Hotel Insider meets Benjamin Kreuz, general manager of COMO Cocoa Island. Benjamin has a strong background in hospitality, having worked with luxury international brands in the USA, Europe and China. Also, he is, in more ways than one, married to the Maldives. We talk about how he was drawn to COMO Hotels and Resorts, find out his thoughts on the Maldives’ potential as a wellness destination and note COMO Cocoa Island’s commitment to environmental and social sustainability. This article first appeared on the 3rd issue of Hotel Insider.
Hotel Insider: Let’s begin by telling us about what drew you to COMO.
Benjamin Kreuz: To be very honest, it was a lucky call. It came to my attention that COMO Hotels and Resorts were looking for a general manager for this property. And having previously worked in the Maldives, and also being privately attached to the Maldives [laughs]…
Hotel Insider: You married a Maldivian.
Benjamin Kreuz: Yes, so given all that, it was a natural move to return to the Maldives. It’s like a virus that not only infects guests but also many professionals.
Hotel Insider: [laughs] A virus?
Benjamin Kreuz: It’s a virus for sure. You have so many professionals who’ve worked in the Maldives before going on to a different place, only to come back.
Hotel Insider: You worked at Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru some years back.
Benjamin Kreuz: It was an amazing experience, being part of the opening team in such a remote location where everything is a different ballgame. And being part of an opening team of a hotel that, at the time, set a new level of guest expectations and luxury.
Hotel Insider: Let’s talk about wellness, which is at the core of this issue. COMO properties put a lot of emphasis on wellness; it’s not only in the treatments, yoga and exercise regimes that you offer; it’s also reflected in the food. It’s very holistic.
Benjamin Kreuz: Yes, you’re absolutely right. For COMO Hotels and Resorts, wellness isn’t an afterthought; it’s part of our DNA from the very beginning. It’s driven by our owner, Mrs. Ong, who focusses deeply on wellbeing, she practices Yoga daily and is an absolute expert in the field. We call our spa ‘COMO Shambhala Retreat’, and it’s one of our main focusses. It extends beyond the spa; we have healthy options on all our menus throughout the day. Even our drinks menus have Shambhala juices that boost your immunity or help you with digestion and such.
It goes deeper with our COMO Shambhala Estate in Bali, where concepts are developed and people are trained and then guidelines are rolled out worldwide. So, this concept of having a centralised, highly capable team working on the next generation of spa treatments brings the best of wellness to our guests and we’re constantly exploring more avenues.
Hotel Insider: Do you get wellness focussed bookings?
Benjamin Kreuz: Yes, we have special offers on the market that attracts people to our COMO Shambhala paths and COMO Shambhala Discovery packages.
Hotel Insider: COMO Shambhala Paths? What are they?
Benjamin Kreuz: They are treatment blocks that lasts over several days where we incorporate different treatments according to guests’ needs, based on consultation. And guests’ dietary regimes are personalised so they get a holistic wellness experience while here. I have to refer back to the COMO Shambhala Estate where this whole approach has been developed. There, it’s even more intense than at other properties. Here in the Maldives, though, we have the fantastic opportunity to offer the same, as guests who come here have the time.
Hotel Insider: So, what I got from that was that people who come here are aware of wellness, they are open to what you have to offer.
Benjamin Kreuz: Yes, I strongly believe so. Those people who are aware of COMO Hotels and Resorts, and who looked us up, would have chosen us for the reasons I’ve mentioned. Not all of our guests obviously but there is a portion of guests who visit our properties because we have such a strong approach to wellbeing.
Now, the Maldives is in a very lucky situation because it’s a ‘paradise island vacation’; guests who might not necessarily book us for our Shambhala concept will come to love it. Because, once guests visit our COMO Shambhala Retreat, they will be inspired to re-live the experience.
Hotel Insider: How many guests, say as a percentage, would visit the spa?
Benjamin Kreuz: Around 16 per cent.
Hotel Insider: That’s not bad at all. So, what do you think of the Maldives’ potential as a wellness destination?
Benjamin Kreuz: I think there’s an opportunity there, the Maldives doesn’t have a property focussed solely on wellness as of yet. It’s a combined destination; people come here for relaxation, the beach and water-based activities. But certain properties, like ours and places like Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru have a strong spa concept, which is well established. And I think you can see immense potential if you look at the spa awards the Maldives has received over the years. So yes, wellness retreats in the Maldives is worth exploring.
Hotel Insider: All right. So, let’s talk about COMO Cocoa Island for a bit. You’ve said it’s probably the last true Maldivian resort. What do you mean by that?
Benjamin Kreuz: It’s true. COMO Cocoa Island has been here fifteen years, as a COMO Hotels and Resorts property. Prior to that, it was a resort but with just five rooms. We have 33 rooms now and have remained unchanged over the past fifteen years. We’ve struck a balance between team members, guests, and nature. This is something you feel the moment you step on the island. It is absolutely unique.
Hotel Insider: Yes, it’s really quiet. Plus, you hardly see anyone.
Benjamin Kreuz: Yes, it’s not crowded or busy. The only buildings on the island are the restaurant and bar, the dive centre, the reception and the COMO Shamabhla Retreat. It’s a beautiful island with sandy beaches that you can walk all around. And being at the end of South Male’ Atoll, we are close to some world-class dive spots, the most famous of which is Cocoa Thila. Also, the way that the hotel has been designed plays a huge role; our luxury is very understated. The focus is on simplicity that ties in with nature and does not outshine the natural setting.
Hotel Insider: Yes, I noticed that in our room. When you go out, you’re drawn to the sights, to nature, instead of say, your big private swimming pool. Plus, you seem to respect your environment. There are no plastic bottles. And the waste water from our outdoor bathing area is collected in a tank, it doesn’t go into the sea.
Benjamin Kreuz: Yes, wherever we are in the world, COMO Hotels and Resorts display a strong commitment to sustainability and the environment. There are two major aspects of it, one is the individual general managers and their teams. They are constantly trying to improve matters in terms of the environment and sustainability. It starts from simple things like saving energy to more complex ones like waste management for an entire island. The GM of COMO Maalifushi, Pietro Addis and I have committed to reduce plastic consumption; we’ve banned all plastic bottles, we’re using paper straws. Our next big task is in-room amenities. This is also done on a group level; we have a fantastic team which supports and drives each and every general manager and their teams to become more sustainable.
But it’s not only about environmental sustainability alone, it’s also about the communities, the social aspect. So, we engage with local communities; for instance, we support two schools, one in Guraidhoo and the other in Maafushi. We’ve helped them get things done, like building a new library, projects that require some extra funding. Another important social component is the COMO Foundation, which is run by our head office and Mrs. Ong. We look into projects where we can support local communities.
Hotel Insider: What sort of projects?
Benjamin Kreuz: We try not to limit ourselves, it could be building a school, providing a service. If someone comes up with an idea, and we think it’s interesting and worthwhile, we’d do it. Also, there’s something I’d like to add: we have our COMO Approaches. This commitment is rolled out at every COMO property. It involves engaging with the local community or the environment at least once a month. We’ve sponsored food for the hospital for people with special needs in Guraidhoo for instance. More recently, our COMO Approach was cleaning up our house reef here. It was an activity where even our guests helped us.
Hotel Insider: It’s great when resorts show initiative on social and environmental matters. Thanks a lot Benjamin.