An Interview with Mark Hehir CEO & Curator at The Small Maldives Island Co, General Manager at Amilla Fushi & Finolhu Resorts
30 August 2017
Mr. Mark Hehir is one of the most notable figures in the tourism industry of Maldives due to his vast knowledge, experience, innate instincts and masterful ideas. Well respected by everyone, Mark has risen to become the leading figure of The Small Maldives Islands Co, which owns two of the best resorts in the Maldives in the form of Amilla Fushi and the more recent Finolhu. Mark explained to our team here at The Island Chief, what his journey to the top was like, the difficulties he incurred as well the his ideas for improving the Maldivian tourism sector.
1. How did you enter the tourism sector? Could you give us a small description of the early days of your career?
I was born and raised in Australia, studied and worked as a chef for a number of years in Australia and around the world. I have served the Royals in Britain and worked in numerous top hotels. I was never satisfied to be an average chef as my ideas to develop my skills and knowledge and ultimately my career drove me to achieve my goals. My career span of 33 years in the industry has seen my work all over the world with various companies and growth in numerous positions.
I came to the Maldives by chance; after working for a year at Hilton Colombo / World Trade Center Club and in 1997 my company offered me the opportunity to come to the Maldives to join the pre-opening team of Hilton Maldives Rangali Island (now re-branded as Conrad Maldives Rangali Island). Then, I had no clue as to where and what the Maldives had to offer. Blindly, I agreed to join Rangali Island as the Executive Chef for a three-month period, which was then extended to three years. From Rangali, I moved to work at Hilton Tokyo and Hilton Kuala Lumpur. After four years, I came back to Huvafen Fushi as the Area General Manager. From there, I joined Anantara to open two resorts in Bali and Thailand.
For the third time, I got a chance to return to the Maldives which I call my second home; as the General Manager of One&Only Reethi Rah before becoming the Chief Executive Officer in The Small Maldives Island Company.
2. What is the one most important thing you learned from your travels all over the world?
I realized that “Tourists” and “Travelers” are not the same as they sound. These two words mean different approaches to travelling. A traveler visits a new destination with a broad mind and a hunger to experience. They are there to see things, but not to buy them. A tourist is anyone who is not a local or one who is in a location to tour to see the beautiful destination. They spend extravagantly on experiences and move on without engaging with the local culture. Sometimes I do play as a tourist, however it doesn’t mean I see myself as one.
3. How would you describe your approach to management?
I work to inspire and motivate my team for achieving goals and influence valuable changes. I firmly believe that one should always be ready to get their hands dirty to do the job, I inspire my islanders with not only words but with action and believe that with hard work and determination anyone can achieve.
4. In your view, how does resorts such as Amilla Fushi and Finolhu stand out from others?
Having shaken up the hospitality scene in the Maldives and setting itself apart from its traditional competitors with the innovative design, unique aesthetics and a sleek contemporary feel is both refreshing and sexy. Amilla Fushi is an architecturally striking resort with clean lines and gleaming white surfaces that contradicts the tropical landscape and thatched-roof resorts in the Maldives while adding an element of modernism and taking it to that next level.
A stylish and eclectic retreat with a buzzy vintage vibe of beach vacations, Finolhu is a refreshing, retro-inspired island experience for chic couples, fun-loving families and laid-back beach-eratis. It really sets itself apart from its competitors with effortlessly stylish surroundings, Instagram-worthy interiors and fun message boards while world class entertainment and performances from the hottest DJ’s and acts making it the place to be for the most fabulous chic events in the Maldives.
5. What would you describe as your biggest career achievement?
Being CEO of The Small Maldives Island Company. I can now take the past 33 years of my hospitality experience and develop concepts through design into a reality; from the luxury experience at Amilla Fushi to the fun, retro beach club experience at Finolhu.
6.Could you tell us a bit more about the challenges faced when handling major resorts such as Finolhu and Amilla Fushi?
With great teams around me, major challenges can be avoided when overseeing or managing both Finolhu and Amilla Fushi. We can have the most luxury resort with the most amazing features, but without good customer service & skills, provided by our team members the resort wouldn’t be where it is now. This is something that we always look into when hiring people to work for Finolhu and Amilla Fushi
7.Are there any exciting plans for Finolhu and Amilla Fushi in the future?
To develop our Maldives Aficionado programme, which rewards our fans for their referrals of repeat business. But even more interesting is a Maldives concierge, which is dedicated to our account to curate an itinerary that involves superyachts, multiple islands, private jets and seaplanes.
More info here: http://tsmic.mv/aficionado/
The development of the Amilla Yacht Club:
Miami-esque and super lux island resort Amilla Fushi is delighted to reveal its newest development the Amilla Yacht Club (AYC), firmly anchoring Amilla Fushi’s place on the international superyacht circuit.
The AYC encompasses the island’s open to all, three-berth marina as well as the overwater signature restaurant Feeling Koi (accessible directly by speedboat), the 1 OAK Lounge & Bar, and the Board Walk [opening Q4]. Amilla Yacht Club Membership is now also open - exclusively by invitation only - offering members exclusive discounts and priority access to berths, events and parties at Amilla Fushi and sister resort Finolhu.
The development of our Visiting Chef’s & brand Partnerships programs:
As part of Amilla Fushi’s always exciting and ever-evolving food and beverage offerings we have created a visiting chef’s programme that allows us to introduce internationally renowned culinary talents as well as world famous brands to enhance our guests’ island experiences.
The Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay Pop ups we had already started and will continue this and next year.
8.What is your relationship with your staff?
I have open lines of communication with our staff members and be able to boost morale among the team without losing sight of work priorities.
9.Do you try to mentor your employees? If so, how?
Yes, by determining what support my team members need and set times to conduct their progress along the way. I help them link their goals and values to a larger thinking until they become more engaged in what they do for their own growth and development. Everyone from CEO cascading down to Middle Management, has an obligation to mentor and keep our teams motivated.
10.Having spent a lot of years in the Maldives, how would you describe the current status of the Maldivian tourism sector and what changes or improvements that should be brought to it?
The strong and continuous significant rise of tourism / resort development over the past decades is one of the most significant social, economic and cultural phenomena that I can see in the Maldives. More and more new resorts are being established but of course, the competition is getting stronger and tourists are becoming more sophisticated and demanding. This requires us (as hoteliers) to become more focused and determined to provide the very best service and products to our guests. Our attention to detail and service interactions will become more and more important as we progress. Currently, the Maldives is enjoying the ever growing positive tourism reputation that has been built over the past decades and is viewed worldwide as a luxury destination. We, as resort operators should always strive to ensure that we thoroughly delight all our guests and by doing this, we help and contribute to the ever growing positive tourism reputation that the Maldives is achieving.