Aitken Spence in Maldives
The Adaaran Story reached its climax on 28 March 2009 with the grand opening of Adaaran Prestige Vadoo, Maldives. Present for the occasion were the Chairman of Aitken Spence, Mr D H S Jayawardena and his wife, and Board Directors, Mr J M S Brito and his wife, Dr R M Fernando, Mr G C Wickremasinghe and Mr Gehan Perera. The Government of the Maldives was represented by the Special Envoy of the President, H.E. Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, and by the Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad. As well as invited guests from Japan, England, China, Belgium, Korea, Turkey and Sri Lanka, over 150 Maldivians connected with the hospitality industry were also present.
The day marked not only the opening of the newest resort in the Maldives but was also the highlight and culmination of 17 years of pro-active involvement by Aitken Spence Hotels in the Maldives.
Although he usually spends his time on-site directing operations, working behind the scenes with his team, or engaged in energetic marketing worldwide of Aitken Spence resorts in the Maldives, the CEO and Managing Director of Adaaran, Chethiya Perera, sat at his desk in his seventh floor office in Male’ overlooking the Indian Ocean, to outline the Adaaran story for ACE.
It began in 1992 when he was asked to investigate the possibilities for investment by Aitken Spence Hotels in the Maldives. Tourism had begun 20 years before with ad hoc development of uninhabited islands leased by the government to Maldivians and financed by foreign investors and holiday companies like Club Med. Aitken Spence Hotels, then managing nine properties in Sri Lanka, was among the first foreign hotel companies – and the first from Sri Lanka – to take an interest in the Maldives.
In 1993 the company took over Bathala, a small resort of 38 beach cabanas popular with divers. This initial involvement was soon followed by other international companies, including Taj Hotels of India (on Embudhu Finolhu, now Taj Exotica Maldives), the Hilton (on Rangali Island and now known as Conrad Maldives), Six Senses (Soneva Fushi) and Banyan Tree (Vabbinfaru) among others.
Bathala was expanded by an addition of 12 rooms but it was in 1996 that Aitken Spence emphasised its presence in the islands by re-creating a 96-room resort on an island in South Male’ atoll and calling it Club Rannalhi. Consisting of rooms in newly built two-storey villas set around the island, the resort catered mostly for Italian guests. Two years later, following the trend started at Vadoo in the late 1980s with rooms built on stilts in a lagoon, the company added 16 water bungalows, reached by a jetty from the shore. A further 16 were added in 2008.
The success of Club Rannalhi in attracting holidaymakers inspired further investment and enabled the company in 2000 to lease an uninhabited island in the northern Raa atoll, called Meedhupparu. The 43-acre island was transformed into a resort of 215 beach rooms, 24 of which became the nucleus of its Ayurveda Village. In 2005, the company introduced a ‘resort within a resort’ concept when 20 luxury water villas were built off the island with dedicated restaurants, bars, reception, swimming pool and private beach. Thus the brand name Adaaran came into being, inspired by the company’s need to market products of different levels and different prices, on the same island.
“The name was suggested by Think Associates, a Maldivian public relations company,” said Chethiya Perera, “and derives from Dhivehi, the language of the Maldives, meaning ‘obligations fulfilled in gold’. As we were expanding, we wanted a brand name that conveys the flavour of the Maldives and which would identify us with our new slogan ‘Luxury boutique wellness resorts.’”
The formula being sought was a brand of resorts that offered affordable luxury for both mass, wellness and niche markets so guests of all budgets could be accommodated happily. To do this, Adaaran branded its resorts in three categories: ‘Club’ (Four Star plus), ‘Select’ (Five Star) and ‘Prestige’ (Five Star Boutique).
By taking over the lease of Lohifushi Island, a resort popular with surfers, in 2006 and performing the quickest, major rebuilding and refurbishing project ever seen in the Maldives, Adaaran Select Hudhuran Fushi was opened with 137 rooms. A year later the ‘resort within a resort’ concept was used once more when 37 prestige water bungalows with separate reception, restaurant and bar facilities, and two private islands with private beaches were added. These were named Adaaran Prestige Ocean Villas, Hudhuran Fushi.
The next venture was the most ambitious. After taking over the three-acre island of Vadoo, only 15 minutes by speed boat from Male’ International Airport, in 2008, Adaaran rebuilt it as a unique, all-water villa resort in less than nine months. While Bathala has been sold, the total number of Adaaran beds on offer now is 1,178, making Adaaran the fourth largest hotel operator in the Maldives.
With Adaaran’s total investment in its seven resorts amounting to US$75 million, Chethiya Perera says the intention now is to focus on refining the Adaaran brand, to improve its standards, services and facilities and, most important, to expand its market share. A key element is concentration on developing human resources and training Maldivians through the Adaaran Centre for Hospitality Studies on Hudhuran Fushi, to fulfil its long term human resource requirements.
The Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture in the Maldives, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, who attended the opening of Adaaran Prestige Vadoo, was asked to comment on the involvement of international hotel chains, like Aitken Spence, in developing and managing resorts in the Maldives. He said candidly, “The entry of international hotel chains to our industry portrays the maturity and confidence they have in our industry. The demand from these chains is a statement for the position that the Maldives enjoys in international tourism.
“International chains open various new avenues for the Maldives. Most importantly inclusion of the Maldives in their mega databases allows millions of potential high-end visitors to visit the Maldives. The expertise, knowledge and professionalism in managing these chains provide opportunities to develop local expertise. So international chains assist in developing our tourist industry to be able to face stiff competition from our competitor destinations.”
Chethiya Perera agrees. “We are constantly evolving in partnership the Maldivian community,” he says. “We work as a team and enjoy a high level of support from the local community and the government. With our broad base of accommodation, and the marketing we do through offices in Japan, China, Russia and Europe, the Adaaran brand is becoming a household name known for reliability in offering a good, affordable holiday in the Maldives.”
AWARDS WON BY ADAARAN
ADAARAN Prestige Water Villas, Meedhupparu
Maldives Leading Water Villas – World Travel Awards 2008
Five Star Butler Rating – International Institute of Modern Butlers (USA)
ADAARAN Prestige Ocean Villas, Hudhuran Fushi
Design “Hotel & Tourism” Excellence Award – Sri Lanka Institute of Architects 2008
ADAARAN Select Hudhuran Fushi
Presidential award for highest Occupancy in Maldives in the 300 beds and above category 2007
Market Manager Special Award, 2009, Indian Ocean – Expedia at Arabian Travel Mart (ATM) 2009.
2009 – Ace Magazine Issue I