True grit: Interview with Grand Park Kodhipparu Maldives’ GM Raffaele Solferino

Raffaele Solferino, General Manager of Grand Park Kodhipparu, Maldives on adaptability in hospitality, ethical profitability and why true grit drives results.

2020 has been an incredibly challenging year. There have been many learnings and silver linings for the hotel industry, but what long-term impact do you think they’ll have?

Yes, it has been a very much unprecedented situation, even though in the beginning everyone was comparing it with SARS, 9/11 or 2007/2008 financial crisis. During this period, we learnt the importance of staying calm, and keeping ourselves up to date with, and adhering to, the latest policies and guidelines issued by the official authorities. We also put ourselves in the shoes of our team members and business partners and remain available for assistance when needed. I am glad everyone appreciates the effort we put in, as well as the value we bring to them. I believe that when things go back to normal, we will reap the rewards of building a meaningful rapport with them.

How did Grand Park Kodhipparu navigate its way through pandemic, the travel restrictions around it and the ensuing sharp decline in tourism?

Well, the Maldives has responded well, with a lockdown for three months. We are now seeing enthusiastic travellers visiting the paradise again. We have established our own Covid-19 Task Force Team, consisting of experts who are trained to handle emergencies of all aspects, to gain guest confidence. We showed empathy at every point and supported our business partners and tour operators through the challenges they faced. We continue to remain flexible and engaged, and provide assistance where we can throughout this period.

We also involve our team members to develop solutions and this gave them a sense of belonging, which resulted in high participation and engagement. Everyone was comfortable with the decision made and worked towards the same goal. To be able to welcome guests again after three months, it was like being reborn. A high level of energy and excitement was felt throughout the resort, from both guests and team members. While ensuring smooth operations, our team also took the opportunity to develop new experiences to enhance a guest’s stay.

It’s undeniable that the landscape of travel has shifted significantly this year – what have been your personal observations of changing traveller trends thus far?

Travel will return in stages. We are seeing leisure travellers at this point, MICE and corporate travellers with be the laggard. As international borders will largely remain closed or restricted in the short-term, and also with the high adoption rate of virtual meetings and events, we do not see a shift in this observation for now. We have been receiving positive feedback from travellers, noting that they enjoyed the relaxing stay surrounded by our natural environment. People are also starting to look at destination weddings, as they no longer wish to postpone their event further. Travel and tourism are now pivoting towards the digital economy and we should take this opportunity to upskill and relearn.

As we edge towards a time of vaccines, and therefore a hopeful return to normalcy, what are your predictions for 2021?

Well, I touched on how travel behaviour will be affected for a few segments of our guests over the next few months. At the same time, I see potential in the luxury and budget brands, as well as co-sharing spaces. Tourism has a huge contribution to the Maldives economy and we know that people cannot wait to travel again after months of pent up demand. If we can build synergy between business strategies, partnerships and digital transformation, we will be able to do better.

So, let’s more about Grand Park Kodhipparu… You’ve been at the property for four years now – what was the initial vision and mission, and what do you hope to achieve next?

Grand Park Kodhipparu, Maldives is the first resort by Park Hotel Group, a leading hospitality company in Asia Pacific, and I am privileged to be selected to open this property in December 2016. After six months of pre-opening planning, the resort opened its doors in June 2017, and had its grand opening in December the same year. We managed to achieve this within a considerably short timeline and it is a remarkable achievement. The resort had a successful first year, where we saw positive business performance and great brand reputation with good recognition from our guests and partners, and this continued until Q1 2020. This stellar performance was possible thanks to the support from HQ, as we continue to be guided by the company’s triple bottom-line business strategy, focusing on Profit, People and Planet. Of course, my team at the resort is also a key factor as I cannot achieve this on my own. I hope to continue to maintain such excellent results and good relationships with all stakeholders. I will also be planning ahead to uncover more opportunities that the destination can offer to our guests. We have demonstrated the capability of our resort and now it is time to bring it to the next level.

The Maldives is in abundance of beautiful five-star resorts, so what sets GPK apart from its peers? Let’s drill down to the nitty gritty of what makes it great.

Grand Park Kodhipparu, Maldives differentiates from the rest [of the resorts] with our personalised and private service, meaningful engagement with guests, distinctive design by world-class Hirsh Bedner Associates, and the continuous enhancement to our products. The property is also only a 20-minute ride by speedboat from the Velana International Airport. We have won many awards over the years, including the recent 2020 World Luxury Awards. And in just three years, The Spa has accumulated seven prestigious awards, which is testament to the dedication and commitment of our team members. Celebrities and chefs from Michelin-star restaurants visit us periodically.

Our resort is certified by Green Globe, a recognition for our sustainable management and operations, and we are working on various environmentally-friendly initiatives, including working with organic and eco-friendly cosmetic brands. In addition, our team members are known to deliver warm and genuine hospitality to our guests, and they are provided training opportunities year-long to grow their skillsets. All in all, we are committed in delivering the best service standards to our guests.

Assuming a guest has just 24 hours at your resort, how would you suggest they spend their time to truly maximise their five-star GPK experience?

Book one of the full-day wellness packages at The SPA, enjoy the sunset view at the private beach, and complete the day with a private dinner under the stars by the beach. Looking ahead again, what developments can guests expect at GPK in 2021? We provide pre-arrival assistance and will continue to enhance our safety measures according to the latest official advisory. We will also offer new experiences, such as new water sports and activities, and introduce attractive packages for our guests throughout the year.

A few more personal questions… What would you say makes a good GM?

A good GM builds teams and takes good care of them, invests in learning and development, empowers their team members to pursue performance excellence, is passionate about what he is doing, should not settle for mediocrity, focuses on guest engagement, and never forgets he is a businessman while having to manage the expectations of the stakeholders.

What gives you the passion for your role?

A long story, started 40 years back, in a few words; hospitality is a world which allows you to create, innovate, compete, work on challenges, meet many people from different cultural background, and travel the world.

Do you have a philosophy that you’ve subscribed to throughout your career?

Actually, more than one. The first, “If you focus on delivering quality with excellence, positive financial performance will be the result.” The second, “If you accept mediocrity, you are mediocre.” And lastly, “If you don’t look after your guests, someone else will.”

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in the hotel game?

Adaptability. You’ve got to adapt yourself to changes, to others, to expectations, to judgments, but you always need to keep your objective alive and never, ever give up.

Lastly, what piece of advice would you give an aspiring GM?

Never forget the base and foundation of the role, invest in people, and with any operating decision always protect the planet, and deliver an ethical profitability. Be ambitious and remember that grit drives results.

Note: The above interview has been reproduced as it is from Destinations of the World News. The original article can be found here.

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