A young, seasoned hotelier with almost 20 years of experience in people-oriented positions, Srikanth Devarapalli now heads Emerald Maldives Resort and Spa in Raa Atoll. His youthful energy and approachableness endear him to his team, superiors and guests. Srikanth believes we can get through COVID-19, and thinks there is at least three years of boom-time left for our industry.
Hotel Insider: Thank you so much for inviting us. It’s great to be here and see what those awesome TripAdvisor reviews were based on.
Srikanth Devarapalli: Yes, thank you. We’ve been very fortunate with the reviews, but all the credit goes to our team. We answer every review, not just on TripAdvisor but all major platforms like Booking.com and Google Reviews. You might know that we are in TripAdvisor’s top five resorts in the Maldives. I believe one thing that helps us is that we don’t ask our guests to write reviews. And you will see that the majority of the guest comments are about our team. They will mention specific people and say that “this person has been outstanding.” I think that happens because we create those truly genuine moments for guests instead of focussing on getting great reviews or awards.
Hotel Insider: Also, we noticed that there is a good mix of guests here, not just couples but families and groups of friends.
Srikanth Devarapalli: That’s right. Emerald Maldives was designed not to cater to one segment, it is a diversified product aiming to capture different types of visitors. So, we have over-water villas for couples and honeymooners, plus two-bedroom and three-bedroom beach villas for families and groups. Also, we have one of the Maldives’ largest kids’ clubs with great facilities, including a language specialist, and an excellent range of activities.
Hotel Insider: We were also curious as to what drew you to Emerald Maldives in the first place.
Srikanth Devarapalli: Well, in fact, when I first arrived in the Maldives, I was a much junior team member, and I don’t think I felt supported and loved as much anywhere else. Also, when I moved out of the Maldives, a lot of team members said they’d want to work with me if I ever became general manager. They wanted to create something very personalised and exciting. So, it was always there in the back of my mind that if I ever returned to the Maldives, I’d do so to open a property here.
Of course, I also wanted to prove myself. I think the timing was just right – I was approached by the COO here Mr. Aldo Scarapicchia and I thought he had a very clear vision. I attribute a lot of our success to him. And usually, when you’re opening a hotel, you’d look for GMs with several years of experience. The COO though had a different idea, he wanted someone young and dynamic who wanted to prove themselves. So, everything kind of aligned for me.
Hotel Insider: Let’s talk about your career now for a bit. You started out with the Oberoi in India.
Srikanth Devarapalli: Yes, as a fresh hotel management graduate, I was like a lot of my fellow graduates – working at the Oberoi was a dream come true. We did not have as many international brands in 2002 as we do now. The Oberoi is India’s most luxurious brand and widely considered the best place to start your hospitality career. I was very fortunate to be part of their team at the Oberoi Amarvilas. It’s in Agra and every villa would have a postcard view of the Taj Mahal. It’s one of the most stunning resorts even now, and it was quite new when I joined. We had one month of intensive training prior to meeting guests because they expected a certain standard of service.
Hotel Insider: That sounds awesome, really. You also worked with Taj, another great Indian brand.
Srikanth Devarapalli: yes, Taj Exotica was my first experience of the Maldives. I hadn’t heard of the Maldives before, and I saw an article in a magazine about Taj Exotica recently winning a prestigious award. I saw the aerial view of the water villas and I was very curious. I did some research and sent my CV across and was lucky to get selected. I worked four years at a stretch for Taj and also very briefly the Four Seasons in the Maldives.
Hotel Insider: And you moved back to India after that.
Srikanth Devarapalli: I did. It was because I wanted to balance my career with experience in island resorts and at city hotels because you need that to grow professionally. So, I joined the Hyatt Group and worked at some of the busiest city hotels. It was an important period as I became familiar with a lot of recent trends, industry standards and best practices.
Hotel Insider: We also wanted to get your thoughts on Raa Atoll becoming a full-fledged luxury destination.
Srikanth Devarapalli: Raa has been unexplored for a long time, but we’ve seen quite a lot of development in the past few years. It’s good because it means employment for many people in the atoll, directly and indirectly. We’ve seen some luxury brands settle down here. And I suppose the allure is that it is so pristine and the islands are fairly large. Plus, of course you have some great diving and snorkelling spots here where you can expect to see megafauna like manta rays and sharks. These sites are underexploited so really attractive to guests.
Hotel Insider: We also wanted to get your thoughts on this: the WHO director general warned us that we won’t be going back to the old normal in the foreseeable future. How do you see this affecting business?
Srikanth Devarapalli: Well, we have to adapt, that’s crucial. And the practices we have in place now are vastly different from those we had only a couple of years ago. The cleaning and disinfecting, the distancing, all of that is now part of our DNA. And I’m very pleased with the Maldives’ government’s response to COVID-19, it is very dynamic and tweaks measures as the situation develops.
Hotel Insider: Before we wind up, we spoke to some senior industry figures who said these were the last days of the tourism boom. We won’t be seeing developments like we did these past few years.
Srikanth Devarapalli: I’m not so sure. Things will settle down but we may see new kinds of development, like we did with Embudu Lagoon and Fari Islands for instance. Though we’ve seen a great many international brands establish themselves here I think we have at least three more years of boom-time left.