Vakkaru Maldives has announced the appointment of Sampath Widana Hewawala (Sam) as the resort’s new Head Sommelier.
Sam’s appointment promises a new level of unparalleled wine experiences at Vakkaru, where he will oversee the award-winning Vakkaru Reserve wine cellar as well as orchestrate wine programmes across the resort’s six restaurants and bars. Moreover, Sam is set to elevate the team’s expertise through innovative wine educational programs.
With over a decade of experience as Head Sommelier at some of the most prestigious resorts, including One&Only Reethi Rah and Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara, Sam is the epitome of excellence in his field. Holding certifications such as WSET Advanced Level 3, Court of Master Sommelier Level 1, and B & G Château Wine Certification, he brings a wealth of knowledge to the resort’s ever-evolving wine culture.
Speaking about his appointment, Sam said, “I am thrilled to join the team at Vakkaru Maldives. My mission is to create a top-tier wine philosophy that aligns with Vakkaru’s distinctive brand identity. With Vakkaru Reserve’s expansive wine portfolio, I believe our collection opens up opportunities for an innovative, immersive and high-class experience that will make Vakkaru stand out in this highly competitive industry.”
Besides hosting a regular wine tasting and wine degustation dinner at Vakkaru Reserve, Sam also introduces a new event, the Sunset Sandbank Wine Tasting, an unforgettable sensory experience in an idyllic setting of the natural sandbank. Just a mere boat ride from the resort, the pure-white sandbank located within Vakkaru’s lagoon will transform into a wine lover’s paradise. Here, Sam will curate a selection of fine wines from the Old and New Worlds, accompanied by an array of delectable cheeses and charcuterie, promising an extraordinary journey of taste and luxury at Vakkaru Maldives.
Hassan Shihab: A journey of dedication and success
In the competitive world of hospitality and tourism, where success is often measured by dedication and hard work, there are individuals who stand out as shining examples of what can be achieved through unwavering commitment. Hassan Shihab, the Resort Manager at Cinnamon Dhonveli Maldives, is undeniably one such individual. His journey from a small island in the Maldives to a prominent position in the country’s hospitality industry is a testament to the power of perseverance and the pursuit of excellence.
Born and raised in Komandoo Island in Shaviyani Atoll, Hassan Shihab’s foray into the hospitality sector began shortly after completing his schooling. Encouraged by a friend’s recommendation, he joined the industry as a receptionist at Ari Beach in the year 2000. Little did he know that this humble beginning would mark the start of a remarkable career in the field.
Shihab’s early years in the industry were marked by determination and continuous growth. After eight months at Ari Beach, he transitioned to Velidhoo Island Resort, a part of the prestigious John Keells Group, where he started as a receptionist in 2001. Over the course of nearly a decade, he steadily climbed the corporate ladder, earning respect and recognition at every step.
His journey at Velidhoo Island Resort was a testament to his commitment and adaptability. Shihab’s rapid promotions, from reservations executive to front office executive, showcased his ability to excel in diverse roles within the industry.
In 2006, Shihab embarked on a new chapter when he completed an inter-company transfer to Cinnamon Dhonveli Maldives. His tenure at Dhonveli began as the Assistant Front Office Manager and culminated in his current role as Resort Manager. This progression reflects not only his dedication but also the meritocracy present within Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts.
Shihab’s career was not without its challenges. Adapting to different resort systems and working under various management styles required flexibility and a commitment to continuous learning. He recalled one instance when he had to familiarize himself with a billing system due to a sudden management change, showcasing his resilience and determination.
What truly sets Shihab apart is his belief in the importance of training and development. He acknowledges the opportunities he received, including training and cross exposure at Cinnamon’s properties in Sri Lanka, which enriched both his personal growth and career development. The John Keells Group’s dedication to training its staff in leadership, coaching, and mentoring contributed significantly to Shihab’s success.
At present, Shihab is actively participating in the Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts’ LEAP program, which stands for Leadership Enhancement Acceleration Program, and involves his pursuit of an MBA. Upon successful completion of this program, he will be thoroughly prepared to rise to the next level of his career as a General Manager.
Despite his professional achievements, Shihab remains a grounded and approachable individual known for his love of sports, including football, volleyball, badminton, and tennis. His colleagues describe him as fun-loving and friendly, emphasizing his ability to create a positive work environment.
Shihab’s journey through the hospitality industry highlights the potential for Maldivians to thrive in this sector. He firmly believes that with hard work and dedication, local talents can excel and elevate the Maldives’ hospitality industry to new heights. His rise within Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts demonstrates that there are ample opportunities for motivated individuals to advance their careers.
In a country where the hospitality industry is a cornerstone of the economy, Shihab recognizes the significance of having Maldivians at the forefront. He addresses the issue of high turnover rates in resorts by emphasizing that offering competitive pay and benefits can help retain experienced local talent.
Looking ahead, Shihab shows no signs of slowing down. He aspires to achieve even greater heights in the hospitality industry, and his future with Cinnamon Dhonveli and the John Keells Group looks exceptionally promising.
Hassan Shihab’s journey is a testament to the potential of dedication, hard work, and a passion for the industry. He serves as an inspiration and role model for young Maldivians pursuing careers in hospitality. His story proves that with perseverance, anyone can rise to the top and contribute to the continued success of the Maldives’ hospitality sector.
Learn from the best at Soneva with rare experiences by Daniil Medvedev and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston
The legendary British sailor and international tennis icon are both set to host exclusive coaching sessions in the Maldives this November
As part of Soneva’s upcoming Winter Collection in the Maldives, tennis icon Daniil Medvedev and renowned British sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston will be visiting Soneva Fushi, the award-winning barefoot luxury resort in the Maldives’ Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, to host a series of exclusive guest experiences.
From November 22 to December 1, 2023, Sonevians of all ages at can take part in one-on-one coaching sessions and friendly matches with Daniil at the resort’s openair or covered Olympic-sized tennis courts. Currently ranked world No. 3, the 27-yearold Russian player and former world No. 1 made history in 2022 by becoming the first player outside of the ‘Big Four’ to claim the top spot in over 18 years. This year alone, Daniil has already won the Rotterdam Open, Qatar Open, Dubai Tennis Championships, Miami Open as well as the Italian Open, which is regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious clay tennis tournaments, and reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon.
To continue this stellar line up, from November 23 to December 1, 2023, guests at Soneva Fushi will also be able to join celebrated British sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston to hear thrilling tales from his voyages and take part in one-of-a-kind sailing lessons aboard the luxury 23-metre Soneva in Aqua, exploring the waters of the Indian Ocean like never before. Sir Robin is renowned for taking on the legendary Sunday Times Golden Globe race and becoming the first man to sail non-stop solo around the world by finishing on April 22, 1969, after 312 days at sea. In 1994, he won the Jules Verne trophy, alongside Peter Blake, for the fastest non-stop circumnavigation of the world in just 75 days. Knighted in 1995, he went on to create the Clipper Around the World Yacht Race a year later, offering amateur sailors the chance to experience the thrill of ocean racing. He also became the oldest yachtsman to complete a round-the-world solo voyage in the Velux 5 Oceans at the age of 68.
Sir Robin first sailed onboard Soneva in Aqua in 2017, experiencing Soneva’s signature hospitality combined with the freedom of a private charter first-hand. Setting sail from Soneva Fushi in the Maldives, the luxury two-bedroom yacht is available for bespoke voyages that range from serene day trips to longer, liveaboard adventures complete with an experienced crew that includes a dedicated Barefoot Guardian for 24/7 butler service, a private chef and wellness therapist.
These are just two of the many rare experiences on offer as part of the ever-evolving Soneva Stars calendar, which features culinary pop-ups by Michelin-starred chefs, coaching with sporting legends, wellness journeys by acclaimed therapists, and much more.
Marriott International names Jan Wagelaar Market Director for Revenue Strategy in the Maldives
Marriott International has announced the appointment of Jan Wagelaar as the Market Director, Revenue Strategy for its portfolio of resorts in the Maldives. With an impressive industry experience spanning over 15 years, Jan’s journey with Marriott International began in 2007 as an Inventory Manager with Marriott’s London hotels. His dedication and exceptional performance led to multiple internal promotions, and in 2014, he moved to Dubai to spearhead revenue strategy and analysis for 9 hotels, showcasing his versatility and expertise.
Most recently, Jan served as the Director of Revenue Strategy for The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore where his strategic acumen helped to consistently deliver outstanding business results across all key performance indicators (KPIs). His accomplishments were recognized with the prestigious APEC Revenue Strategy Leader of the Year for Luxury hotels award, which he won twice in 2018 and 2022.
Jan’s appointment as the Market Director, Revenue Strategy for the Maldives follows the successful tenure of Frank Ehret, who held the position for four years before moving for an internal promotion. Commenting on his appointment, Jan expressed his enthusiasm, stating, “I’m thrilled to begin my new role working along the talented sales, marketing & revenue teams for the Maldives. With seven stunning resorts in the island nation, each with its unique offerings, I am excited to collaborate with the resort teams on revenue strategies to continue driving exceptional results in the Maldives.”
Outside of his professional endeavors, Jan indulges in his passion for travel, exploring new culinary experiences at restaurants and bars. Additionally, he is an avid cyclist and takes an interest in collecting sneakers.
Marriott Bonvoy’s portfolio of resorts in the Maldives comprises of The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands, The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, JW Marriott Maldives Resort & Spa, W Maldives, Le Meridien Maldives Resort & Spa, Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa, and The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort each located on their own private island and offering the ultimate dream getaway. For further information, visit www.MarriottBonvoy.com/Maldives
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