Mark is an industry veteran who has been in and out of the Maldives during the past twenty or so years, overseeing some of the country’s most iconic and luxurious resorts. Hotel Insider travels to the Fari Islands Archipelago at the tip of North Male’ Atoll to have a chat with this seasoned hotelier on what it’s like opening a hotel during a pandemic, The Ritz-Carlton’s re-conceptualisation of the butler, what it’s like sharing space with two other resorts and more.
Hotel Insider: So much has happened since we last talked – you were leading Amilla and Finolhu in Baa Atoll at that time and you have worked in the Maldives at the O&O, Huvafen Fushi, Conrad Rangali and many other international brands around the world. How would you contrast the Ritz-Carlton Maldives with these other luxury brands?
Mark Hehir: It’s been a great journey, being in and out of the Maldives over the past twenty odd years. Being involved in projects like One&Only, Amilla and Finolhu was incredibly rewarding. But as I was looking for the next step, this project, The Ritz-Carlton and Marriott International, came up and I could just see going back to work with one of the most recognisable names in our industry. The legendary brand, The Ritz-Carlton, is really attractive and I thought, let’s do this.
Hotel Insider: Yeah, this resort adds a whole new level of luxury to an already luxurious destination. So, how would you describe the debut of The Ritz-Carlton in the Maldives?
Mark Hehir: Launching such a resort in the Maldives is one thing. Bringing such an iconic brand to the country came with its own challenges. Worldwide, there have been so many people involved in the build-up to the debut. Every department knows what the others are doing and that really helps us bring that The Ritz-Carlton feeling of outstanding attention and care. We brought all of that in to a Maldivian setting, ensuring that it was a perfect fit with what hospitality is about in these islands.
Hotel Insider: One key aspect of your resort is the Aris Meeha. Let’s talk a bit about how you’ve reimagined the butler concept here.
Mark Hehir: When we were doing the research to build the concept of the resort, we highly valued the butler concept of a premium resort. We found that the Aris Meeha was available over two thousand years ago in the Maldives. They were connected to the royal courts and that personalised service, a person in waiting who would take care of all your needs. We immediately realised that that was the name we had to use for our butler service. It really connected us to the highest level of ‘Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen’ – that rarefied feeling of The Ritz-Carlton and the royal feeling of what the Maldives was.
Hotel Insider: On a different note, what was it like opening a hotel during the pandemic?
Mark Hehir: Incredibly difficult in a lot of ways. I don’t think we will realise how difficult it was until a few years later because we get caught in the moment of actually going through the motions. Pre-opening has a lot of lead up time in offices and meetings anyway. We couldn’t have a lot of people here physically, so we worked alone as a very small team in the office, with the rest being done through virtual meetings. It required a lot of effort and coordination, and despite the clear challenges, we got the pre-planning done. It was an incredibly lengthy process because we had to get a lot of approvals while being in different time zones. And I think that while the world was going through such a catastrophic event, we had a strong focus on what needed to be done and to be timely about that. A lot of effort, in short [laughs].
Hotel Insider: [laughs] I would imagine. The Ritz-Carlton is one of Marriott’s most luxurious brands. And this is reflected here, especially visually, in the design.
Mark Hehir: Yes, definitely that’s a combination of the passion of the owner, Pontiac Land Group, and partnering with a world-class architect and marrying that with the best of the Maldives. The Ritz-Carlton played a key role in every part of the entire process with this ethos of ‘less is more’, letting the beauty of the Maldives take centre stage. How the architecture fit around that has been really significant, and you notice this when you walk through the property.
Hotel Insider: It’s really beautiful and you’ve got a clear theme going. We’ve also been to the Fari Marina and though it’s different, you can tell that there’s a family resemblance.
Mark Hehir: Yes, there’s an overall connective element but each resort has its own distinct flavour and design direction from different architects. But it’s all gelling together from the direction of the owner and developer as well so there’s a nice commonality there while respectfully giving different offerings throughout the three islands.
Hotel Insider: Also, this is the first luxury integrated archipelago in the Maldives. How would you describe this new chapter in luxury?
Mark Hehir: I think what it does is to evolve the Maldives to Maldives 2.0. You’ve still got the beauty of the one island-one resort element even here at The Ritz-Carlton and you don’t need to go anywhere else to enjoy a beautiful vacation. But what this does is, it adds an extra layer and also appeals to newcomers, who might want something more. They can move just eight minutes away and enjoy other restaurants, other moods so to speak. Maldives 2.0 is where the dimension of integrating and upgrading experiences happens. It adds another reason why you could probably choose us, and expand the market possibilities.