Qaisar Naseem: example, hope, mentor for aspiring locals

The Maldives is a development success story. From one of the poorest nations in the world to one of the wealthiest in the region, the country has completely transformed over the course of a few decades, all thanks to its world-famous upmarket tourism industry.

Despite this remarkable growth of the tourism industry, it has always been dominated by expatriates, especially in managerial positions. They undoubtedly deserve our praise and appreciation for so many reasons; for bringing along with them wealth of experience and know-how, for guiding and leading local hospitality professionals, for passing their knowledge onto passionate locals and most importantly for genuinely representing this country as their own — all of which have led to the Maldives making its mark on the map as one of the ultimate destinations in the world.

But Qaisar Naseem is an exception. If there is any one success story of locals in an industry dominated by foreigners, there simply is no perfect example than this misfit who entered the industry in 1997, shortly after being expelled from the school in his native island of Fuvahmulah. He did not look back, and his dedication to self-development and enrichment has seen him rise through the ranks in the industry to become the General Manager of Paradise Island Resort.

“Motivation and commitment to self-develop and improve are the key here. You have to be willing to start from the very bottom and work your way through until you reach your goal. It might be a long journey. So, you have to be committed all the way,” Qaisar says.

Qaisar receives the Indian Ocean’s Leading Conference Hotel 2013 award for Paradise Island Resort at the World Travel Awards. PHOTO/ WORLD TRAVEL AWARDS

His 20-year long career in the tourism industry is a testament to those ideals he so passionately preaches. After spending a year in Thundufushi as a receptionist, Qaisar joined Villa Hotels to work as an Administrator at Royal Island Resort and Spa which was under construction. He oversaw several aspects of the project, including construction, earning himself the position of Assistant Manager when it opened in 2001. While officially holding the title of Assistant Manager, he served as the Acting Resort Manager when the Resort Manager left in 2004.

It was a great opportunity for him to prove his leadership skills. But for someone who has always had the neck for self-development, it was not quite enough. He moved to Malaysia in 2006 to pursue a degree in hotel management. When Qaisar returned to the Maldives in 2009 after successfully completing his degree, he was appointed the Resident Manager at Paradise Island Resort. His commitment and massive transformation to the island both in terms of landscape as well as in administration in keeping with the current trends in the industry was another success story of him. A year later, he assumed the post of General Manager — a title he has since held, and deservingly so.

“Managing a resort like Paradise Island Resort isn’t easy. Apart from the day-to-day operations, there are so much going on here that visitors don’t see. For instance, this is the central hub of maintenance for all Villa properties. We have to manage everything, from carpentry to maintenance of our boat fleet, in such a way that it doesn’t affect the guests’ stay here,” Qaisar explains.

“We also conduct regular training sessions for our existing staff as well as for new recruits. We take in school leavers with no prior training and give them the skill set necessary to join the industry.”

A guest on holiday at Paradise Island Resort. PHOTO/ ASAD IBRAHIM

Over the past eight years, Qaisar has transformed and overhauled Paradise Island Resort. Rooms have been renovated and upgraded. New room categories have been introduced. The main restaurant and bar as well as the Italian restaurant have been upgraded. The Dive and Water Sports Centre have been brought under the parent company’s management with Maldivians tasked to operate it. A state-of-the-art convention centre is being built and is set to play host to its first event — a regional conference by a multi-national development agency — in a few months.

All these changes have greatly increased the resort’s revenue and made it one of the highest performing resorts in the Maldives in terms of occupancy and guest satisfaction. It has several local and international accolades, including several recognitions in the World Travel Awards, World Luxury Travel Awards and Maldives Travel Awards, to its name as proofs of its success.

“This is all because of the team’s work. I don’t just give commands. I have to share and discuss with my team, be it about any concerns they might have or about any operational aspects. We have to work as an extended family. That’s how we have been able to achieve such phenomenal results,” Qaisar explains his management philosophy.

At a critical juncture where a number of new properties, especially those managed by international hotel chains, coming up across the archipelago, in top management positions are on the rise. But in an industry driven by large international hotel chains and expatriate managers, especially general managers, Qaisar has proven over and over again that local brands and talent can be as successful and as prominent in the excellence of service, just as them.

“The number of Maldivians in position such as GMs are very few, but there are some. Most resorts, especially those run by foreign parties, have foreign GMs. I think it’s because of the mentality. But if you look at the industry as a whole, you can see that Maldivians can deliver just as well. Villa is an example. All of our resorts are headed by locals. It’s so much easier to work with Maldivians because I think hospitality is in our DNA. With personal efforts towards self-development and motivation from the leaders, every Maldivian who joins this field is golden,” he says.

“At the same time, resort operators need to provide more opportunities for locals to reach top positions. Of course, commitment and dedication are required from the employees. But the extra push by owners, especially Maldivian hoteliers, to promote local talent in the management has to be there as well.”

Qaisar receives the Tourism Personality of the Year award at the Maldives Travel Awards – People’s Edition gala on July 13. PHOTO/ MATATO

As a top executive in the industry, Qaisar sees his career as being bigger than himself. His personal achievements, including the Best General Manager in Indian Ocean title at World Luxury Travel Awards in 2015 and the recent Tourism Personality of the Year award Maldives Travel Awards, are to him more about inspiring locals to make their mark in the industry. His journey alone is a testament to the fact that hard work and dedication pays off no matter where you start from.

“I see several Maldivians who worked with us at Royal Island Resort are now in senior positions like HR Managers, F&B Directors, Resident Managers, Assistant Mangers and so on. For instance, our current Executive Chef is a Maldivian who had worked as a Sous Chef at Royal Island Resort and later at several high-end properties in the country. Whenever I go to another property, I always meet people I have had the opportunity to train and work with. That’s the biggest pleasure in winning an award,” Qaisar says.

For the next generation of local executives, he advocates self-development, dedication and commitment — qualities that have made him who he is today. For hoteliers, he preaches the ideals of staff motivation, training and guidance, and team work — qualities of led. A team leader whose career is a story in itself of a self-made man, Qaisar stands as a beacon of hope for aspiring local hospitality executives; that locals can be just as good or perhaps even better at driving the local tourism industry forward.

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