By David Keen
With the passing of Dr Ibrahim Umar Maniku, on 25 November 2020, Maldives has lost one of its favourite sons. Dr, as everyone knew him, was an anaesthesiologist by training and an entrepreneur in spirit. His contribution to Maldives is immeasurable. And his passion to serve his country and bring wealth, truth and a better lifestyle to the Maldivian people is without question.
To many in the Maldives, Dr was a mentor, a teacher, and a father figure. His loyalty to his team and his leaders could never be doubted. On the night of his passing, I talked to several of his leaders who spoke of losing a father. Dr Maniku was truly loved.
Ibrahim Umar Maniku was born in Male on 18 June 1952 to Ameena Hussain Kaleyfan and Umar Maniku. He studied at Trinity College in Kandy, Sri Lanka where he excelled in academics and was known as a star rugby player.
In 1972, he received a scholarship to study medicine at the University of Leipzig in what was then East Germany, where he first had to learn the language before completing his medical degree. He then worked at the Universitätsklinikum in Halle where he specialised in anaesthesiology. Dr met and married the mother of his two children, Karin, while at university. Sanjay was born in 1977 and Annika in 1980. The family returned to Maldives in 1982 and Dr became the first Maldivian anaesthesiologist at Male Central Hospital. He was integral to modernising the anaesthesiology department and through his connections in Germany, he enabled modern equipment to be donated to the hospital.
While Dr’s passion for medicine prevailed throughout his life, he had a natural entrepreneurial spirit. It was not long after his return to Maldives that Dr combined his scientific knowledge with that commercial yearning and founded the Male Aerated Water Company. I recall Dr sharing the story of how he recognised the immense demand from tourists for carbonated beverages and the expense of importing then Indian commercial labels.
Again, Dr leveraged his relationships in Germany and found a way to import the requisite machinery to create a small factory to produce carbonated beverages. He spent considerable time researching syrups, and shared the complexities and maintenance pitfalls of creating a factory on Icege in Male Atoll. Dr’s perseverance, immense knowledge of chemistry, and extraordinary attention to detail all came to the fore as the company became the franchise bottler for Coca-Cola in 1989.
Dr set up his first resort, Palm Tree Resort on Veligandhu Huraa in South Male Atoll in 1987. This island would eventually become the home of Naladhu and the neighbouring islands became Anantara Dhigu and Veli.
It was not until the next decade that Dr was fully drawn to the family business and Universal Enterprises and Resorts became central to his future. He was asked to take care of both Baros and Full Moon, and unquestionably Baros became his greatest passion and remained so throughout the remainder of his life.
I first met Dr on Baros in about 2004. He and the Universal board had made a shrewd investment in the development of Per AQUUM and its first two resorts; Huvafen Fushi and Dhoni Mighili. Huvafen had arguably changed the course of tourism in Maldives as the first independent island to achieve celebrity status and average room rates that previously were thought only obtainable by global management companies.
In inimitable style, Dr saw a similar opportunity for Baros. Until 2004, Baros was known predominantly as a dive resort. But Dr’s entrepreneurship, compulsive attention to detail, great sense of style and passionate management realised the new Baros, with its signature Lighthouse restaurant, entirely refurbished rooms and over-water villas. Today, Baros is arguably the most awarded resort in the Maldives and will always be Dr’s island.
It was at the 40th anniversary dinner of Baros where Dr’s true pride and love for his island came to the fore. Never have I seen him more proud than in front of his Universal family as well as the island’s closest business associates and its family of staff. At that dinner, Dr gave a speech:
“Baros is a small island… it has its own character. It is about longevity.
We gained real courage from Huvafen’s success. We realised that we too could create a strong, international brand. We could challenge all of the big brands and their considerable marketing armoury with our own small island resort.
And we have done that because we have stayed loyal to our brand—we have never wavered or tried to be something that we are not. We have remained absolutely loyal to our Maldivian roots. Maldives after all is our home and it is the market we at Universal know so well.”
Dr shied away from publicity throughout his career. He never sought the spotlight and always wanted his trusted ‘family’ to take the lead. The speech at this 40th Anniversary dinner was pivotal. He spoke from his heart and it is one of the rare occasions where he shared his pride publicly.
The success of Baros empowered Dr and gave him the confidence to build more resorts. It was Dr who, after selling his resort in Khao Lak, Thailand to the Minor Group, invited its chairman, Bill Heinecke and his team, to Maldives. Together they created a joint venture enabling the Anantara brand and other Minor concepts to proliferate in Maldives.
Dr’s belief and love for Per AQUUM and its philosophy encouraged him to develop Niyama in 2011 and with it the world’s first underwater club and bar. Along with the development of Niyama, Dr also invested in the domestic airport serving Niyama and later in Manta Air, a privately held seaplane operator that began flying in February 2019.
Dr’s passion for ultimate luxury was always his driving force. And in 2016, he opened Milaidhoo as a Universal Resort. I have a very personal memory from Milaidhoo. Dr and I shared, among many things, a love for football. And his love (and constant frustration) with Manchester Utd were the topic of weekly conversations. One weekend on Milaidhoo, Tottenham Hotspur (my team) was playing Utd. Dr asked Shuhan, his trusted cluster general manager, to set up a large screen for us to watch. And there on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Dr, Shuhan and I cheered the game like supporters at Old Trafford.
In 2017, Dr and his beloved Sanjay opened Kandima, an island imagined for a younger audience and one that held equal pride in Dr’s heart.
Dr often confided to me over countless dinners at The Lighthouse that he still believed, in spite of the growth in larger resort projects, that there was room in the market for a quintessential private resort designed for ultra-high-net-worth individuals.
And late in 2016, over long strategy sessions both in Maldives and his favoured Grand Hyatt on Scotts Road in Singapore, The Nautilus was born. A concept envisaged for years by Dr, The Nautilus was a resort with mansion-like villas and extraordinary space. Superbly designed. No detail overlooked. Experiences where time was to stand still for its occupants. Where no request was too much and any guest could ask for anything at any time of day and night.
In 2018, The Nautilus launched. And today it has been recognised and awarded globally. Dr confided that Nautilus would be his swansong. It was to be his final resort. We celebrated Dr’s 66th birthday on the beach at The Nautilus. His smile and his pride were there for the privileged few to see.
Dr Maniku’s legacy is that of a pioneer. A visionary who had the confidence and wherewithal to build where most would say is not possible. He never wavered from his vision and he would never settle for anything less than perfection.
Dr will always be remembered for the change he both imagined and realised in Maldives. But as I mentioned earlier, there are a few of his closest confidants that feel his loss in a much more personal way. To them, Dr was a father figure. He was their guiding light and he trusted them and they him with a familial love that cannot be replicated.
Note: David Keen is the CEO of QUO, a collective of creatives with global hospitality expertise. From its Bangkok headquarters and global offices in Ho Chi Minh, Singapore, New Delhi, the Maldives and Amsterdam, QUO provides branding services that uncover the soul of every organisation we work with.
Cover photo: Dr Ibrahim Umar Maniku (right) and senior members of The Nautilus team. PHOTO: HOTELIER MALDIVES
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.
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.
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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