MARTIN VAN DER REIJDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OPERATIONS, CROSSROADS MALDIVES
Martin Van Der Reijden, Vice President Operations for CROSSROADS Maldives, speaks to Can Faik about the exciting one-of-a-kind project and his thoughts on tourism for the future…
Known for being the most comprehensive investment in tourism projects undertaken in the Maldives, the development of multi- island integrated leisure and entertainment resorts known as ‘CROSSROADS’ has transform the face of the greater Malé region and widened the Maldives’ appeal as a multifaceted tourism destination.
Located just a 15-minute speedboat ride away from Maldives International Airport, CROSSROADS consist of The Marina: an entertainment island and two leading hotels, Hard Rock Hotel Maldives and SAii Lagoon Maldives, a Curio Collection by Hilton.
What was your background in hospitality prior to working on the CROSSROADS Maldives project?
I spent 16 years with Hilton, starting as a Chief Steward and ending up as General Manager in Sydney and Phuket. Following this I spent three years with Per Aquum in the Maldives based at Huvafen Fushi and then Dubai and Singapore, which was very exciting as we had close to 25 projects we were involved in all around the globe. After this I worked with Isabelle Miaja for five years working on the interior design for exceptional hotel brands before building LUX* North Male Atoll with two partners, where we took over a picnic island and created an extraordinary resort.
Where are you based?
I am based on CROSSROADS itself. For the past six months I have lived in the team accommodation and will soon move into my own bungalow with my family.
What does your current position involve?
In one way or another, I am involved in everything. From coordinating design, construction, operations and the resort brands, to working with third-party providers such as Café Del Mar, watersports and dive operators, and marina and transport management companies. I am also responsible for policy making across finance, HR and IT as well as complex sales and marketing strategies. Furthermore, I have established budgets and forecasts, coordinated the legal aspects, and most importantly put a team together of almost 1,000.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Seeing something grow from a bare island to the biggest and most exciting project in the Maldives. Creating this project with such an incredible team is a joy, to see them grow into a role and a scope of work they have never dreamed of before and could have never imagined is amazing. We have built something together that their children will be proud of for years to come.
What are the complexities of meeting the demands of shareholders, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values to the guests?
Our management team is well equipped, well trained and motivated to take on any challenge. It takes a lot of positive energy to open such a substantial project, as there are hundreds of obstacles to overcome, especially in such a remote location. One has to have the bigger picture in mind and solve one issue at a time.
What does the resort have to do to stay one step ahead of its competition?
The interesting part is that we are not a resort, we are a destination, and the only one in the Maldives that offers more than a standard resort would. This puts us at the forefront of the industry, and it’s now up to us to bring this to life and make our guests and visitors want to come back.
What are the unique selling points of CROSSROADS Maldives?
CROSSROADS Maldives is unique because we have facilities that nobody else has in the Maldives. We have the most intricate interactive Cultural Centre in the country, a big Event Hall for conferences and exhibitions, the biggest club with Café Del Mar, the first Hard Rock Café in the country, the first marina with 30 berths, the first free-standing two-storey spa complex, 30 shops and restaurant choices and almost 400 rooms between two very exciting brands, being the Hard Rock Hotel and SAii Lagoon Maldives. Ten years ago a resort only needed one USP to generate global awareness, however looking at the above list of ‘firsts’ at CROSSROADS, we can be quietly confident that we have a very appealing array of choices for guests to come and experience.
What are the personality traits that define a successful and happy hotel proprietor, in your opinion?
If someone has the technical tools that are undoubtedly necessary to be successful in our industry, and combines that with passion for the industry and for people in general, then there is a very high chance they will succeed.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotels in the Maldives compared to Europe and the US?
The Maldives is a unique destination centred around the ‘one island one resort’ concept, and that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. The advancement in technology and its use here in the Maldives is no different to the rest of the world. Sustainability and the environment, however, is something that is much closer to our shores and hence has become a focal point of our behaviour change and how we deal with waste, the choices of products we offer, and the education of our guests.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel interior design?
I believe there are either designs that go through several boardroom discussions and compromises, or clever low-cost but creative and high- impact designs that will carve a niche in their destination. I believe that design has to be daring and not appeal to everyone; trying to appeal to everyone doesn’t work and you end up with little impact.
How important do you feel hotel design has become when launching a new hotel?
I think it is very much at the core of our business. The product has to be different to what people already have at home and should have the ambition to inspire, to contrast with preconceived ideas of what a resort should be.
What’s next for CROSSROADS Maldives?
We still have a long way to go. More islands are to be developed, but over the next year or two we want CROSSROADS to mature and become the destination of choice for resort guests. Not just for our guests, but international day visitors and Maldivians alike, and certainly for worldwide conferences and meetings, as we are the only place with the capacity to host these events amongst the islands.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai, which is an incredible experience being in the midst of the jungle and yet surrounded by luxury amenities and services. Early in my life I stayed at the Waldorf Astoria in New York and by chance Bill Clinton had a meeting there (not with me), and I had the best food at the Conrad in Tokyo.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
Lesser known places like Uzbekistan. a friend just told me that it is wonderful. And Mongolia because I should have worked there for Hilton a long time ago. Lastly, Bhutan, to try and understand how they are able to conserve their own culture and tradition by restricting tourist arrivals.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of working on a property as part of an integrated multi-resort destination?
There are, to my understanding, only benefits. As I am living on one of these resorts across a short bridge I have a little village where we can see friends, take a boat, do some watersports or diving, or just have a meal or a coffee.
What was the initial vision for the design and layout of CROSSROADS, and was this achieved?
The name CROSSROADS encapsulates the vision we had for it to become a crossroads between the cultures we are surrounded by or that have passed through the Maldives. These include India, Sri Lanka, Africa and to a lesser degree, European cultures that stopped here or established themselves in the Maldives. These cultures are all celebrated in the architecture one feels when coming to CROSSROADS, accompanied by incredible art, giving a unique feel that has been almost 100% translated from the original sketches and 3D images.
What advice would you offer to those who aspire to become a successful hotelier?
I believe that it is paramount to have been exposed to different cultures, traditions and work ethics, in particular local legal requirements, in order to adapt very quickly. Working circumstances can change within one to two months, so one must be able to work with what is available and make it better rather than fighting the imperfections.
What keeps you motivated?
I have talked about work in this interview and that is a big part of my life, but besides that I feel I have wonderful children and good long-term friends. I enjoy almost any sport, art and music, any food and almost any beverage, but it’s the relationship I have with people that are close to me that makes me happy.
How do you aim to achieve a good work-life balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
If you asked my family I think that they might say I fail, but that might be because I don’t see ‘work’ as work only. I have made lifetime friends through work and enjoy being busy. I am privileged enough that when I have spare time I have hardly any other obligations so I am free to engage in interesting activities and spend time with the people I love.