Interviews

Creating a sense of community at resorts

As travellers increasingly search for an immersive travel experience, resorts are focusing on creating destinations that attract both visitors and locals
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Martin van der Reijden
Martin van der Reijden

SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton opens its doors next month as part of Crossroads, the first multi-island integrated resort destination in the Maldives. Embedding tourist attractions within local infrastructure, the destination sparks a sense of community, uniting visitors and locals alike. We speak with Martin van der Reijden, Vice President of Operations of Crossroads and General Manager of SAii Lagoon, who shares his thoughts on blending tourism and local living.

Click.: Tell me about Crossroads, how will this project change tourism in the Maldives?

van der Reijden: Crossroads was a daring, ambitious project. Ever since tourism started in the Maldives, the destination has had a ‘one-island, one-resort’ concept. So, the idea to stray from that and develop a multi-island integrated resort was definitely unique. If you look at Sentosa in Singapore for example, that became a destination in its own right - and we have the same ambition for Crossroads, with a focus on involving the local community and creating a place that they can also frequent. To have started something that is absolutely unique to the Maldives was, at some level, a risk - with the most daring thing at the time being to build more than one resort on one island.

Besides the resort, we’ve also built a village with shops, restaurants, a bank, a whole marina and more. There’s nothing like it. I strongly believe it will take some time to mature, but that it will remain unique for a very long time because you can barely replicate it.

Click.: What were the operational challenges of such a project?

van der Reijden: Sustainability is increasingly important, especially in a location that relies on its environment for tourism. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have even mentioned this, but now it’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind. As an example, having an espresso machine in every guest room was once seen as the ultimate luxury, but now you wouldn’t even consider it because the capsules don’t degrade and the waste becomes problematic. Instead, we now have plungers in our rooms again - and that’s going back in time 20 or so years.

WiFi, especially for resorts here in the Maldives, is currently the number one priority for properties. If you don’t get it correct, it’s the biggest guest complaint. Getting it right doesn’t sound difficult, but in remote locations like ours, it’s definitely a challenge to get the ideal internet coverage.

Click.: What are the advantages of blending tourism and local living?

van der Reijden: Tourists and local communities should not have such a strong divide. The world is meant to integrate, and cultures should be brought together to learn from one another, this is the beautiful advantage that Crossroads brings to the Maldives.

The fantastic amenities that Crossroads has to offer should not be limited to just tourists. The Maldivians now have an incredible new destination at their fingertips, and can easily engage with the Maldives and Marine Discovery Centres, learning about their heritage, conservationism and more. Gaining a deeper understanding of their culture and heritage will help to form a sense of unity amongst locals, and will also provide a way of integrating locals and tourists.

Click.: Luxury resorts are known for their personalised service. What do you think today’s guests are looking for when it comes to a tailored stay?

van der Reijden: People want to engage in community culture and the environment they’re in, so we try and cater to that - we call it the millennial mindset. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are from that generation, but our brand was designed to appeal to free-spirited, curious and adventurous people. This audience doesn’t want an agenda mapped out for them pre-arrival - they want to go with the flow. Back in 2006, we were sending some sort of questionnaire to guests where they could choose their preferences; personally I think those days are gone. I see a discrepancy between trying to find out a guest’s preferences prior to arrival versus the free-spirited traveller market which we want to appeal to.

In saying that, once they are actually on the island we do still offer ways to personalise their stay if they wish. For example, we offer guests the opportunity to customise their amenities to suit their taste. They can choose from a variety of scents to create their own shampoo, conditioner and body wash. By combining personalisation with experience and something that is unique is something I think guests will appreciate more. Maybe I’m trying to differentiate between pre-arrival and during the actual stay, but what we are really looking at is what we can do on-site to give people a personal experience rather than asking them a lot of questions beforehand.

Click.: How do you envision resorts evolving in the future?

van der Reijden: What I see coming is more community engagement and community-based resorts where you work very closely with other nearby properties. Another thing would be more interest-based resorts, where you group people together who have similar interests. And finally, I think that learning-based resorts, where guests travel to the resort with the purpose of learning something new, is a concept that will gain momentum.

 

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Person using laptop
Hero image: credit to SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton
Takeaway
  • Crossroads is the first multi-island integrated resort destination in the Maldives - straying from the region's traditional 'one-island, one-resort' concept
  • Localised experiences are becoming increasingly popular. Offering such activities can help guests engage with the environment they're in while offering locals a deeper understanding of their heritage
  • Providing amenities that can be used by both tourists and locals can also help to integrate the two groups while sparking a sense of community 

 

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