Marc LeBlanc and Laura Robinson were independently pursuing their careers in hospitality and tourism when their paths crossed in the Cayman Islands. They also managed to find a rare opportunity to work on the same property in the Maldives.
Hotelier Maldives: What prompted an interest towards the hospitality industry? What are your educational backgrounds?
Marc LeBlanc: In a way, all this came to fruition when I chose the wrong pursuit in my first year of university, starting a dual degree in biology and computer science. I lost interest rather quickly and after the first year, I decided to pause, reflect on what I actually wanted to do, but also move away from home and earn some money, living independently.
Meanwhile, through this time, I had been working in a city hotel for about two years, starting as a dishwasher in the kitchen and quickly moved up to the bellman. By this time I was fortunate enough to experience hotel life and caught the bug, so to speak. I enjoyed the work immensely and enjoyed the tips. I soon after moved over to a global reservations office for a major Canadian hotel chain, where I succeeded with advancement and that was it – I knew that is what I wanted to do.
Fast forward two years I immersed myself in big city life in Toronto and attained a Hospitality & Management degree in Toronto. It’s been a great wild ride since then moving around across Canada and the world!
Laura Robinson: I have a BSc. in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology, and MSc. in Tropical Coastal Management and am a PADI MSDT Dive Instructor. This enabled me to travel across Asia and the Caribbean and gain exposure to various destinations along with their tourism components. Working at dive resorts further integrated my work into hospitality, when I then became a manager at a Destination Management Company in St. Maarten, in the Caribbean. An opportunity presented itself to work with Marc in Bali, and the rest is history!
HM: How did you both meet? And how did you both land jobs in the Maldives, let alone the same resort?
ML: Laura and I first crossed paths on the island of Little Cayman, in the Cayman Islands, where she was working as a marine biologist and then dive instructor. For a lot of reasons, Maldives gives us the closest sensation of island living of when we first met, a lot to do with the size of the country and islands.
Little Cayman had 200 inhabitants and a strong sense of community, everyone knew everyone, and well, you know how it goes… We like to joke that we didn’t have much option when we first got together 10 years ago!
We had been wanting to come to the Maldives together for a very long time, although timing is not on your side when two people are applying for two different areas/positions, to the same resort, same island. This we could not find, so off we went to St Maarten and then Bali, mostly following my successive path, but also knowing these islands were large enough for Laura to find work.
At the end of our time in Bali, on our way out to our families, we finally saw an opportunity for a ‘Management Couple’ in the Maldives, and we jumped at the opportunity. Quick interview was done and a few days later we were offered the roles. I believe our (figuratively speaking) youth and ability to live and work on islands around the world, coupled with solid hotel/tourism experience ticked the boxes for us when applying. We were meant to be in the Maldives.
HM: You’ve had managerial stints in Vancouver, Cayman Islands, St. Marteen and Bali before your post at Kandolhu Maldives. What are some of the similarities and differences you notice in operating/managing a resort in the Maldives?
ML: Hotels are hotels the world over, with some small differentiators, but we are always offering a similar product. Now as an ‘island specialist’ I can see all the similarities that exist when living the island life – the extensive maintenance upkeep, complicated and time intensive logistic handling, utility supply, etc. All peculiar to islands.
Solutions need to be creative and quick when resolving problems which may impact operations and guests. Cultures are different everywhere, so working with teams from various nationalities, you learn to understand and appreciate the intricacies and adapt to get the best out of people from around the world.
Having been here four years now, I can attest that Maldivians are some of the most genuinely hospitable people I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with. I’m especially fond of their sense of humour and Kandolhu tries to bring out the best in this, in them, when we go about creating informal rapport with our guests.
HM: Laura, where else have you worked before Kandolhu Maldives? How has your Maldives experience been, in a professional capacity?
LR: I have been lucky enough to work in a number of tropical locations around the world, starting in Borneo where I was conducting coral reef research, I completed my Master’s degree thesis in Tobago. I lived on the island of Utila in Honduras where I studied and worked as a Dive Instructor.
I have managed research centres in the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands, before moving to St Maarten and Bali with Marc – in both places where I eventually moved over from the marine world to hospitality! My Maldives experience has been incredible from a professional standpoint – I have had the opportunity to have hands-on experience in every hotel department, through a steep learning curve to begin given my limited hotel background, it has been something I have relished and am incredibly appreciative of the opportunity I have been given.
HM: What are your responsibilities as the Resort Manager at Kandolhu Maldives?
ML: It’s a mixed bag of everything, which is why I enjoy what I do, I could not think of any other career. In a smaller property, lead management is very hands-on and almost omnipresent so you can get accustomed to wearing many different hats and getting involved in every little detail. Being a small island, we may not benefit from having additional layers of department leads in the traditional hotel hierarchy.
For example, we are without a Director/Manager of F&B, therefore, a portion of my time is devoted to ensuring product and service standards are maintained here, along with our Executive Chef. It can mean planning for island events, creative on restaurant concept and design, taking charge of on-site branding, involvement in hiring, recruiting, and training, many different PR aspects, strategy and finance, among many others. Steering the ship, making sure we evolve favourably and ensuring we have a happy team.
HM: Other couples fly over for a few days to enjoy their vacation. You both have the luxury of an “extended vacation” here in the Maldives. What do you (as a couple) love most about the Maldives? How has your experience in the Maldives been?
ML: The experience has been fantastic and very rewarding thus far. We have been on Kandolhu since its refurbished and rebranded launch in 2014 and have seen the team hit success after success, on many fronts. We take great pride in what we’ve accomplished in these four years and continue to strive for better. The guests we’ve met, the team members we’ve worked with have all been inspiring and contributed to the positive outlook we have on this experience.
From a living standpoint, we are from northern parts of the world, so the tropical aspect is what we love the most, and has been since we’ve left our native countries over a decade ago. We seem to gravitate towards sun and islands. Although to the outside world it may seem we have an ‘extended vacation’, it is far from being the case!
HM: What is the most memorable/notable experience in the Maldives?
ML: The lead-up and the opening of the resort back in February 2014 ranks high on our list of memorable experiences, it was intense, challenging and loads of fun. A great team effort to frantically rush into operation at last moment’s notice.
From there, things only got and continue getting better. Another aspect which we certainly continue to enjoy is keeping seeing again return guests come back to Kandolhu, time and time again. Familiar faces visiting again warms us deeply and is the best reward for the job that we and the team do.
LR: The day we finally arrived at Kandolhu, after spending 2 months on our sister island Kuramathi waiting for the construction phase to be completed. Walking around the tiny island that we would be calling home for the foreseeable future and seeing the final product.
Meeting the opening team we would be living and working with, and have the opportunity to come together over the following days when everyone had to work together to complete final preparations, ready to welcome our first guests.
HM: What does it take to operate/manage a resort in the Maldives, given the “one-island-one-resort” nature?
ML: As is in many parts of the remote world, it takes a sense of adventure and commitment first to begin the work in these locations. Then a sense of passion for the work that you do and eagerness to achieve. In far-flung places you need to be able to adapt and you need to embrace change.
On the supply and logistics side, it’s an exercise in timing and great patience. This last point is important. Rethinking processes and getting used to how things are done in your locale is key. Given you live and work the job, it’s important to accept this type of lifestyle, to be ok with it and make the most of it.
HM: Explain a typical working day in Kandolhu. How do you find time for yourselves (family time) during your busy schedule?
ML: Morning begins with a quick email clear, morning meeting, and power through tasks continually eliminating the ‘to do list’ (which never ends by the way), in between scheduled and informal meetings are had all around the property.
Visibility is important so checking in with guests is paramount, especially at night time once the working day is over, our role evolves to hosts where we thrive getting to know who’s taken the time in choosing to stay with us.
An hour or so midday for rest or exercise, and the occasional day or afternoon off to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us. Hopping over to a nearby sandbank together allows us to break away from the daily norm and spend time together undisturbed.
HM: What are the pros and cons for the both of you to work at the same resort island?
ML: To be honest we had no idea if this arrangement would be successful, with only a limited time spent working together in Bali, although it’s been overwhelmingly positive, and we complement each other’s strengths and pull each other up from our weaknesses. We execute best when we both provide input into the process until completion. Having a companion on the same small piece of real estate assures you will never be lonely.
HM: Finally, what are your future plans? What great undertaking have you both planned for the near future?
ML: We love the Maldives! For the foreseeable future, we intend on remaining here and steer Kandolhu through what we hope is a continued success, and ticking things off the list that amount to small change and the evolution of the resort, in the interest of our team and our guests.
We enjoy working with Universal Resorts and they’ve supported us immensely through our journey, allowing us to leave our mark on this island. Excitingly enough, we are at the same time preparing for the building of a new lakeside home in Canada, which would serve as a home base in years to come, as we continue to travel and work around the world.