Nicholas Khairallah

10 mins read

Nicholas Khairallah, a young and accomplished hotelier with a wealth of experience, has been part of the Gili Lankanfushi leadership team for the past five years. From a young age, he knew exactly what he wanted, earning a post-graduate diploma in Switzerland and quickly assuming a management role.

In our interview, we delve into his career, his vision for Gili Lankanfushi, and the resort’s unwavering commitment to sustainability. We also discuss Khairallah’s initiatives to enhance the resort’s already exceptional offerings.

Hotel Insider: We would like to start with a little bit about your past. You studied for a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration then you jumped straight into hotel management with your Post-graduate Diploma. I wanted to ask you why and when you realised that you had a passion for hospitality. 

Nicolas Khairallah: I was fortunate to be raised in a multicultural family. My father is originally from Lebanon while my mother is Romanian, and we travelled annually to visit our relatives. This travelling and exposure to diverse cultures and cuisines piqued my interest in hospitality from a young age. I realised that the hospitality industry presented an ideal opportunity to pursue a career that allowed me to travel while working.

My passion for hospitality continued to grow even after I completed my degree and embarked on an internship in Europe. It was during this time that I recognised the value of pursuing a Post-graduate Diploma in Hotel Management in Switzerland, a country renowned for its excellent hospitality schools. I embraced this opportunity and have never looked back since.

Hotel Insider: That’s great. Your first management position came not too long after your first experience, right? You were managing guest services at the Sheraton in Montreal. How would you describe the role and its challenges, especially with such a reputed brand? 

Nicolas Khairallah: I consider myself lucky to have begun my career as a front desk agent at the Sheraton Centre in Montreal. As a large hotel with 825 rooms, it presented me, a young hotelier, with countless opportunities to interact with guests from all over the world. With up to 600 check-ins and check-outs on a busy day, my experiences at the Sheraton were truly eye-opening, exposing me to diverse cultures and perspectives.

I was determined to prove myself as a reliable member of the team from the get-go, earning promotions through the front office ranks from Front Desk Agent to Guest Services Manager. I also worked as Night Manager which at a bustling urban hotel is somewhat similar to that of a General Manager during the day; you are the person in charge and responsible for overseeing operations. At the Sheraton, this meant managing guests of all types: from business travellers to tourists, from party-goers to those seeking peace and quiet. Through these experiences, I learned valuable lessons and gained exposure to a wide range of situations that have proved invaluable in my career.

Ultimately, as a front office professional my main responsibility was to ensure that guests’ needs were met while handling any complaints or difficult situations that arose. My priority was always the guest experience, and I strove to ensure that every guest was left feeling satisfied with their stay.

Hotel Insider: How would you compare the hospitality of the Maldives to the hospitality industry in the Middle East? 

Nicolas Khairallah: My decision to move to the Middle East was driven by a desire to explore the hospitality industry in Dubai, a city that had captured my attention. My fluency in Arabic proved to be an advantage, enabling me to attend to situations that my colleagues from other parts of the world were unable to handle. As with all cultures, guests appreciate when hotel staff can communicate with them in their native language, allowing for a more personalised service and a stronger connection.

Comparing Dubai to the Maldives, I would say there is a stark contrast between the two destinations. While Dubai is a stunning city that was built from scratch, it is very glitzy with an abundance of extravagant features. On the other hand, the Maldives and more specifically Gili Lankanfushi embody an earthy, genuine and humble character.

A significant difference I observed was in the workforce. In Dubai, the majority of hotel staff come from foreign countries. In contrast, the Maldives has a strong local workforce, and I find this to be one of the most attractive features of working in the Maldives. At Gili Lankanfushi, more than half of our hosts are Maldivians, and this enables guests to connect with the local culture on a deeper level, enhancing their overall experience.

Hotel Insider: How would you describe the sustainability efforts here right now. It used to be owned by the Six Senses and I know that they have a strong sustainability focus. Now HPL is managing it. Are they continuing the tradition and what are the changes that have been made?

Nicolas Khairallah: The essence of Gili has always remained unchanged. The “No News, No Shoes” culture, and the experience of “barefoot luxury” is what sets us apart. We provide our guests with an opportunity to be barefoot, feel the natural surroundings, appreciate the stunning blue lagoon and the lush jungle, and most importantly, immerse themselves in the local culture. Sustainability has been and will always be one of our key values!

It is exemplified by our Marine Biology programme where we recently launched an internship programme to educate and raise awareness about the significance of marine life among the local community. We also have the Coral Lines Project, where we plant corals, wait for them to grow, and then transplant them into the reef.

We take pride in being self-sustainable whereas we installed solar panels to generate clean electricity and reduce our carbon footprint, we produce still and sparkling water allowing us to prevent the use of plastic bottles, our carpentry team makes and repairs furniture.

Other initiatives can be seen around the island in different shapes and forms, from bamboo bikes, to recycling programme, launch of an extensive plant-based menu, Gili coffee roast, organic garden and much more. Every little step counts when it comes to protecting the environment, and our team is passionately dedicated to this cause. Sustainability is not just a concept for us, but it is integrated into every aspect of the island.

Hotel Insider: What are the innovations or improvements that have been made to the service culture here in your time with Gili Lankanfushi? 

Nicolas Khairallah: At Gili, the guest experience is our top priority. We take pride in the reputation we have built by offering a one-of-a-kind experience, resulting in consistently high rankings on TripAdvisor and the World Travel Awards. Our aim is to improve upon this already impressive reputation by paying attention to every detail and creating meaningful connections with our guests.

With only 45 villas on the island, we offer an irreplaceable luxury: time. Our hosts are not rushed to serve the next guest, but rather have the time to connect with each guest on a personal level. Whether it’s chatting over coffee at breakfast or while wandering around the island, our guests appreciate the authentic connections they make with our hosts, connections that often last a lifetime.

Our service culture is based on people and creating the best people experience possible. While there are many beautiful islands and resorts in the Maldives, we believe that it’s our focus on providing exceptional service that truly sets us apart.

Hotel Insider: Thank you, Nicolas. It’s been a pleasure.