Jumeirah Vittaveli opened the Maldives’ first ice skating rink to the public on March 21st, writing yet another chapter in the island-resort’s long history of raising the benchmark in luxury tourism. Amit Majumder, General Manager of Jumeirah Vittaveli, tells us that his secret is to always listen to guests, a formula that produced not only the “tropical winter wonderland” ice rink, but also one of the Maldives’ most exclusive private residences, quite literally fit for a king.
What inspired you to launch the first ice-skating rink in the Maldives?
Most of the enhancements that we’ve done on this resort have been guided by listening very carefully to our guests. The skating rink was no exception and came about following a conversation with a family that has visited Jumeirah Vittaveli four times. One of the older daughters said she wanted to go on a ski holiday the following year, while the parents and the rest of the family wanted to come back to the Maldives. The whole family was a bit split. Incidentally, another guest of ours was involved in making ice rinks and we started talking and that made us think of creating a bit of a tropical winter wonderland here in Maldives. That’s how the idea began to form.
How does one go about building a “tropical winter wonderland”?
The rink is made from synthetic ice imported by Swiss manufacturer Glice®, and it was constructed right on the beach. There is no where else in the world where you can come out of the sea and start ice skating, or vice versa. We took some design cues from Glice, but we also wanted to keep the rink very Maldivian. That’s why we used a lot of wood and a thatched roof. We also wanted to give it an open-air feeling, and that’s why it’s naturally lit and has skylights in the roof.
How did you get an Olympian gold medalist involved in the ice rink opening?
The whole team at Jumeirah Vittaveli was honored to have world-famous Olympic gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko here this March to inaugurate the ice rink with a figure skating performance. I met him earlier in Moscow, when he showed me around his ice-skating academy. At first, he insisted that we use real ice for the rink, but I explained that that would not be desirable because it would leave a massive carbon footprint.
What was the inspiration behind Jumeirah Vittaveli’s Royal Residence?
One year, a particularly large delegation of a royal family came to visit us from the Middle East for the second time. Many royal families regularly stay with us, even before the opening of the Royal Residence, but in this particular case, the lead of the royal family was obliged to follow protocol, which dictated for him to stay in a villa that was completely different and larger than the accommodation of his entourage. Unfortunately, we didn’t have such a product at the time. To follow up on this request, Jumeirah Vittaveli built one of the largest beach villas of its kind in the Maldives, which stretches over 3,500 meters in addition to a private beach. Sometimes, there’s an overuse of the word “private” in the Maldives, but in our case the Royal Residence is truly a private experience. The Royal Residence at Jumeirah Vittaveli is a gated community that opens up to the ocean, has a fully functional kitchen where a private chef is stationed, and its own restaurant. Apart from five bedrooms, there’s a large living room area, an in-built wine cellar, two swimming pools, and a Jacuzzi with a retractable TV. It’s truly fit for a king.
Why do you believe that Arab guests will not feel more comfortable anywhere else in the Maldives than at Jumeirah Vittaveli?
There are not many Middle Eastern hospitality companies, and certainly none that are better known than Jumeirah. We’re a large Middle Eastern brand with hotels across the world, including a number of properties in Dubai, one in Abu Dhabi and a significant pipeline of new openings in the plans, from Oman over China to Saudi Arabia. If people from the GCC know that there’s a Jumeirah in the Maldives, there’s a natural inclination to come visit us. When it comes to food, three of our restaurants are halal, including the main restaurant. We even take special amenities into consideration for our guests, right from the point of arrival. They’ll find dates in every room, a very Middle Eastern delicacy. We also have prayer mats and the Holy Quran, which we automatically place in rooms for any guests that identify as Muslim.
What have you accomplished at Jumeirah that makes you the most proud?
We have grown tremendously from our opening in terms of guest and colleague satisfaction. Colleague satisfaction is especially critical. It was my job to understand what our staff’s needs are and how we could meet these needs while living and working together on an island setting. Jumeirah Vittaveli has since tremendously increased colleague facilities, adding a football field, expanding the staff cafeteria, upgrading training facilities and overall improving general living areas, as well as promoting the empowerment of women. In terms of guest facilities, we originally had three restaurants, and then we added another restaurant later with a high-class Indian cuisine theme. We recently extended our bar into a venue that includes a separate stage for live bands, DJs, a billiard table, and an extended deck with overwater hammocks. In April, we launched Cuvée, our wine library. There will also be a new whiskey & chocolate underground tasting room added below the bar that is coming soon.
As an expert in luxury tourism, what are some trends you have picked up on recently?
Service remains paramount, especially service offered by local people. There should be a cultural connection; tourists look for that. When people come to the Maldives, even if they are going to a remote island they still want to have some connection with the local community. Gone are the days when you would want to isolate that from luxury travel. People want to be culturally connected. Investors, designers and hospitality consultants around the world are all looking into how to make guests more culturally connected while offering sophisticated luxury. They’re trying to bring more and more of the local scene into the hotel, and have the hotel become a little bit more part of the local scene. It’s important to not completely isolate yourself on your private island but ensure that your guests will actually feel like they’re in the Maldives. This is why we dedicate every Friday completely to the Maldives. On Thursday, we send all the guests sarongs, and when they wake up the following morning they’ll realize that the entire Jumeirah Vittaveli team is wearing them, as well. Throughout the day, we offer Maldivian-inspired food and drinks. There are local artists on site, and then the day finishes off with a lovely Maldivian-themed dinner including live performances and local drums, singing and dancing. A lot of resorts don’t have that. We also produce our own coconut oil, which is using coconuts harvested from this island itself. It’s 100% organic, has no additives and is bottled on site. The Talise Spa team shows guests how this oil is made following the traditional Maldivian way, and guests can actually participate and taste the coconut in each stage of the oil production. The oil is used in some of our signature spa treatments and can also be brought home to extend the tropical holiday feeling.