We sat down with a company that’s been around for over two decades – Ocean Group, led by the charismatic Hussain Zahid (CEO). He made headlines as a national windsurfing champion and brought that passion and drive to his business. We talk about the dive and water sports market in its early days, the innovations that the company has brought to the business and its efforts in marine conservation.

Hotel Insider: Let’s begin by telling us a little bit about your company.

Hussain Zahid: I founded the company back in 1998. Today, we’re a leading dive and water sports operator and we’ve partnered with luxurious five-star resorts in the Maldives, Langkawi in Malaysia and Da Nang in Vietnam. The company is driven by a very dedicated team and also by my passion and personal accolades as an award-winning athlete (I was seven times national windsurfing champion). Ocean Group introduced many innovative products to the water sports arena including adrenaline-pumping hydro-sports X-Jets Jetpack and X-Jets Jetblade. We’re also the first in the world to launch a three dome DeepFlight Super Falcon 3S submarine in the Maldives. Our main services include Ocean Sports Centre, Ocean Dive Centre, Ocean Recreation Centre, Ocean Photography, Ocean Gear and Ocean Conservation.

Hotel Insider: Can you tell us what the dive and water sports market was like when you started? 

Hussain Zahid: In the late 90s, only non-motorised water sports like windsurfing and catamaran sailing were mainstream. There were very little motorised sports compared to what’s available these days.

Hotel Insider: What changes have you observed in the industry so far?

Hussain Zahid: Advanced technology and R&D has certainly improved the types of water sports gear available in the marketplace today. They are a lot safer and more environment-friendly. The industry is moving towards more innovative products and the current fastest growing segment is foil sports like kite, windsurf, wake and electric foil boards. However, foil sports is not for everyone. The industry needs to continue to research and develop other types of water-based activities suited to a wider audience.

Hotel Insider: The Maldives is a far more luxurious destination now than it ever was. What sort of impact has this had on your clients and their expectations?  

Hussain Zahid: Guest expectations have risen over the years – they’ve come to expect more from their vacations than just the ‘art of doing nothing’. And we’re happy to note that we have a very high rate of return guests at the resorts where we conduct operations. They constantly look for new and exciting water sports to enhance their vacation in the Maldives.  Our DEEPFLIGHT submarine is a big hit with guests as it allows a unique, flying underwater experience that even non-divers can enjoy. Our PARITET glass bottom boat is also top of the class – it’s the biggest and most luxurious of its kind in the Maldives. It offers a clear glass a two-by-three meter window, the largest ever built. Our focus is on bringing innovations like these to the business and maintaining excellent service standards so that guests will keep on returning.

Hotel Insider: That’s great. Innovation is key to success. Now, can you tell us what you’re focusing on at the moment, business-wise?

Hussain Zahid: We work closely with all our partner resorts and are always looking for new products to introduce to ours and our partners’ portfolios. We need to collaborate closely because that’s how we can successfully drive incremental revenue. We are also focusing on training and re-training all our employees on both product knowledge and soft skills to boost our service standards and increase productivity.

Hotel Insider: We used to have a largely European market but we’re seeing Asia becoming more dominant. Has this affected your business?

Hussain Zahid: A larger clientele is a positive thing for the Maldives and for our industry in general. We have many guests from Asia who enjoy diving and discovering the beauty of the Maldives. They are also avid fans of both motorised and non-motorised water sports. Asian guests tend to have shorter stays in the Maldives but they are also eager and enthusiastic to try out new water sports. 

Hotel Insider: Moving on to a sombre topic, you must have observed adverse environmental phenomena like coral bleaching up close, and in different parts of the world. 

Hussain Zahid: Yes, and at Ocean Conservation, we have started to help raise awareness on the effects of coral bleaching and global warming. Our resident marine biologists conduct regular marine presentations to educate the guests on the fragile marine ecosystem in the Maldives. We’ve also started a coral frame adoption programme where guests can contribute and do their bit for our beautiful reefs in the Maldives. Also, all our PADI Gold Palm five-star dive centres strictly enforce the no-touch policy when diving with guests. And we keep a strict maintenance regime with all our boats and gear to prevent stuff like fuel leakages which are damaging to the ocean. 

Hotel Insider: It’s very encouraging to see a company with an eco-friendly outlook. To wrap things up, let’s talk about your plans for the near future.

Hussain Zahid: At Ocean Group, we continue to source exciting new gear to enhance guests experience over and under water. There are a lot of new products in the marketplace but we are discerning buyers – for us only products with the highest quality in terms of safety and features will make the cut.