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Thu 25 Aug 2005 04:00 AM

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Managing paradise

Being marooned on a tropical island may seem like paradise, but operating a hotel and being island-bound 24/7 presents a number of challenges for hotel management

|~|PoolL.jpg|~|Private beach-front villas, complete with swimming pool, are a typical feature at One&Only Reethi Rah.|~|The One&Only Reethi Rah, Maldives finally celebrated its opening at the beginning of May this year. Boasting 130 beach front and over-water villas, three restaurants, a spa, and kids club, Reethi Rah is the latest five-star deluxe offering in the One&Only portfolio. Sounds perfect? Even before opening, the island resort encountered more than its fair share of challenges, with the opening delayed by three months because of the Tsunami, and a knock-on high turnover in staff.

Now the resort is up and running, and the challenges associated with operating a hotel in the middle of nowhere are beginning to come into play. The number one focus of the hotel’s management team is maintaining staff morale, while operationally, challenges abound in maintaining an island boasting over 40 swimming pools and one million plants.

The resort has its own desalination plant, water bottling plant, sewage treatment plant, and four generators producing 4000 kilo watts of power. All in all, it is pretty self-sufficient.
“The biggest challenge, from an operations point of view, is maintenance. This is a major issue. We have a total staff of 50 in the engineering department. Everything is done on the island,” explains resort manager, Sjefke Jansen.

“The biggest part of the maintenance will start after we have been open one year, when we will have to start to replace the thatch on the buildings. We have over 40 pools to maintain, followed by the gardens. The island is reclaimed from the sea; it is four times larger than it was, so the vegetation is a massive project,” Jansen adds.

Originally, the resort was set to have some 9,000 palm trees planted. However, as the island grew in size, so did the planting budget, and now the island has a total of 16,000 palm trees, and one million plants. Beach erosion is also an issue. The island is reclaimed from the coral reef, but the sand is continually swept back out to sea with the tides. The resort has a sand barge circling the island which pumps the sand back onto the beach, and hotel staff can be seen continually combing the sand.

Away from the pristine beaches, and barges are also used for a less glamorous task, that of transporting garbage. The hotel transports wet garbage daily to a garbage island, one of many dotted around the 1,200 islands that make up the Maldives.

For an island community, human resources and recruitment is another big issue.

“You see the pictures on the internet and you think it is wonderful, I can live there for ever. That lasts about two months. And then you start to not see the waters so turquoise or the beaches so white, and you think that you are far away from civilisation. That takes one or two weeks to overcome, and then it becomes easier,” admits Jansen.

In total, 27 different nationalities work at the resort. However, 50% of the staff are Maldivian, in keeping with local labour laws, which helps when it comes to staff turnover. The resort offers three speed boat transfers per day to Male for staff to take advantage of on their day off, while employee conditions on the island are second to none.

“We all live here together 24/7 so people build communities, and do their own activities. We have a team restaurant, library, gym, our own beach, free internet, shop, cinema, recreation rooms and a team bar with a pool table. The biggest hotel on the island is in fact the staff hotel!” Jansen remarks.

Despite a somewhat accelerated staff turnover earlier in the year, turnover has settled down to around 10%. “What levels it out is the locals,” Jansen admits.

One&Only Reethi Rah has over 600 staff, which works out at nearly five staff to every villa, and even at full occupancy, enables the resort to maintain a staff to guest ratio of 2:1. The resort has over 65 chefs, and three sommeliers.

“We have three sommeliers and offer 450 wines, with a strong focus on South African wines, because of our company being part of Kerzner International. Having a sommelier team has had an effect on sales and works very well,” says Jansen.

“Our F&B concepts are very unique. The Fanditha concept offers mezze, hubbly bubbly, belly dancers, and is very popular with our visitors from Dubai. Tapasake is another great restaurant, with sushi and sashimi counters. The materials used in that restaurant are the best, and some, such as the cutlery, are tailor made to our design. We also have Japanese chefs, not chefs that are trained in Japanese cuisine, but real Japanese chefs; that makes a difference.

“We have gone away from the buffet style. Everything here is a la carte, so that it is as fresh as possible. We are not here to offer an all you can eat buffet,” he insists.

For an island resort so focused on F&B, getting supplies in is also a challenge. The main source for food is Australia, via Dubai, with fresh produce coming in by air freight or boat to Male.

The resort has a small fleet of refrigerated boats that then transport the fresh produce from Male. “We are one of only a few resorts to have this. But it is very useful for bringing in sensitive items, such as fruit. The refrigerated boats come in straight to the supply jetty, and from there the food goes straight to the stores, where we have shock freezing and deep freezing facilities,” says Jansen.

Down to business

With operations taken care of, all that is left is for the resort to start welcoming guests. For the first month of operations, the hotel played host to a number of One&Only repeat guests, as well as international celebrities and media. Now, it is down to business.

For the first two months of operations, the resort recorded an average occupancy of 65%. According to Jansen, the forecast for the year end is 68%, with 70% predicted for 2006. However, these figures are somewhat depressed because of the knock-on effect of the Tsunami, which has caused hotel occupancies across the Maldives to drop by around 15%, year on year.

Europe accounts for 80% of arrivals to the resort, while the Middle East is emerging as an important short-stay market. The One&Only Reethi Rah resort is an Emirates Holidays resort, and the bilateral marketing between the two is providing dividends to the resort.

“Emirates Holidays is important to us because of the local connections and because it gives us a market presence there. You can’t promote a resort from a resort level,” Jansen says.

The number of guests coming into the resort through Emirates Holidays has increased, and Jansen is confident that this will continue. “I see that this will become a long weekend market, with people coming for 3-5 days, so it will become an important business segment. It is a very good market because it is a high end market. These guests spend more or less the same in three days as our other guests do in seven,” he maintains.

And as far as the weekend market is concerned, One&Only Reethi Rah is aiming high. For US $1 million the whole resort can be reserved for a private weekend party, with 600 staff at your beck and call. Naturally, all weekend private parties are more than welcom at a resort that cost US $150 million to develop, and that it is estimated will take between 7-10 years to make return on investment.||**||

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