EXCLUSIVE: Interview with CEO & President of Onyx Hospitality Group, Douglas Martell

President and the CEO of Thailand-based hotel management company Onyx Hospitality Group, Douglas Martell has shared his insight on the Maldives hospitality industry and filled us in with what's next for the hotel management giant. Onyx Hospitality group currently runs the Amari Havodda Maldives Resort in the Southern Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll and has recently announced plans to open a second resort, OZO Maldives in the third quarter of 2020. 

1: You have decades of experience in the hospitality industry. So what exactly motivates you to get up in the morning every day? What's behind the curtain of your success? 

As an early morning person, getting up is never a problem. What keeps me motivated is the passion and dedication of our growing pan-regional team of people at our corporate offices and hotels, who work tirelessly and play their part in helping us achieve our goal of being the leading medium-sized hotel company in the Asia-Pacific region.

As a truly regional Asia-Pacific company with Thai roots, we’ve come a long way from our earlier days when we were operating as a single-brand and single country company. We now count in our portfolio 50 operating hotels across three core brands, in eight countries, and a developing pipeline of close to 30 new hotels. We are working in unity towards our aim of having 99 operating hotels by 2024.

2: How do you go about building a strong trustworthy relationship with your team and how do you motivate them?

Building a team and making sure that everyone works effectively is very important. It is less about telling people what to do, but more about getting them to buy in and encouraging them to deliver great results. My early work experience laid a good groundwork for managing the skill sets and capabilities of people in a team. It teaches you that everybody has their own skills and if you want to deliver great results and success, you need to learn how to leverage each of the different skill sets of different team members.

3: What are some the day-to-day challenges you face in your position? How do you overcome them?

People are our greatest asset, and also one of the biggest challenges for the industry. Talented employees are most dissatisfied when they feel they are not getting the learning and development opportunities they need in order to grow and progress in their roles. The younger generation is learning at a much faster pace than most companies can catch up with, so as an industry, we need to make sure that there are sufficient measures in place for training and engagement to be up-to-date and relevant.

4: What changes in the hotel world are most evident in the recent period? 

We are hearing a lot about consolidation - of mergers and alliances formed by hotel companies, airlines, and even the bed banks. This changing landscape also reminds us of the beauty and power of being a medium-sized and independent Asian-rooted hospitality company with a focused strategic agenda and robust road map. 

Having come from a much larger company, and being the leader of a growing company that has successfully attracted some of the best talents from the world’s largest hospitality players, I have learnt about the importance of a more personal approach to relationships to our partners and third-party hotel owners. 

5: How do you define “OZO” and what is exclusive about the brand? What would OZO bring to the Maldives hospitality industry?

OZO is all about offering travelers an enhanced sleep experience, smart connectivity of personal devices in both private spaces and public areas, and curated destination and activity tips by well-informed team members. We sum up the OZO experience as sleep, connect and explore. 

The upcoming OZO Maldives with be family-oriented, and feature unique design elements and experience touch points inspired by a fictitious castaway explorer named Sebastian King III, an artist and amateur sailor who was shipwrecked and lived alone on the island for eight years before allowing himself to be discovered. 

The resort will immerse travelers in a reinterpretation of the legacy he left behind through a series of structures, shelters, and landmarks Sebastian creatively constructed from island-sourced raw materials and flotsam washed ashore over the years.‏

Scheduled to open in the third quarter of 2020, OZO Maldives will appeal to travellers of all ages with highlights such as an upturned Dhoni shipwreck hidden within a jungle which doubles as an activity centre, a crow’s nest-style observation tower, an abandoned lighthouse, Sebastian’s rustic home located within the kids’ club, educational sundial and weather station, and a mangrove discovery walkway.‏

6: What is interesting about the Maldivian tourism industry? And what are the challenges faced here?

The Maldives has often been perceived as a destination reserved exclusively for the ultra-luxury segment. What we hope to achieve with the arrival of OZO is a redefinition of the family-oriented resort segment in the Maldives with combines the best of the three key OZO brand signatures - sleep, connect and explore - with a compelling story and showcase of locally-sourced craftsmanship, upcycling and environmental education.

7: Can you tell me a little bit more about your expansion plans?

ONYX Hospitality Group has been expanding at a rapid pace, entering agreements with several of the leading companies across the Asia-Pacific to enhance its presence and reach across multiple accommodation segments.

We planted our first flag in the Maldives with the opening of Amari Havodda Maldives in early 2016, and are preparing for the opening of our second Maldivian property, OZO Maldives, in late 2020. In Sri Lanka, we will add a new Amari in the capital city of Colombo by early 2020, to complement our existing portfolio of four hotels in Colombo, Galle, and Kandy.

Further afield, we will be opening in mid-2019 our first Australian property with Shama Luxe Melbourne Aurora Central, located in one of the tallest buildings within the city.

Our key destinations of growth include China, Malaysia, Laos as well as our home base of Thailand.  

8: In your opinion, what makes ONYX Hospitality Group unique?

We are a Thai-rooted medium-sized company with a huge ambition for the Asia-Pacific region. Our team is made up of some of the best minds in the business, with combined expertise from many of the largest and leading hospitality companies in the world.

9: What do you think 2019 will be like for the hotel industry and for ONYX’s business in particular?

People love to travel and reunite with loved ones near and far, and the outlook for the tourism industry continues to be very positive, especially in the area of inter-regional travel with China, India, Malaysia, and Singapore among the key growth drivers across Asia.

For ONYX Hospitality Group, 2019 will be an exciting year with eight confirmed openings which will represent some wonderful additions to our brands. These include two new OZO hotels in Phuket and Penang, the reopening of our flagship Amari Pattaya, and Shama openings in Australia and in multiple cities across China.

10: If you had to sum up 2018, how would you describe it in terms of ONYX’s business, and the overall hospitality and travel industry?

2018 has been a busy and exciting year for ONYX Hospitality Group with six hotel openings, our first hotel in Laos with Amari Vang Vieng and five Shama openings in Thailand and Greater China. We also entered great partnerships with respected developers with a great track record, including Panchshil Realty for our first OZO property in the Maldives, Sincere Holdings Group of China to grow our Shama brand across key Chinese cities, and SP Setia for Amari Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

The industry has been performing well too, with 641 million tourism arrivals recorded worldwide for the first half of 2018 based on World Tourism Organisation figures, a 6% increase from the same period in 2017.

11: What do you think about ‘The Sunny Side of Life” - Maldives and the importance of promoting at this striking destination?

With our presence in this archipelagic nation more than doubling over the next two years, we will continue to showcase the beauty and culture of this unique destination to more travelers from around the world. 

We’re also committed to preserving the ecology and breathtaking nature of the Maldives through sustainability efforts and environmental education initiatives and enhancing the capabilities and growth opportunities of our local team members and our neighboring communities. As our portfolio continues to expand, our destinations should also still uphold their magic for the generations to come.