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A love story: ‘Mama and Papa’ finds ‘first home’ at Sun Aqua Vilu Reef



On one of their trips to the Maldives, they were told by a waiter at Sun Aqua Vilu Reef — then called Vilu Reef Beach and Spa Resort — that they had become so frequent visitors that their faces were more familiar to him than his own parents. The young waiter explained how he saw his parents only once a year, and asked the German couple if he could call them Mama and Papa.

They agreed right away!

Ever since that encounter in 2006, Harns Guard Richter and his wife Bärbel Richter have been fondly called “Mama and Papa” by all the staff at Vilu Reef. As the couple kept returning to what they described as their “first home” twice every year on average — now thrice a year, and 30 times in total so far — they became so close to the management and staff that they are now considered part of the “Vilu Family”.

“We always say this is our first home. Our second home is in Germany. When we leave [Vilu Reef], we never say goodbye. We always say that we’re changing the place for a while, to check on our German family,” Mama tells Maldives Insider, while enjoying a cup of coffee at the overwater deck of Vilu Reef’s Nautilus bar.

Mama and Papa’s love affair with Vilu Reef began in 2002, when they came to the island just like they have visited a few other resorts in the Maldives since 1997. Every island they had visited in the Maldives before “was nice” too, but at Vilu Reef it was love at first sight. The moment they stepped foot on the arrival jetty, they were swept away by the island’s sheer natural beauty and the magical feeling that it invoked. They knew they had discovered their home.

And they never went elsewhere!

“We’ve seen so many changes [at the resort]; now there’s a pool, new villas and so on. Every time they say they’re going to change something, we tell them that there’s no need to change. But when we come back and see the changes, we realise that they’ve done it so well that it actually makes the resort so much better than before,” Mama recalls.

Mama and Papa pose for a photo as they were greeted upon arrival in the Maldives on July 25, 2017 for their 30th visit to Sun Aqua Vilu Reef. PHOTO/ SUN ONLINE

At Vilu Reef, Mama is also reminded of a dream she had as a kid. When she was just two years old, a relative gave her very first book, which was filled with drawings and photos of palm trees. Even at such a young age, she felt a connection to nature, and dreamt of seeing palm trees in person at least once in her lifetime.

And once has now turned into 30!

“We met a couple in Mauritius. They said, ‘When you like to go snorkelling, why don’t you go to the Maldives?’ I looked at Papa and I told him that we have to go there. And when we were back in Germany, we started reading about the Maldives, and we knew we just had to come,” Mama recalls how she and her husband came to know of the Maldives before their first ever trip to the island paradise in 1997.

“When we came to the Maldives, we wanted to have a small island with palm trees, white sand and blue sea. We wanted to go for snorkelling and see varieties of fish. And here at Vilu Reef, we keep finding the best of it all.”

Vilu Reef, a palm-fringed island paradise in the Maldives. PHOTO/ MALDIVES INSIDER

Whenever they are in Vilu Reef, Mama and Papa absorb the natural beauty of the palm-fringed island located in Dhaalu atoll, a mere 35-minute seaplane flight away from the main Velana International Airport. Every morning they wake up at 6.45am to witness the sunrise as it creates a vista of orange and red on the horizon, before going for a short pre-breakfast swim. After the breakfast, which always consists of the local favourite Mashuni, Mama goes for snorkelling in time to greet the schools of fish that emerge along with the rays of sunlight beaming on the island’s house reef. After a rather active morning, the retired school teacher and supervisor spends the afternoon relaxing and lazing around with her husband, before heading out to enjoy a drink with fellow guests or chat with members of their Vilu Family.

All these experiences help Mama and Papa to answer the dozens of questions they get on travel websites such as TripAdvisor as well as from their friends and family back in Germany — some of whom have already visited the Maldives, most specifically to Vilu Reef.

“Our son has been here six times already. The first time he said, ‘I’ll try, but maybe it’s not for me’. He booked just a week. But after three days, he was so happy that he booked another week. Now he books two weeks every time,” Mama says.

Like Mama and Papa, their son and all of their friends and family that had visited Vilu Reef have fallen in love with its tranquil surroundings and its “Naturally Playful” concept of hospitality. But their love has over the years grown far beyond the island’s natural beauty and its peaceful atmosphere to encompass the friendliness of the staff and their welcoming attitude. This exceptional hospitality can be seen from the grand welcome Mama and Papa received on their 30th visit to the personalised service, including tailor-made napkin holders with ‘Mama and Papa’ written on them and replacing room number plates with ‘Mama and Papa’ name boards.

“When the aircraft door opens, and when you take a deep breath in, that feeling is just magical. You see the big smiles there to welcome you, and you feel like you’re at home. The hospitality is just magical,” Mama explains.

A team from The Sun Siyam Resorts and Sun Travels welcomes the Mama and Papa of Vilu Reef on their arrival in the Maldives on July 25, 2017 for their 30th visit to Sun Aqua Vilu Reef. PHOTO/ SUN ONLINE

This deep-rooted love and connection with locals have also enabled them to fulfil a long-held wish of understanding the culture and traditions of the Maldives. Over the years, Mama and Papa have learned about the monsoons of the Maldives, indulged in local cuisine and made Garudiya their all-time favourite dish, learned a bit of local Dhivehi language, and danced to the rhythms of traditional Bodu Beru.

“When we first came to the Maldives, we also wanted to know about the culture. But we weren’t able to connect with locals this openly anywhere else. Now we’ve our Vilu Family, and a lot of friends in Meedhoo and Male. It’s so nice to know a lot of local people. Through them, we learn a lot about the culture,” Mama says.

But it is not just the locals that Mama and Papa have connected with over their decade-long love affair with Vilu Reef. They have formed ever-lasting bonds of friendship with travellers from the around world — from Austria and Russia to India amongst many others — that have visited Vilu Reef over the past 18 years of its operation. With some of their Vilu Family members, they have even developed a tradition; making a pact to meet at Vilu Reef, be it during the festive season in December or during the summer holidays in April.

Honouring that pact, Mama and Papa will return to Vilu Reef in December for the 31st time — 38th trip to the Maldives — to meet, greet and make memories with their Vilu Family both from the Maldives and abroad. For now, they are soaking up the sun, sea and sand while enjoying the peace and quiet at their “first home” before “changing the place” again for a few months.

An Insider

Abdulla Wisam: A journey of excellence and growth in the Maldivian hospitality industry



In the heart of the stunning Maldives, where luxury resorts and crystal-clear waters come together to create a paradise on Earth, there are individuals who work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that every guest’s experience is nothing short of exceptional. One such individual is Abdulla Wisam, whose remarkable journey in the hospitality industry is a testament to his dedication, passion, and unwavering commitment to providing the best possible service to guests.

Abdulla Wisam’s journey in the hospitality industry began right after completing his schooling. In 2003, he embarked on his professional career by joining Dhoveli Beach Resort & Spa, where he gained his first taste of the world of hospitality. It was here that he discovered his passion for creating memorable guest experiences and building relationships with visitors from around the world.

After his initial foray into the industry, Wisam’s career path continued to evolve. His dedication and hard work caught the attention of industry leaders, leading him to take on roles of increasing responsibility. His time at Meeru Island Resort saw him as an Outlet Cashier and Night Auditor, roles that allowed him to develop a deep understanding of the operational aspects of a resort.

Wisam’s determination and eagerness to learn led him to the iconic Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, where he started as a Recreation Attendant. Over time, he showcased his exceptional skills in guest relations and management, and he was promoted to the position of Front Office Supervisor. His journey with Four Seasons served as a stepping stone for what was to come next.

In 2014, Wisam joined the W Maldives, a resort known for its luxurious offerings and unparalleled guest experiences. Starting as a Welcome Team Leader, he quickly rose through the ranks due to his impeccable guest service skills and innate leadership abilities. His promotion to Guest Experience Manager was a testament to his ability to not only meet but exceed guest expectations. He was then transferred to The St. Regis Maldives as the Assistant Front Office Manager with the pre-opening team.

As his career trajectory continued its upward trajectory, Wisam took on the role of Front Office Manager at prestigious resorts such as Milaidhoo Island, Raffles Maldives, and The Standard Maldives. These roles allowed him to refine his management style, hone his problem-solving skills, and contribute to the overall success of each resort.

Wisam’s journey eventually led him to COMO Cocoa Island, a resort renowned for its unparalleled luxury and exquisite attention to detail. Joining as the Front Office Manager, he embraced the challenges and responsibilities that came with the position. His dedication, combined with his innate ability to create genuine connections with guests, led to his promotion as the Director of Rooms.

Wisam’s journey in the Maldivian hospitality industry is a remarkable tale of perseverance, growth, and a genuine passion for creating exceptional guest experiences. His diverse roles, spanning from recreation to guest experience management, have equipped him with a holistic understanding of the industry. His commitment to continuous improvement and dedication to delivering top-tier service have not only benefited the resorts he’s been a part of but have also contributed to elevating the reputation of Maldives as a premier luxury travel destination.

As Wisam continues to shape the guest experience landscape at COMO Cocoa Island, one can only imagine the heights he will reach and the impact he will make on the ever-evolving hospitality industry of the Maldives. His journey stands as an inspiration to aspiring hoteliers and a testament to the boundless opportunities that await those who are truly passionate about their craft.

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An Insider

Hamzath Ameen: Elevating human resources



In the fast-paced and thriving hospitality industry of the Maldives, where exceptional service and guest satisfaction are paramount, there are individuals who stand out for their dedication, expertise, and leadership qualities. Hamzath Ameen is making his mark as a proficient human resources professional in island resorts of the Maldives. With an impressive career trajectory and a passion for excellence, Hamzath has become a respected figure in the industry.

Hamzath Ameen was born and raised in Addu Atoll, a region known for its stunning natural beauty and vibrant culture. Following his schooling, he pursued his higher education at Cyryx College in Male’, where he successfully completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Management. This academic foundation laid the groundwork for his future career in the dynamic world of hospitality.

Hamzath embarked on his professional journey at Dhonveli Beach Resort, where he assumed the role of Accounts Officer. This initial foray into the hospitality industry allowed him to gain valuable insights into the financial aspects of resort operations and the importance of maintaining accurate records and efficient systems.

Eager to expand his horizons and broaden his skill set, Hamzath sought opportunities at various reputable companies and resorts throughout the Maldives. His determination and exceptional work ethic caught the attention of industry professionals, leading to his appointment as the Human Resources Officer at Furaveri Island Resort. Recognizing his potential, Ameen quickly rose through the ranks and was promoted to the position of Assistant Manager, and subsequently, Human Resources Manager.

During his tenure at Furaveri Island Resort, Hamzath made significant contributions to the establishment’s human resources department. He spearheaded various initiatives to enhance employee engagement, streamline recruitment processes, and foster a positive work culture. Under his leadership, the resort witnessed an increase in employee satisfaction and a notable reduction in turnover rates, solidifying Hamzath’s reputation as a skilled people manager.

In 2022, Hamzath accepted an exciting new opportunity and joined Rihiveli Maldives Resort as the Human Resources Manager. With his wealth of experience and proven track record, he assumed a pivotal role in overseeing the resort’s human resources functions, including recruitment, training and development, performance management, and employee relations. Hamzath’s strategic approach and ability to build strong relationships with staff and management alike have made him an invaluable asset to the resort.

Hamzath Ameen’s journey from an Accounts Officer to a respected Human Resources Manager exemplifies his commitment to personal growth and professional excellence. Through his hard work, dedication, and leadership abilities, he has successfully carved a niche for himself in the competitive Maldivian hospitality industry. Hamzath’s passion for nurturing talent, fostering positive work environments, and delivering exceptional guest experiences continues to make a lasting impact on the resorts he has served.

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An Insider

Chef Mohamed Niyaz on celebrating authentic Maldivian flavours



Introducing the culinary genius who brings alive Kaagé specialty restaurant at VARU By Atmosphere

Chef Mohamed Niyaz is the Maldivian Chef who has breathed life into VARU By Atmosphere’s signature restaurant – Kaagé. In this interview, he speaks about his love for local cuisine and his inspiration. He also shares words of wisdom for budding chefs in the Maldives.

Where are you from? I was born and raised in the beautiful island of Ha. Dhihdhoo, in the Haa Alif Atoll, Maldives.

When did you first fall in love with cooking? Even when I was a kid, I used to spend a lot of time in the kitchen with my mom. I was so intrigued by her amazing cooking skills and how she would prepare all sorts of delicious dishes. I would eagerly watch and learn from her every time she cooked. That’s what inspired me to become a chef myself.

What motivates you? Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a deep passion for both art and cooking. My mother, who is incredibly creative, would whip up imaginative meals. I would often tell her that one day, when I grew up, I would become a chef and cook a special meal just for her. I’m proud to say that I’ve fulfilled that dream.

Tell us a little bit about your journey in the hospitality industry. In 2002, I had the chance to embark on my journey in the tourism industry when I began working as a Commis at Hulhule Island Hotel. Over 16 years, I climbed the ranks and eventually held the position of Chef De Partie at the same hotel. Then, in 2019, an exciting opportunity came my way as I joined VARU by Atmosphere as a Sous Chef. Currently, I am honoured to be working as a Maldivian Chef at the renowned Kaagé restaurant, which is the first of its kind in Atmosphere Core.

What are some of your achievements and awards? Throughout my 20-year career, I have had the privilege of receiving nominations and winning various awards in different competitions and ceremonies. The most recent and special achievement was when I was honoured with the CGM Chefs Award for Outstanding Achievement in 2022. The year 2016 proved to be another successful year, I achieved remarkable accomplishments in international competitions. Securing second place in the Team Challenge and first place in the Foreign Team Challenge at the Chinese Foreign Hotel’s cooking competition, CCTV ‘The Greatest Chefs.’ In addition, I have been participating in the Hotel Asia Culinary Challenge from 2012 to 2022 and have received 12 gold, silver, and bronze awards over the years.

Can you describe Kaagé restaurant for us? Kaagé is the signature Maldivian restaurant at VARU By Atmosphere.  The restaurant is designed as a traditional Maldivian house adorned by heritage photographs and video storytelling. Guests can relish local flavours presented with a progressive twist. We use traditional home cooking methods to ensure the food is fresh, aromatic, and flavourful.

As a chef, what are your preferred local ingredients? Coconut, pandan leaves, Maldivian chilli, and curry leaves hold a special place in my culinary repertoire.

Which dish would you highly recommend to all guests at Kaage? There are a variety of local dishes on our menu. I would recommend guests try Gulha, a deep-fried pastry ball filled with smoked tuna or vegetables and flavoured with finely chopped onion, grated coconut, and chilli. And Kandu Kukhulu, our renowned Maldivian tuna curry, stands out as the most exceptional and beloved dish. It is one of our signature specialties and the rich flavours are sure to leave a lasting impression on our valued guests.

What are your plans for the future? At present, Maldivian cuisine is exclusively available in restaurants within our nation. My aspiration is to present Maldivian specialty cuisine on a global scale.

What guidance would you offer aspiring Maldivian chefs? To the younger generation, I would like to emphasize that Maldivian Cuisine is truly distinctive, and with unwavering dedication and perseverance, you can achieve remarkable heights. In line with a Maldivian saying, “Fass enburi nubala abadhuves hih varaa eku kuriyah dhaan masahkaeh kuraashey, ehves masahkathaky hadi masahkatheh nooney” (loosely translated as, always strive to move forward with courage, without dwelling on the past, as no task is ever considered insignificant).

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