the airlines have to hover, sometimes for hours, before being allowed to land. I think it’s time that we focus more on what we already have, rather than developing more resorts.
Do you have any advice for local talents looking to work in top managerial positions in the Maldives Tourism Industry?
Work hard and believe in yourself, and in the meantime, don’t give up on your dreams and equally work on yourself. A career is like modern-day slavery, so don’t fall for that entirely. Of course, you need to work hard and give your 100 percent, however, the company can always take your job and title away, but not your experience and knowledge. So, focus on yourself and don’t forget to live. Earn to live decently, but don’t live to earn. Take time off, travel, spend time with loved ones – don’t let the job take the life out of you.
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