As Hotel Asia Exhibition returns, Alan Palmer sets eyes on nurturing Maldivian talent

By Shamman Zahir

South Asia’s largest hospitality tradeshow, Hotel Asia will take place this October after a hiatus due to the pandemic with the much-awaited International Culinary Challenge kicking off a day ahead. The exhibition, organised by Maldives Exhibition and Conference Services and supported by Bestbuy Maldives, is to be held at Dharubaaaruge, for which several resorts, hotels, restaurants, food and beverage establishments have also confirmed participation.

Alan Palmer who has been the Programme Director since its inception in 2002 reflects on how the Hotel Asia Exhibition and International Culinary Challenge is going to be after a three-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s exhibition marks the 16th edition of this jam-packed event, with over 600 competitions over the course of four days of the International Culinary Challenge. The timing also coincides with the Maldives celebrating the golden jubilee of tourism.

Palmer has an impressive career spanning 59 years having got his start at the age of 16. Since 1963, his career has taken him to various continents during their key development stages of the hotel industry of the respective countries such as Switzerland and Singapore.

Palmer’s first visit to the Maldives was in 1996 when he arrived in the country as a judge for a competition organised by the tourism ministry. His next visit was for Hotel Asia, which was started by Maldives Exhibition and Conference Services and Bestbuy Maldives with just tents and canopy. It has come a long way since!

“The idea behind Hotel Asia was born with the idea in mind to showcase Maldivian talent, to give Maldivians an international stage to compete and learn from world-class chefs from around the globe, all the while attracting interest from local youth and businesses to join in the industry,” Palmer says.

As tourism is the biggest contributor to the Maldivian economy, it was a necessity to establish a platform like Hotel Asia. As demand grew, since 2011, Maldives Exhibition and Conference Services and Bestbuy Maldives have held the event year up until 2019 when COVID-19 shut the tourism industry down.

At Hotel Asia, 15 judges from around the globe certify the winners, and some winners are sent abroad for further training and competitions thanks to the generous support of Bestbuy Maldives. The platform, spearheaded by Maldives Exhibition and Conference Services and Bestbuy Maldives, is committed to the development of Maldivian talent. With a waitlist of companies, it is clearly popular, but it is not without its hurdles. The infrastructure improvements are vital to provide space for more exhibitors, as new hotels open up across the archipelago.

“Understandably, Maldives being a small island nation needs a convention centre that is functional to implement as a MICE (Meetings Incentives Conferences Exhibitions) market,” Palmer says.

“Despite Maldives being scattered, the resolve and organisation of hotels sending their chefs and the chefs themselves to have the commitment to make the journey despite logistical challenges to participate is admirable.”

Palmer’s advice to the youth is that if they remained consistent and persevere, they would be able to climb the ladder as a chef and a judge beyond their home soil to be renowned globally. There is a career to be made to those who have the passion and maintain a standard. As the Programme Director of the International Culinary Challenge, the aim is to nurture more local talent and skilled professionals. The vision for the future is to further improve and expand the exhibition to cater to the evolving needs of the industry.

The 16th edition of the Hotel Asia Exhibition and International Culinary Challenge, organised by Maldives Exhibition and Conference Services and sponsored by Bestbuy Maldives, will be held from October 10-12, 2022 at Dharubaaaruge in capital Male. The free to enter exhibition estimates a turnout of 4,000 people this year.

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