Hotelier interviews the General Manager of OZEN by Atmosphere at Maadhoo Maladives, Ventaka Giri, over a cup of warm morning coffee at The Palms, chatting about his background, what went into the conception of the resort as we sought hints on what the future may hold…
How did you first venture into the Hospitality Industry?
To be frank, from the very beginning I never felt like I was good at anything else. I was only ever interested in finding out whether I could be successful in the Hospitality Industry.
I graduated from Oberoi School and I first started out working with Oberoi Hotels, proceeding to work with them for 11 years. Since, I’ve worked extensively with Oberoi and have worked in most of their hotels. I’m a bit of a pre-op guy and as I moved along the ladder I’ve opened 14 hotels, working in most positions which is also one of my strengths.
Since you’ve mentioned having done 14 Hotel Openings around the world – in Thailand, India, UK and now in the Maldives, of all the different challenges are there any experiences that stand out?
Challenges are everywhere. I think all of us, who work in any industry know that there are challenges everywhere you go. There are highlights in most places but London stands out for me because going there and establishing myself and ‘trying to be with the Jones’ so to speak, was quite a challenge but it was a brilliant experience and I learnt a lot out there.
The companies I worked with were sharp, very pin point, very profit driven and very result oriented – so for me it was a very clear understanding specially for Asians who have worked a lot in Asia, where companies are more sympathetic and more emotional, so I think the interesting quotient there is that you learn much more and that you become much stronger as a result.
It is a precarious time in the Hospitality Industry and a particularly interesting time for the Maldives with the market ever expanding and changing. How do you motivate your staff to stay at Maadhoo?
That credit really goes to Salil – who is our managing director and a brilliant guy. We’ve managed to open on time, and it is our second property from OZEN to open on time. We promised the world we would open on the 15th of July and we did it.
We started our recruitment three months early, and after that our training started so we didn’t really have much of a waiting period. It’s like putting all of your pieces on a jigsaw puzzle together – everything came together beautifully. We’ve really not had much hassle.
Without Salil though, I’m sure I’d not be saying what I am now and we probably would have had trouble with staff getting demotivated but it’s we’ve really not had much hassle since things have happened on time. Our staff are based on their own island, with their own football field and other facilities and activities so a lot of people get involved in a lot of things. Here you have that freedom and individual sense, you have your down time and especially working hard in the Maldives I think you need that.
What would you say is one of the biggest strengths of OZEN Maadhoo?
My strength here I would say, is my people. I have, without a doubt, one of the best teams in the Maldives. We handpicked our team, we took the time to do all the studies and everyone has been through a thorough recruitment process and that has been reflected on our TripAdvisor and various reviews as well.
Everyone knows everyone here in the hospitality industry so you can place together a team that’s very close and works well together. We’ve woven through 18 nationalities together and they serve together seamlessly. By and large our pre-opening team at OZEN Maadhoo is like an Indian Cricket team – most of the guys here are playing pretty well!
What are the major challenges you faced during the opening and operation of OZEN Madhoo?
Definitely the first opening in Maldives, it is like driving a car. Right now I believe and I feel like I’m at the Rolls Royce stage, so I’m absolutely happy to do the driving. They say you don’t forget how to drive a car, and we have driven other cars but I’d say I’m definitely getting a kick out of the Royce.
It takes a little getting used to Maldives, especially because you’re stationed at an isolated island, far away from the razzmatazz of life until the hotel opens at least, that’s how I’d put it – and that a subtle difference that a city boy like me needs to adapt to. Again I love cricket, so I’m going back to a cricket analogy, it’s like playing a game in a different country you need to adapt yourself. And of course, the second challenge is managing the logistics. Another thing might be getting used to the climate, whether it’s the wind change, soil erosion, managing rainy weather – that is what I called adaptability.
Other than that, between running a hotel in London and running a resort in the Maldives? Absolutely no difference. When your ingredients are good, your staff is good, your people are brilliant and I’m a big believe in people make profit – if you get right people, then you will get your profit.
What are your plans for your future, and how does that tie in to the future of Ozen Maadhoo? Any advice for other aspiring hoteliers?
I love the sun, sand and the sea and I enjoy being in the Maldives so the plan is to increase my responsibilities within the company. The future for me is that I’m here to stay, even if the Ritz came knocking on my door. I really feel that I can help develop this brand.
I think the key for anyone trying to get to this point is not to be too focused on where the money is and how much you can earn. If you have passion, then you can survive and thrive. That’s the only drive you need. You have to be passionate about what you do, and where you are.
The sea might bluer on the other side, but you can’t jump ship every time you get offered a few more coins. Where ever I go, I want to leave a legacy. I want people to say, hey that guy was a good guy. It can be a small one, just enough – but I think every young aspiring hotelier should try to leave something where people turn around and remember them as a decent, good person. That’s what I try to do.