Faisal Naseem – Designing Hospitality

Maldives Promotion House – As human beings most of us feel a tinge of envy towards the success and prosperity of others. Sadly most of us are lazy. Despite our desire to triumph we are unwilling to work hard enough. And sometimes when we become successful we tend to forget about who we were before our achievements. We tend to turn a blind eye to the geniuses of society who have the same potential to win.

Occasionally I get to meet with people so brilliantly smart and successful that I find myself questioning the value of my own achievements. More often than seldom, I find that their very own accomplishments have turned them against themselves.

Their hearts turned cold. Their words bitter and stained with pride. Their eyes blind to the community. But not too long ago, I was given an opportunity to meet with a very different kind of person.

His name is Faisal Naseem. When we first met, the 38 year old man shook my hand and offered me a seat. If I wasn’t told of his age I would have taken him for someone much younger. He smiled at me and we began our conversation. I knew almost nothing about the man in front of me and was yearning to hear his story. After all everything around him radiated victory and success.

Faisal is a man who spent the better part of his life jumping through the hoops of the hospitality industry, achieving what only few others had achieved before him. Right after his secondary education and O’Level examinations from EPS School, he began working at Paradise Island Resort.

“I was 18 when I was given an opportunity at Paradise Island Resort. It was then known as Lankan Finolhu. Villa shipping won the resort and I was offered to work as the assistant to the head of construction. My success is because of their trust,” Faisal explained.

While the resort was still under construction, as the second in charge, he was responsible for almost everything. It is hard to imagine how construction would have been in the early Maldives. Dealing with contractors from all over the country, managing the labourers and monitoring the day to day operations, Faisal spent 2 years honing and crafting his skills.

“Working in such vastly different fields, is what led to my success. It is also due to the unwavering trust, the Chairman Qasim Ibrahim, had in me. He had trusted very much in the development. The success today is the Chairman’s trust and confidence on me. During those fruitful 2 years of my youth, I also learned foreign languages such as Sinhalese and Tamil. After construction concluded, Paradise was opened in 1994 and once again I was given the assistant manager post of the resort,” Faisal said.

However within another 6 months Faisal was promoted and became the manager of Paradise Island Resort. Possibly the youngest to be granted such a position. While most people usually just do the bare minimum, Faisal has always tried to do more than his capacity. He tried to go beyond his responsibilities, because he had the ambition to learn more. To go forward, to be a different person from others. Faisal is a man who never laid back.

Faisal spent 9 years at the resort learning the arts of the hospitality industry. However Villa had acquired another resort, Royal Island Resort, and Faisal was assigned to head it. Within a few years Faisal, leading a great team, had made it into one of the best servicing resorts in Maldives. During late 2003, once again he astonished his superiors by creating something even greater.

“In 2003 I started what I’m doing now. The spa industry. 2001 and 2002 was when the spa trend arrived in Maldives. There were already a few spas in Maldives and it was rapidly catching fire. There was need to build spas as an essential service. So we wanted to follow the trend and introduce a spa in Royal Island,” Faisal said.

However Faisal is the kind of person who never wants to stay in one place for too long. He craves to keep moving forward. To change what he does. To become better at everything he learns. He also explained that he wants to give the same chance to those who are behind him as well. He understands that he needs to let them move to the next level. So in a desperate urge to explore more he introduced what we now know as Araamu Spa.

“I became involved in the spa trade during the best time. I was lucky. So we partnered with an Indonesian company to create a spa. That is the beginning of Araamu Spa. Araamu is a Dhivehi word meaning relaxation or rest. I was walking one day and I thought to myself, ‘the point of a massage treatment is for relaxation. That is the effect of a spa treatment. So maybe we should call it Araamu Spa.’ I believe that in Maldives, spa is as necessary as water sports and diving. We began developing Araamu spa in Paradise Island Resort and Sun Island Resort, both in 2003,” Faisal explained.

When Faisal and his team had to do everything themselves, he took it upon himself to carry out all the architectural designing and the concept development. Faisal explained that designing had always been a hobby of his and that he had been doing it since 1994 in paradise.

Faisal loves to design, but has never used 3D computer models. He goes back to the conventional and has always used sketches. Thought the amazing sketches are not even to scale, Faisal just sketches his ideas up on a piece of paper and shows it to the builders.

“I spend most of my time on the site. So it became easier for me to explain to them what I wanted and they would understand it. Not having any background in architecture doesn’t make it any difficult for me at all. Because when you have interest in something and if you give your full concentration, it doesn’t take a long time to learn it. Of course you will have to do your home work. You will have to look at how others do it. But with interest it becomes much easier for you to learn,” he added.

For Faisal, designing is one of the most interesting parts of his work. He believes that it opens his mind to a whole new world of creativity. Faisal also travelled to a lot of places including Indonesia, Thailand and other famous spa destinations. He explained that it is very important to observe and see how other people do it. Without listening to people who had done it before you, it is almost impossible to create something better.

Although Faisal refers to existing designs, none of his designs are a copy of any of them. They have five spas in five resorts and each one of them has its own theme. Once you see the intricate designs, you’ll realise that it’s so perfect because every element is designed with the experience Faisal gets from his former designs.

Having had the opportunity to experience some of the grandest spas that he has designed, I found elegance in them. The attention to detail combined with perfectionism, Faisals creations are not just spas, but works of art. When I first saw his spas, I found myself speechless and dumbstruck. The feeling was something akin to bliss. Never had I seen so much effort put into perfecting even the smallest element of beauty.

According to Faisal he looks at designing as a hobby. But that hobby has now turned into something more professional. However Faisal is more of a hands-on designer. He works on site handing over each day’s work and observing how the work is carried out. After each element of development has been completed he begins to think about the next element.

“The interesting thing is that we create every single element, from furniture to wood carvings to the lightings. Sometimes there are multiple drawings of a single element. There are many different versions, because for me it’s still an experimental phase or a learning phase. But the finished product will always hold its theme. And the theme is never lost even to the simplest element,” he added.

Faisal has full confidence that he can finish any project and that the finished product will always be better than expected. While there is no contribution from any other designers or architects, sometimes during the opening ceremony Faisal invites famous designers and artists. Once the designers see the beautiful creations, they find it hard to believe that someone without any architectural education or background could have designed something so amazing. While Faisal’s methods have proven to produce magnificent results he agrees that there are disadvantages.

“The disadvantage is that because everything is handmade and built on the site, it takes a lot of time to complete. Of course we can manufacture and import all of this, but then it won’t look as good as this,” he said. Currently there are 175 staff members working for Araamu Spa in five different resorts, in a total of 75 treatment rooms. According to Faisal they have no plans to develop Spas in other resort islands. He has also designed and developed rooms and other parts of resorts. He explained that he now wants to design and develop an entire resort in his own concept, at least once.

Faisal wants to be a more creative and innovative person. A constant learner, Faisal believes that learning does not only happen in class rooms or universities. Although he has completed his Honors BA degree in Hospitality and Tourism Studies from the University College of Birmingham, he believes that learning is more about exploration and experience. He also loves to help his island community of Fuvahmulah and people who need it.

Faisal also has a charity foundation, called Faisal Foundation which has been running since 1986.  It started with a foot ball tournament named Faisal Cup, and has been held about 10 times now. Through such activities Faisal aims to create awareness among the youth to the various social issues, such as cleanliness and drug abuse.

Faisal has also opened a fund for the disabled and has had several music concerts. Apart from that the foundation has organised Quran reciting competitions, and various sports tournaments. Faisal is a true believer in the societal bond of brother hood.

Faisal Foundation has organised and participated in cleaning the island. With the support of over 1500 islanders they ran a successful campaign to clean up all the graffiti in the community in a single day. Since 2003 they have been distributing agricultural equipment to the islanders as well. Faisal Foundation has also helped the islanders during pest outbreaks by distributing pumps and pesticides.

Faisal Foundation has organized various awareness programs on religious awareness, parenting, violence, abuse and women’s rights. Apart from that Faisal has also contributed a lot to education of his Island. In recognition of his work, Faisal was awarded National Youth Award in social services in the first year of the award after it was introduced.

It is said that prosperity does not make you evil, but it can make you blind to the way other people live. If there is any man I’ve met who understands the true meaning of the phrase its, Mr. Faisal Naseem. After one long conversation and a day with the man, I knew I was right. Despite his numerous achievements, he cared about the people around him. This was a man who deserved every word of praise he has ever been given.

“I’m very happy with myself. I’ve come far. I always work on an ambition,” says Faisal, who was also a member of the parliament.

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