Best of the Maldives: Most Experienced Group GM – Patrick de Staercke

Patrick de Staercke

Patrick de Staercke’s Maldives general management goes back nearly as far as Maldives Complete (2010). Lori and I might have stayed at more resorts than anyone, but he has managed more than anyone – 4 (Vilamendhoo, Komandoo, Hurawalhi, Kuredu). We first met Patrick in the earlier days of Maldives complete (see photo below) when Maldives Complete was just getting going, hardly anyone had heard of a blog and “social media” was still in the early adopter stage. He was one of the GMs who appreciated the site’s comprehensiveness and welcomed us very warmly. Over dinner, we mused about all sorts of possibilities for guest offerings and resort enhancements. Many managers in the hospitality industry tend to hop around globe in their career, but Patrick has made the Maldives a second home with an unmatched tenure. We always catch up briefly at the World Travel Market trade event in London, but it is great that he has provided a Maldives exclusive interview to provide a snapshot of his professional life in paradise…

  • What was your first ever job?
    Working in my student bar at colleague I was 16 years old in Seaford Colleague Sussex England. We were paid in beer just great.
  • What was your first job in hospitality?
    When I was 18 I had a job in Lausanne as waiter and pot was for 6 months and loved it.
  • What has been your favourite sighting on a house reef?
    I love octopus so cool how they change color .
  • What has been an idea (eg new dish, a new activity, a new offer) that completely failed?
    Remote control boats do not do well in sea water who knew?
  • What tropical or Maldivian treat are you most addicted to?
    Sipping cocktails in the sun and sending pictures pretending that this is what a GM does every day.
  • What treat from home do you most miss having easy access to?
    My wife and child.
  • What are your favourite parts about opening a new resort versus taking on an established one (and what is your favourite part about taking on an established one)?
    The favorite part is the end and the product you have produced gets the feedback we are getting now is just a wow. All that hard work sweat, team work, is paid off when the guests are blown away from the resort but also the service. Job well done.
  • If you had $1 million to add one single feature to Kuredu, what would it be?
    I would have to invest in two areas as they are just as important upgrading guest rooms but also staff rooms as they are the reason to a resorts success.
  • What’s one question I didn’t ask that you either wish I asked or were surprised that I didn’t ask (and what the answer)?
    ‘Do you have what it takes to make a difference?’ My proven track records show I will make a difference in enhancing both customer satisfaction and bottom line figures. What’s the secret to my success? Well that’s why I am so valued at CCR and have to keep that a secret?

Patrick de Staercke 2

Best of the Maldives: Watermelon Carving – Komandoo

Komandoo - Watermelon carving

Happy Year of the Monkey! Chinese will be celebrating all the new year all around the world with feasts and parties. And exquisite decorations and artistry like Komandoo’s carved watermelon. Particularly appropriate with its lucky red hue. Red is considered the most auspicious of colours as children are given New Year’s gift in red envelopes, the streets are decorated with red lanterns, and diamond-shaped paper cut-outs are done with red paper.

It turns out there are also a bunch things the Chinese won’t be doing, that are considered bad luck at this time, like taking medicine (first day), eating porridge, washing hair and using sharp objects.

The Chinese celebrate with all sorts of traditions from the well-known fireworks and dragon dances, to less familiar reunion dinners and new year paintings. To fit it all in, they have 16 days of celebrations. And some will slip away for a few days holiday. And the favourite destination in the world for the Chinese is the Maldives according to a recent survey – “Maldives tops list of Chinese tourists’ favorite island spots”. Another “Best in the World” for the Maldives…”Best in the World for Chinese Tourists”.

恭喜发财 / 恭喜發財

Best of the Maldives: Adults Only – Komandoo

Komandoo - adults only

 

 

For some, the appeal of the Maldives is its idyllic tranquillity and the idea of squealing kids running around cuts right through the heart of their paradise fantasy. For those, Komandoo now offers the Maldives’ first ‘adults only’ resort ith the highest minimum age of any resort…

Their website specifies

“Children below 18 years not allowed on the island. Children above 18 years staying at the resort will be charged as an adult.”

Some might say that limiting your customers is bad business, but ‘Seth-urday’ marketing maven Seth Godin argues the contrary. One of his great insights is about being ‘remarkable’ with ‘Purple Cows’ which make your product stand out. He argues that people need to be bold an brave to establish these distinctions even if it means alienating potential customers. This differentiation is a big challenge for Maldives resorts which number over 100 and yet all share the same turquoise waters and resplendent sunsets. A big motivation for my work on the ‘Best of the Maldives’ was to help prospective visitors identify differentiators that mattered to them in order to help winnow down this overwhelming selection of paradise. And if avoiding kids is one of those priorities, then Komandoo is the place for you.

Best of the Maldives: Fluro-Diving – Kuredu / Komandoo / Vakarufalhi

Kuredu Komandoo Vakarufalhi fluro-diving

   

 

For an even closer investigation into reef life, state-of-the-art ‘fluro-diving’ has come to the Maldives.

Night dives shed a whole new light (or lack thereof) on the undersea world. Night dives never had much appeal to me because it seems to defeat the purpose of ‘seeing’ the underwater world. I always figured I could turn off all the lights in my bathroom, fill the tub and breathe through my snorkel and get pretty close to the same experience. But my more advanced diving buddy, Lori, assures me that night dives are so much more. A whole new world reveals itself in the dark hours many of which have their own tantilising illumination which you can only appreciate in the pitch black.

The Prodivers team at Kuredu, Komandoo and Vakarufalhi have taken this night time spectacle a step further by introducing ‘Fluro-diving’ to the Maldives…

“The Prodivers team, always on the lookout for new diving experiences, have launched yet another spectacular and unique underwater adventure! To boost our divers’ enjoyment and appreciation of the reef, we’ve recently introduced fluoro-diving! After exploring the trippy phenomenon and discovering which sites around Kuredu are the best to be dived with the newly acquired NightSea fluoro-sets, the well-kept secret of fluorescence night diving is now available to our divers. Experienced divers, not afraid of spooky, low-light conditions, can now intensify their night diving and sneak peek at the reef to find crazy green bubble anemones, burning red feather stars, freaky blue shrimps, brightly red scorpion fish, green glowing brain and mushroom corals and glowing green lizard fish. Fluorescent diving has so far been revealed only by 6 dive centers in the world. The Prodivers team are overwhelmed by seeing the reef in a new light, and as there is so much more to discover – don’t hesitate to join us!”

The whole concept smacks of underwater Crime Scene Investigation. Perhaps they should do an episode of ’CSI: Maldives’.

 

CSI

Best of the Maldives: Repeater Honour – Komandoo

Komandoo - tshirts repeater

11-11-11.

A bit of a numerically milestone event. Especially for British and Americans for whom ’11-11’ has long represented a day of honous for the nations’ veterans. The date itself marks the end of the First World War (aka Armistice Day) which goes even further as it officially ended on the ‘11th Hour’ today. Now in 2011, the 11’s string further. The day is a holiday of respect and remembrance for all who have served country. Often the day is marked with musical parades, wearing uniforms and erecting plaques.

Komandoo has a similar tradition every day for its ‘veterans’. Like all guests there, returning resort heroes are welcomed with a singing corps. Every repeater also gets a special ceremonial uniform in the form of t-shirt featuring one turtle (very prevalent around Komandoo especially with the nearby Kuredu caves) for every stay they have had (see photo above). After 4 stays, you get a custom plaque naming your villa after you for the duration of your stay (see photo below). After 7 stays, you get a special gift package presented by management.

I am a bit of a t-shirt aficionado (and in fact get stroppy when the resorts don’t sell good t-shirts). Not only is using turtle as ‘belt notches’ fun, but I also love the similar designs that Komandoo gives to honeymooners which has two turtles holding hands/flippers (see photo bottom).

May your 11-11-11 be a memorable one.

 

Komandoo - repeater plaque

 

Komandoo - plaque

 

Komandoo - tshirts

Best of the Maldives: Cultural Antiquity – Komandoo

Komandoo - Moosa site

 

Zoiks!

Casting even further back in Maldivian history is Komandoo’s own cultural antiquity – ‘Moussa’s Grave’. Not a lot is known about this character Moussa except that he was from the neighbouring island Hinnavaru and that he must have been fairly important to merit his own memorial stone on his own island. It is now a very unassuming artefact that you will miss if you don’t know where to look for it. But Lori and I had to go check it out during our recent visit. There is special place in my heart for gravesites having spent my childhood waiting for the bus next to one. In fact, my study of that local graveyard and the history of the families resting there earned me a scholarship which paid a big part of my school tuition.

I must say, though, Komandoo is starting to shape up to be like a Scooby-Doo episode. Mysterious gravesite. The management banning ‘pesky kids’ (no under 12s allowed). If the resort gets into some battle over its deed, then I would put my money on the caretaker as the culprit dressed up in traditional Maldivian dress running around scaring the guests.

 

Komandoo - Moosa site 2

Best of the Maldives – A Capella Greeting: Komandoo

Komandoo welcome song

 

All of the Maldives resorts welcome their guests with various treats from tropical drinks, scented cold towels and even music, but Komandoo is the first I have seen to have their own welcome song. Delivered with heart and enthusiasm accompanies by bodu-beru drumming, it is really warm fun. The full sensory experience welcome (scented towels, refreshing drink, dulcet tones, and pleasing smiles).

Maldives Tour 2011 – Day 5: Komandoo

Komandoo welcome

Intimate. Intimate is the one word that describes Komandoo. Intimate island. Intimate cottages. Restaurants with just a few tables and a simple buffet (not mounds of food like some resort smorgasbords). Filled with honeymooners and second honeymooners. It isn’t even in the top 20 of smallest Maldive islands, but it still fosters this feeling more so than some smaller islands.

When I started the ‘Best Of’ feature in Maldives Complete, one of my motivations was to dispel the myth that ‘there is nothing to do in the Maldives’. But with Komandoo, I have to concede. There is nothing to do. There really is nothing to do except snorkel/dive, sail/canoe, badminton, chess, volleyball and do spa treatments. And I guess stare into each other’s eyes.

That is not a shortcoming, but a design point. It is like the movie ‘Couples Retreat’ but for ‘Stress Retreat’. Instead of broken relationships, it fixes broken blood pressures (and I’m sure it doesn’t do relationships any harm either). For folks who suffer from withdrawals of activities, Komandoo is right down the atoll from its sister resort Kuredu which conversely has one of the largest arrays of activities of any resort (kind of like the Eden resort on ‘Couples Retreat’).

It is this deliberate shun of trappings that misleadingly penalises Komandoo on the official ‘star rating’ front. It is billed as a 4 star property, but they say that they aspire to 5 star service. I actually think that Komandoo is a 4.5 star or a 4+ star if there ever was one. Mostly, they are a case study for how broken the conventional hotel rating system is, especially when applied in the Maldives. You have an incomparable property that gets official dings because it doesn’t have a bidet that no one would use any way. It gets dinged for no swimming pool, and yet for its positioning of being kid-free, there is really no strong reason for a pool. Evidence of this disjointed system is the fact that Komandoo have won several prominent awards, including Trip Advisor Traveller’s Choice Award 2009 and #1 Romance Holiday Destination in Asia. You don’t win awards like those if you are ‘just a 4 star’.

Natural wood styling pervades, which imparts a sauna-like aroma. The wood has a washed finish which is lighter and brighter than many of the wood-finish rooms on other resorts. The villas are raised up slightly higher than most beach villas and so the deck has a bit of an overlook providing more perspective on the tapestry of aquamarine colours just a few metres away.

The pina coladas were the best I’ve had in a long time (so much so that I broke my own self-imposed limit of 2 and got a 3rd). And the buffet was the first where I had to sample every dish on offer – they all looked and smelled (and tasted) so good.

One of the special treats is the ocean. Komandoo is reputed to have one of the top ten house reefs in the Maldives. And if that’s not enough you, Prodivers runs a sharp dive centre. I took a dive trip with Silvia Ruder and Steve Molyneux to the famous Kuredu Caves. The Caves also has to be one of the top ten dive sites in the Maldives. As I have already accounted, they are famous for their impressive turtle community residing in a distinctive array of deep overhangs on a steep reef. There are no guarantees of seeing stuff in diving, but Kuredu Caves is about as close as you get to one. The minute I descended I saw my first turtle and I was still watching one as I did my safety stop. Not just any turtles. Green turtles which are less common than the Hawksbill in the Maldives (though you see Hawksbills as well). And monster turtles. Giant behemoths doing Battlestar Gallactica impersonations. Steve was checking out a leaf fish on one ledge when one granddaddy, every bit as long as the divemaster himself and probably twice as heavy in sumo class, came along and simply pushed Steve out of his way (that turtle wanted his nap and he wanted it now!).

Refined intimate indolence.

 

Kuredu Caves turtle