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Interview: Gili Lankanfushi GM Nicolas Khairallah on the new normal in the Maldives

Today, the focus in the Maldives is sustainability, recovery and the importance of standing out in a saturated market, says Nicolas 

Growing up in a multi-cultural household, Nicolas Khairallah was given the opportunity to travel with family and expand his horizons from a very young age. From country to country, his curiosity grew and he became eager to surround himself with different traditions, languages, people and cultures. This, combined with his penchant for tidiness, attention to detail, discipline and organisation meant that it was a natural choice for him to pursue a career in hospitality. His career has taken him to the UAE, US, Canada and Switzerland before landing him at Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives.

Connecting Travel: What are the USPs of your property?
Nicolas Khairallah: Set on a beautiful private island just a 20-minute boat ride from Velana international airport, Gili Lankanfushi is known for its sustainability cornerstone and service legacy – a concept we refer to as ‘barefoot luxury’. With just 45 overwater villas, including The Private Reserve, we pride ourselves on offering an exceptional level of service for all our guests, most recently with a focus on keeping our guests safe in light of our constantly changing world and Covid-19 challenges.

Aerial View of Villa Suite with poolVilla Suite with pool

CT: Have you built relationships with the local community?
NK: This is something that is integral to the Gili Lankanfushi ethos. We are passionate about sharing our growing knowledge of sustainability with the nearby community, particularly the children. From our organic garden to the Coral Lines Project, an initiative to do our bit to help rehabilitate the surrounding reefs, it’s important for us to help locals nurture the nature around them, which is arguably the most important asset for the Maldives. Within the resort, we’re dedicated to supporting local businesses, such as fishermen, artists and designers, as well as incorporating the vibrant local culture and tradition into operations and sharing it with our guests.

We’re also proud to have a passionate, dedicated Maldivian workforce who go above and beyond to make our guests’ stays memorable

CT: How do you plan to increase occupancy and revenue?
NK: Our greatest tool is word-of-mouth. Through the consistent delivery of true Gili experiences, we’re fortunate that many of our guests recommend our resort to friends, family and connections who are looking for an unforgettable stay in the Maldives. With this in mind, we’re constantly improving our facilities and service based on guests’ needs and feedback, ensuring each stay exceeds expectations. Maintaining fruitful relationships with our partners is another ongoing strategy alongside increasing our presence within emerging markets. We’re also dedicated to growing our brand reach and sharing the Gili story with tactical PR, marketing and sales activations in our key markets.

Aerial view of Jetty One and Private ReserveJetty One and Private Reserve

CT: What are your key source markets?
NK: We welcome guests from all over the world with our key source markets being the GCC, Middle East, Europe, UK, US and Asia, many of which are enjoying travel yet again due to vaccination drives, the flexibility of bookings and innate desire to escape to some of the world’s most beautiful and remote destinations.

CT: How do you attract and cater to guests from the GCC?
NK: Gili Lankanfushi is very much an ideal destination for all types of guests from the GCC region. From stunning overwater villas with private pools catering for couples, to fun-filled group activities for friends’ getaways. In addition to a range of private family villas and residences, we cater for a variety of stays and guests. We’ve seen an increase in demand for Sustainable Tourism from the GCC, which is aligned with the resort philosophy. At the same time, the interest in barefoot luxury, where guests have the opportunity to connect with nature around them, has also grown in the GCC as travellers are looking to disconnect from the daily hustle and bustle. This has resulted in a healthy increase in the number of guests arriving from the GCC as the proximity to the international airport and the resort philosophy offer a perfect mix to them.

Overwater VillasOverwater Villas

CT: As an eco-resort, were there any sustainable practices you’ve had to forego in order to prioritise the safety of your guests?
NK: We’re fortunate to have a passionate and creative team always willing to think outside the box in order to find the right balance between our ethos and operational needs, including the safety of our guests. We have not had to forego any sustainable practices, on the contrary, we strongly believe that our eco-practices enhance the guest experience, including safety and well-being.

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CT: What steps are you taking to drive recovery?
NK: We are all looking to increase occupancy and brand awareness, therefore it’s key to stay true to your hotel’s ethos. At Gili Lankanfushi, we also put great emphasis on looking after our team of hosts to ensure they remain passionate about what they do and feel supported on a daily basis. From a day-to-day perspective, adapting to and embracing new ways of operating is vital, particularly regarding enhanced health and safety measures, as well as working closely with tourism boards and governments. Above all, listening to guests in order to gauge their comfort and safety levels remains a core part of Gili Lankanfushi’s ongoing service approach.

It’s important for hoteliers to refocus on the points of difference that make their hotel stand out in an oversaturated market

CT: More than a year into the pandemic, how is the hospitality sector currently performing?
NK: We’re noticing that guests are, more and more, on the lookout for meaningful travel experiences, something that goes hand-in-hand with barefoot luxury. People are no longer travelling for the sake of travel – they want an escape from their day-to-day reality. As hospitality professionals, we are adapting to the new normal and learning to work more efficiently as occupancy continues to increase, particularly from the GCC region due to its proximity to the Maldives and strong vaccination rates.

For more information, visit www.gili-lankanfushi.com

 

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