11 Questions with Raffaele Solferino the General Manager at Grand Park Kodhipparu

Hearing about another person’s career helps the youngsters to shape their future, especially in the hospitality industry where the work is challenging. The general manager of Grand Park Kodhipparu is one of the enlightened managers who maintain the employee’s satisfaction and guide them through the right path. Within the hospitality industry, it’s always challenging to do committing jobs. It’s not advisable to move from one job to another because that’s how you learn to become successful in this industry.

1- Raffaele, do tell us what attracted you to work for luxury hotels?

Basically, the luxury hotels became my destiny when I was a child; I was born in a luxury-leisure destination in Italy called Amalfi Coast where you have some pearls such as Amalfi, Positano, Sorrento, and Capri from where I started my career. In terms of personal passion for the luxury, I think I got it from my mum, as she was a fashion designer. So, between the fashion and Italian hospitality, I think that’s how my own passion for luxury came to be, and I developed it for the last 35 years working in the luxury sector of our industry in 12 countries.

2- There are several famous brands of resorts in the Maldives, what is unique about Grand Park Kodhipparu?

Commercially, it will be the vicinity to the airport as we are only 15 to 20 min of speedboat from Velana International Airport, unique F&B Outlets, excellent SPA experiences, state of art diving and watersport’s facilities, large white coral sandy beaches. In terms of other special services, I would say that it’s basically the approach we have to hospitality itself. As you know, 50% of our team is Maldivian and we are trying to express ourselves as a natural hospitality team. Our philosophy is to provide ‘Loving Hospitality’. This Loving Hospitality comes from our commitment, our brand identity form Park Hotel Group, which expresses a natural engagement towards customers called “Discover Love” transforming every encounter in an opportunity to deliver from the heart.

3- Do you face any challenging issues here, in your current job?

To be honest, currently, I don’t have any challenge. I quite enjoy what I’m doing. The opening of the resort was so quick. We opened the resort after six months of hard work, and it was quite fast compared to the amount of work we actually did towards the opening. It is a big achievement, this thanks to the extraordinary team we were able to put together. The operation of the first year was great, and now we are counting down to the second year. We are completing the first full year successfully again thanks to the team here which has done an excellent job. The increase of inventory at the moment is not touching us directly as in North and South Male’ Atolls, Speedboat distance there is nothing coming on for the next year or two, in line with our rating. Therefore, our goals are to consolidate our consistency and enhance the quality at all time. This rather than a challenge is a pleasure!

4- What do your employees expect from you as General Manager of the hotel?

To lead, to guide and to show the way. Personally, I am very close to the employees. So to get the hotel employees more engaged with each other, We have been implementing recreational activities among the staff since the beginning. Like departmental outings, whereby each department brings out the team for an activity of their choice, be this an island hopping, BBQ or Males’ trip etc. This allows the employees to enjoy the work environment. I also focus on developing the staff through training and teaching them best practices, we have invested in Learning and Development and we as seniors are involved in departmental training. The idea of discovering talents leads to building from the bottom, don’t hire from the top, or from outside, but we promote from within the existing team, so we see the satisfaction and the development of the team members. We are transferring our brand identity, vision, mission and core values trough regular training, all runs behind “Discover Love” which, as said earlier is our brand motto and to Discover Love you need to teach to be natural toward customer service, how to convert any guest’s encounter in an opportunity to serve from heart and reach the excellence.

5- What would be the single best quality your employees possess?

Their passion. Maldivians possess their own passion because they are proud of the Maldivian hospitality. They are very keen and passionate about what they do. And we are looking for the same value when we hire foreigners. Besides their passion, we select people possessing the right spirit and commitment.

6- When it comes to restaurants, what do you take into consideration besides the menu?

The quality, the quality of raw materials, we are very selective in what we buy, and we are sensitive to organic food. We have invested in modern technologies to transform the raw material with different contemporary cooking methods yet innovative techniques in line with the best Michelin starred operations.

Here again is about investing in learning and developments, we are developing talents by let staff expressing themselves with their creativity, and with a professional guidance from our international team of Chefs, we have been rewarded by our guests with a enormous amount of good comments. Soon we will start to host several Celebrity’s Chefs to enhance our commitment with quality and creativity. 

7- As an expert, what do you think about the Maldives tourism industry, overall?

The Maldives tourism industry is something I started experiencing since 2010, and I have to say, I have the same thoughts for the Maldives as I have for Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. There is a natural and excellent attitude within local staff to deliver an excellent hospitality to bring Maldives at the top of the global traveler’s preference. Maldives has its own identity and own way of delivering hospitality. You would see that Maldivians are very much capable when you take a look at the local brands in this industry, nothing to add on. I am very happy to see this potential among Maldivians to make the tourism industry here flourish day by day and compete on a global platform.

8- Do you think that the luxury travel trend will be particularly surprising in the next five years?

Depends on whether the development of the hospitality industry in the country will widening with all categories, from guesthouses to ultraluxury resorts, or will develop only in one direction like four and five stars. If the development caters all categories there will be business for everyone, if the development will be focusing only on the four and five stars, there will be an oversupply for the same category therefore a downhill of rates and RevPAR performance. Also, the airport was upgraded, which is a good thing and we’re curious and looking forward to the new volume to come in. Maldives has the potential to become the first destination in the world if differentiate the categories and can also introduce the Real Estate component within the hospitality operations. I suggest to watch out the artificial intelligence and the still hidden potential of the digital platforms.

9- Let’s talk a bit about sustainable development in tourism, what are your thoughts on the subject?

This recall the Shark Project in BAA Atoll back in 2010, we had good time and a couple of good laws approved, like a ban on Shark’s and Turtle’s hunting, this project later became the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The development of resorts has not some strong guidelines to rely on, environmental obligations to work toward a sustainable tourism. There are still a lot of untouched points in the development of resorts in Maldives touching; Solar, Wind and Sea-currents energy it should be a must when you develop in Maldives. We are planning to start our Environment Management System (EMS) end of this year or beginning of next year. We are to enhance the health of our coral reefs around our resort, create more coral farming to populate our reefs. As well we will invest in maintaining and enhance the Island biological side of our forest and fauna. We are committed to providing a superior guest experience by involving them in our daily eco-friendly activities. The dream is to see carbon-free resorts, let’s say within the next 20 years?

10- On a more personal note, what are some of your favorite pastime activities on your off-days?

Well, I go to Malé and meet some of my Maldivian friends. Do a bit of shopping. Probably stop by a few coffee shops and enjoy Maldives’ lifestyle. If I decide to stay on the island I usually head to the gym or go snorkeling. And I spend some time calling and talking to my family, besides this I like to participate in sports activities with the team, we won twice the Atoll’s Cup with Volleyball team.

11- Finally, what advice would you give someone who’s aspiring to become a manager in this industry someday?

To the youngest, I would suggest pursuing a career in the hospitality only if they are ready to commit to deliver the excellence, scarify their routine to the rules of the hospitality industry and most important be ambitious, without ambitions we will be severe. The ambitious helps to search for the excellence, the excellence is the heart of hospitality. I have seen many young and adults moving from one hotel to another because they want to develop their career, but I think this is something they should stop doing. I know young people want to develop their career very fast, but it is not very healthy to jump from one company to another if they want a good career.