In Conversation With Stefan Huemer, GM at Intercontinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort

The InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort opened in September and is a place ideal for those wishing to escape from busy life and reconnect with themselves and be at one with nature in this stunning resort. In this Q&A we learn more about  Stefan Huemer, an experienced hotelier and GM at the InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort. He’s worked for the likes of The Dorchester and Mandarin Oriental, so knows a thing or two about luxury hotels. Read on to find out more.

Tell us more about your career and the journey to your current role.

My career in hospitality began over 25 years ago in my parents’ hotel, and I’ve since worked with a range of prestigious brands across Europe, USA, Asia, the Middle East and China. I’ve honed my skills whilst working for industry leaders such as Goldener Hirsch-Luxury Collection, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, Manila and the Hotel Adlon Kempinski, and I then rose to the helm at Wanda Hotels & Resorts, Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts and InterContinental Beverly Hills. Most recently, I re-joined InterContinental to launch the new flagship and halo property, InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort.

Your career in the hospitality space spans over 25 years – how do you think luxury travel has changed during this time?

First and foremost, the entire travel industry has changed, the economy changed, the perception of luxury has changed and value for money became a large factor. Luxury vs. five-star became much more identified and highlighted. The modern and intelligent luxury travellers, as we call them, are much more concerned about the environment and they are more interested in sustainability.

We left the hotel business a long time ago and became operators that create experiences rather than putting heads on beds. The channel management these days is much more advanced with all the intelligence and market components from OTAs, wholesale to FIT and mice. Technology in all areas catapulted our industry from an old fashion “guest host” scenario into a “state of the art” century where communications and information, as well as compatibility, became a minimum requirement and standard. With these evolution factors in mind, it is my determination to create personal engagement and personalised service. Know your guest, make them feel that they are the only person on planet earth. Don’t see them as a guest but see them as an ambassador for your brand and care for them from the bottom of your heart.

You opened the Intercontinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort in August 2019 – what sets it apart from other luxury hotels in the Maldives?

InterContinental Hotels Group is one of the leading hotel companies, and we offer the first and only All-Club InterContinental experience. We combine the world-class service the brand is renowned for, with a deep respect for the delicate and complex marine ecosystems in which the resort is situated.

Our location is very special – we are located near the Maldives’ only UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve which is home to Hanifaru Bay, one of the very few places in the world where visitors can snorkel amongst feeding congregations of whale sharks and large groups reef manta rays. The resort is perfectly placed for those who love marine life.

It’s also a haven for wellness seekers – the signature AVI Spa features six overwater treatment villas as well as steam rooms, ice fountains, a yoga pavilion and a fitness centre. We have our own in-house traditional Chinese medicine doctor who uses the pillars of Chinese wellness to restore harmony and balance for guests through various treatments.

However, what I am most proud about is that I have selected one of the finest teams worldwide, not only in the Maldives. We had over 5,000 applicants and chose only 350 of them. We didn’t just hire team members that fit the job description, I made it a point to select each one in the final stage in order to put team members together who complement each other. A team with their heart in the right place, no negative force, no jealousy and no politics. These negative components make a workplace unpleasant; it also demotivates, reflects on experience and eventually harms the business. We have the finest, most educated, dedicated and committed team members I have ever seen in any hotel or resort around the world and this is our single most critical component to have become the #1 hotel worldwide in guest satisfaction for IHG.

Read our guide to the best luxury hotels in the Maldives

You hold a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Leadership and Sustainability from Harvard Business School. Sustainable travel is hot on the agenda at the moment – what is the Intercontinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort doing to look after its environment and how important is this to you?

Leadership: To answer your question before we go into detail: My main aim during my studies was multicultural management. I decided on this topic because I have worked with at least 17-24 nationalities in my hotels or multiple properties in my carrier. I was always determined to find a way to motivate every nationality and ethnic group to the same level.

It is important to understand the roots of your team members, to know your team like you know your guests, to read them and feel with them. It’s important to value and respect their needs and become a part of them. My dissertation was published in the Harvard Business Review as this field has not been explored enough yet. We had a turnover of less than 2% over the last 12 months, which is the result of a calculated evaluation before hiring, identifying the right talent and strength and weakness profiles, which play a very critical part in an organisation like an engine. All parts need to function as if one does not, the engine stops.

Sustainability: InterContinental Maldives is focused on minimising its environmental impact with several commitments to plastic reduction and glass recycling, composting organic waste and giving it new life with the IHG Green Engage system. We use a heat exchanger system to generate hot water with zero energy. We recycle glass and reuse it to create bricks and generate new glassware.

We’ve also entered into an agreement with Parley Maldives, which works to reduce reliance on single-use plastics, intercept sources of plastic waste, and prevent it from entering the oceans or being disposed of in destructive ways. Parley will take the resort’s plastics and recycle them to make usable products such as shoes. I have selected one of the finest products in the world for our spa product, a product that is fully organic and amazing in feel, effect and smell. A product that has become THE sustainable product supported by a large range of celebrities, influencers and green engage organisation. Leonardo DiCaprio invested in research that lead to the result in this brand called Eminence. Every product in Maamunagau has a story. No product was chosen because of the price only.

One of our primary focuses is caring for the environment – something that is a personal passion of mine. The marine life and nature surrounding us is so precious; we are committed to protecting it so that we can continue to enjoy and learn from it.

We’ve established two partnerships with the Ocean Group and Manta Trust to promote marine diversity and research at the resort. We’ve employed the skills of dedicated Marine Biologist, Maria Andersen, who has worked closely with the Manta Trust and Ocean Group to develop a first-of-its-kind programme for guests. They can fully-immerse themselves in the world of marine conservation through a range of hands-on activities, which includes tracking mantas, replanting coral and attending evening talks.

In addition to this, the Manta Trust-led programme, “Adopt a Manta” allows guests of InterContinental Maldives to name new mantas and track them as they migrate around the Maldives. 100% of the funds generated by the “Adopt a Manta” programme go directly to the Manta Trust, which funds a holistic approach to protecting manta rays.

How do you think the discussion around sustainability is changing travellers’ attitudes towards travel?

Hospitality is one of the industries that actively supports sustainable efforts with our messages of “eco-travel” or “sustainable travel”. Aside from the fact that the topic is of very high importance to me personally, sustainability is a global agenda, which we collectively must address. In the beautiful and fragile Maldives, we have the perfect background to help educate the communities such as locals, team members from all over the world and guide travellers that their action can directly impact the environment. By supporting the companies that support sustainability, together we can contribute to reduce loss of natural resources and use human created waste to turn into energy.

The resort offers an in-house traditional Chinese medicine doctor and the overwater AVI Spa. In your time working in hospitality, have you seen a change in travellers’ attitude towards wellness when on holiday?

Well, The TCM doctor was my personal invention with a specific person I met many years ago. Kenny is not only a very fine TCM practitioner, he is a benefit to any individual with his wealth of knowledge and wisdom. He is more a guru than a TCM doctor. I don’t want to call it wellness, I rather see a trend in guests focusing more and more on health rather than just beauty and relaxation. The world is changing fast since the internet became the centre of business and the human mechanism is not as fast as it should be these days with recuperating. We all want to look good, but this can only happen if we are healthy and with TCM we have so many options to achieve that without the pharma industry.

What is your top tip for someone travelling to the Maldives?

Try to leave the troubles at home and be open to accept, realise the beauty and allow your senses to detox. Don’t focus on “all day” values, don’t allow stress to enter your day, don’t be competitive, don’t look for faults and mistakes, just allow mother nature to do its job and let us do the rest for you.

Are there any destinations still left on your bucket list?

The entire world…

What epitomises luxury travel for you?

Luxury is time. Time is the only component in life we cannot buy. At InterContinental Maldives we are committed to making your time memorable and unforgettable. Memories are the food and fuel for the hard days to come. Marble, gold, silver and an exclusive feel is a given in our level but our guests take home the taste, the smell, the feel and the expressions they remember.

What is your life motto?

I treat everyone in the same way I want to be treated. Respect is the key to many problems before they even come up.

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