Keeping it simple, Glenn on a mission to ‘surprise’ guests at LUX* South Ari Atoll
For a young boy from a small country town in New Zealand, an opportunity to travel to the United States came with a sense of excitement and a wee bit nervousness. Glenn Daniels took the year-long Rotary scholarship and saw his world open up in more ways than one. In the States, he had the opportunity to meet new people, immerse himself in new cultures, and most importantly serve as a true ambassador of his country.
That scholarship and another diploma he did after returning to New Zealand laid the foundation for Glenn to enter into the tourism and hospitality industry. From a porter at a hotel in New Zealand to be the General Manager at one of the most sought after luxury resorts in Maldives, Glenn’s 28-year long career has been marked by successes as well as challenges.
Maldives Insider sits with Glenn in the fresh setting of the recently upgraded LUX* South Ari Atoll to hear the story of his journey.
The tourism industry is a wonderful thing to be part of, and Maldives is as best as it can ever be.
Maldives Insider: What interested you to pursue a career in hospitality and tourism?
Glenn Daniels: My father was a detective back in New Zealand. During his annual leave, he drove tour buses and took people on holidays. He loved it and I got to hear him talk about it.
When I was 16, I was offered a Rotary scholarship to study in the United States. It was there I met all these different people and travelled to all these different states. I came from a small country town of just 5,000 people, and that opened up my world. I found out that I loved talking to people, meeting new people and being an ambassador for New Zealand.
When I came back from the States, I went back to high school and decided that I wanted to get into tourism. So I did a diploma in tourism. It has since been a great journey!
MI: What were your earliest experiences in the industry?
I took up my first hotel job when I was 17 years old and moved up from there. My father knew a few people in the industry who could let me have some experience and for me to do some internships. I entered into the field as an outside porter for the THC Milford Sound. I drove a two-tonne truck in which I carried all the bins from the kitchen and took the rubbish to the dump, and cut firewood for the hotel.
From there, I moved up to the room’s division and did pretty much everything except work in the kitchen as a chef. I’m a terrible cook. So I always leave that to the experts.
I worked for 15 years in New Zealand for three different hotels. I worked at a couple of corporate hotels, but I have always found my heart in resort-style properties. So after my last posting in New Zealand, which was at this place called Hanmer Springs, my wife and I decided in 2006 that it was time for me to take the next step. I ended up going to Australia to work as the General Manager at Ayres Rock, which is a very isolated place with temperatures of 40-45 degrees celsius. After two and a half years there, I transferred to the Great Barrier Reef, and worked at the Heron Island.
I left Australia in 2008 and went to Fiji to work as the Resort Manager for the Worldmark Resort Denarau Island. That was a great experience because I was exposed to a whole new culture, which was amazing and very strong, and beautiful people as well. During the three years I spent in Fiji, I enjoyed my life as well as the challenges that came with it.
MI: What tempted you to come to the Maldives?
GD: I knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge and I understood the logistics. I probably did not understand quite as much as I know now, but I had some idea because I did a little research before I got here.
I first worked for Universal Resorts, which was a great company to work for. They were the pioneers of the tourism industry here in the Maldives, and that aspect alone gave me a sense of pride and honour. They provided an environment where you can learn and understand a lot about the industry. I was the General Manager at Universal’s Velassaru Maldives resort from September 2011 to April 2013. I went back to Australia for six months and came back to the Maldives for the relaunch of LUX* South Ari Atoll.
Maldives, for me, is a whole bucket list of different experiences for anyone with a genuine interest in the tourism industry. Being able to run a five-star, lovely resort in the Maldives is really the pinnacle of one’s career. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to do that in my career. I am also a guest here and I am being looked after very well. It has been a great experience so far.
MI: What is your experience as the General Manager for LUX* South Ari Atoll?
GD: Working for a company like LUX* has been very rewarding. They think a little bit of out the box. I love the freshness and the funkiness of the product that I have the opportunity to lead. Even before I joined LUX*, I knew that the training given to staff and the focus on service here at LUX* is second to none.
It has been an incredibly busy 18 months since I got here and probably the most challenging experience I have ever had in my 28-year long career. But that is probably why these have been the most rewarding times of my entire career as well. It was very challenging to try and complete the upgrade in just three months, but we did it. It was truly a team effort. We have an incredible team comprising of local and expats, and we are consistently assisted by the amazing team at our head office in Mauritius.
We now have this lovely new product that we are very excited about. Now we have to get guests to come and see it as well. We are encouraged more than ever to do so because of the incredibly positive feedback we have received from our guests after the upgrade.
MI: What is the major change that came with the upgrade?
GD: We have adopted a concept called, “Lighter, brighter.” You will see that everything is much lighter now. To be honest, the hardware has now been brought up to the level where the software already was. The staff here did such fantastic things. We have introduced a new concept along with a lot of new reasons to come here. We have repositioned ourselves amongst the hotels here in the Maldives, with a very strong focus on F&B. We have seven restaurants and five bars manned by a great culinary team that do some amazing things. That is one of the unique selling points; that we have such a great offering.
But most of all, it is the small surprises that truly set us apart. I want to surprise my guests. Guests can go to a resort operated by a big international chain, which deliver on their promises every single time. But as a guest, I do not want to go to a place that delivers exactly what I expect. I want to be surprised. Here at LUX*, we do these silly little things like disco toilets, gift in a bottle, etc.
The reality is that the success of any property here in the Maldives depends on making small differences that add up to an entirely unique, personal experience for the guests. We all have turquoise waters and white sand beaches. So what is gonna differentiate us from our competitors? It really comes back to the staff and the level of service they provide to the guests.
I also say that the success of any company is that we do not take ourselves too seriously. At LUX*, we make sure that we create an environment where members of our team can excel at their jobs, but also be themselves while doing so. I think if we try and put too much structure on the staff, we lose what is special about those individuals. So here at LUX*, we encourage them to showcase their individual touch in the service they provide and have fun while at it.
MI: What are you thoughts about the changing travel trends and the changes in the Maldives’ tourism industry?
GD: There is no doubt that the Maldives, as a destination, has been and will go through a major transformation. As a destination, we are not the cheapest on the map. A lot of new products are coming into play, and a lot of them are doing all these different things like shoving spas and restaurants underwater. The trends are constantly changing, and that is exciting.
We obviously have a lot of challenges, especially with a lot of new beds coming into the market in a very short period. So we need to get more people into the country and more airlines to come in. There has been some positive developments, with new airports being built and the main airport undergoing a major expansion. I think all these developments bode well for the future.
But part of this change should also include us doing things differently from Fiji, Seychelles and all the other island destinations. For that, we need to come together as an industry and see what we all can do collectively to support this destination. When travellers make a choice, they do not first choose a hotel; instead, they first choose a destination and then go on to choose a property in that destination.
As an industry, we should also focus more on expanding and improving the human resources available. More locals need to trained and opportunities provided for them.
This in turn should go hand in hand with a focus on giving back to the local communities that we operate in. Since this country revolves around tourism, we need to make sure that whatever we are doing flows through, and that everyone gets the benefit. Here at LUX*, we support the Maldives Blood Services by organising blood donation camps. We also have a Tree of Wishes on the island, where our guests donate money to the local community.
MI: What is the one thing that defines your experience in the Maldives?
GD: I love working in the Maldives mostly because of the humbleness of the staff that I work with. You do not get that genuine experience anywhere else in the world. That makes you a better manager because you want to work harder for your staff in order to keep getting that experience. It is a very weird feeling, but I make the most memories when I get to share my daily life with my 600-strong team. I live and breathe with these guys, but I never have the same day twice.
For me, it is those little things that count, and certainly not meeting celebrities from around the world or princes. That is a false world. I love being immersed in what is genuine, and that becomes more and more important as you grow older.
MI: What is the next chapter of your career?
GD: It is very simple for me; as long as I enjoy what I do, I am going to keep doing it. I still love being here and coming to work every morning. So, for as long as I feel this way, I am going to keep doing it for as long as I can do it. Perhaps I might try and find a little bit of balance in life because eventually I will have to slow down a little.
I consider myself incredibly lucky to be where I am today and what I have done, especially here at LUX*. The tourism industry is a wonderful thing to be part of, and Maldives is as best as it can ever be.