IN CONVERSATION with SONIKA ADLAKHA


Interviews
Sonika Adlakha, Director of Sales and Marketing (DOSM), Outrigger Konotta Maldives Resort
PUBLISHED June 17, 2020 | updated September 15, 2020 00:49

Some properties are endowed with an innate ability to transport guests into a world of their own. Outrigger Konotta Maldives Resort enjoys a remote location in the uncrowded Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, less than 31 miles north of the Equator. Unlike many other Maldives resorts, where there are many other hotels nearby, and diving boats can often be seen sailing by, this resort feels totally undisturbed. This month we had the privilege of speaking with Sonika Adlakha, Director of Sales and Marketing at Outrigger Konotta Maldives Resort, to gain some insight into what goes into the resort’s secret formula.


1. Please tell us a few words about your career in the hospitality industry? How did it all begin?


Travel runs in my DNA. So, when the time came to decide upon what I really want to do with my life, it’s no surprise that I chose the hospitality industry. It’s an alluring world of its own, with opulence one can only imagine. Where else can you romance with the sense of fascination, the scent of oven-fresh bread, the warmth of the ocean, the aromas of luxury, the cool breeze of style, the symphony of best in wine and dine and the everlasting affair with hospitality. 


I started my journey from Housekeeping — climbing up the ladder to Front Office and eventually Sales & Marketing; moving from one department to another, diversifying across hotels and countries. For me personally, it still holds its charm, even after two decades.


2. What’s your vision for the Outrigger brand and how do you ensure it stands out in a competitive marketplace like the Maldives, which is flooded with upscale properties? 


Preserving and cultivating the high standards of our products and services have always been a priority for us. It’s heartening to see our patrons reaching out to us during this sensitive time, reminding us of the remarkable and unforgettable experiences we helped them create at Outrigger, during their stay with us. Their constant support strengthens our beliefs and our dedication to help serve them better once we re-open.  


We have always prioritized exclusivity, privacy and safety for our guests while ensuring they indulge in their intimate moments in the lap of luxury. Our villas offer space, privacy and luxury all clubbed at an unmatched price. To enhance their experience, we have in-room dining and tailor-made spa and yoga facilities upon request. Also, our culinary A la carte offerings ensure that each guest’s needs are catered to as per their palate and desire.


We are glad to be recognized for ensuring the highest levels of satisfaction for our guests along with our sustained commitment to nurture the world around us. Sustainability has always been at the heart of how we interact with the world. We strive for excellence in hospitality and commitment towards sustainability.


3. The coronavirus pandemic has underscored Maldives’ tourism vulnerability. Do you believe in the need for a new "destination branding" that will focus on the recovery of the leisure tourism sector?


The Coronavirus COVID-19 has brought an unprecedented amount of social, financial and political uncertainty around the world. And whenever there has been any global instability, tourism is always the first sector to get affected. Maldives is no exception; this is happening all around us. Thus far, it’s the worst anyone has experienced at such a global scale, as far as memory serves. Destination marketing services will see a drastic shift and strategies are being devised as we speak, to analyse and combat the situation at hand and roll the travel and hospitality industry back in to action. As an outcome of our continuous interactions with our partners around the globe, we are likely to roll out several new initiatives to begin the process of healing and recovery. The actual impact is still too early to predict and project upon; as of now everyone’s wellbeing is the only thing that matters. The recovery will be slow, but we are certain to bounce back, once the crisis eases.


4. Many women in hospitality leadership roles struggle to achieve a work/life balance. How have you made it work for you? 


I personally feel that it’s, more often than not, self-inflicted, and one needs to focus on the possibilities more than the roadblocks. It’s empowering, seeing women constantly pushing the boundaries to influence and seize the opportunity. I was fortunate early in my career to have mentors who really put me out there and let me do things the way I believed in, which otherwise wouldn’t have happened. I feel more than their faith in me, my self-belief accelerated my career and confidence tremendously.


However, old mindsets are yet to take a backseat when it comes to providing equal opportunities to women in leadership roles, especially in our industry. The challenges, more or less remain the same regardless of geography. Men are more mobile, more flexible with work hours, more accepted for their bluntness, more likely to give an instant yes, while women are “expected” to take a lot of factors into consideration before accepting or declining. In a lot of instances, in spite of giving in equal hours, women are “expected” to cater to all the household needs, while the same expectation doesn’t imply to the man.


5. During mid-March this year, Outrigger Hotels and Resorts launched a revitalised rewards programme, “Outrigger Expert Advisor”, which offers several benefits to Australian agents. Do you see the programme open for agents outside Australia anytime soon? 


The Outrigger Expert Advisor — our revitalized agent reward system — offers multiple benefits for the worldwide agents of all Outrigger properties. Redesigned by our Hawaii-based Senior VP of Global Sales, Chris Riccardi, it now offers more value to our agents and simplifies the process of rewarding the longstanding loyalty and commitment Outrigger receives from the trade industry. Agents can become an Outrigger Expert Advisor by enrolling in an online course and once completed, they can earn unlimited reward points on Outrigger bookings through a wholesaler, GDS, phone or website, to redeem for accommodation at selected Outrigger properties. The new OEA program applies globally, not just within Australia.


6. What challenges and opportunities face the brand regionally and globally?


The challenges and opportunities of yesterday no long hold any weightage in times to come. The leisure and hospitality industry is facing the current dilemma as a family and everyone’s equally impacted. Only once the situation starts melting, will we truly know what challenges one needs to prepare for and what opportunities one can seize.


Being a leisure resort brand, with all Outrigger properties located on tropical islands including Maldives, Mauritius, Hawaii, Fiji, Phuket, Koh Samui and Guam we also need to keep a tab on the crucial role our airline partners will play in times to come.


7. There is a lot of buzz surrounding talent attrition emerging as a big problem. How do you look at it? What steps are you adopting to cater to the problem?


It always hurts when talented people leave, but not always can it not be avoided. Employees are ready to hop, skip and jump to any hotel, sometimes just for meagre sums or titles, without taking into consideration the career growth prospects or the opportunities their current brand could offer in times to come. While, sometimes the lack of vision lies at the employee end, sometimes it’s the senior leadership failing to communicate the same. 


At Outrigger Konotta Maldives, we believe that communication is the key to growth and sustainability, as is training and development, ensuring retention with evolved engagement, accepting and embracing the new age values and work culture, transparent work culture, celebrating the cultural potpourri, career counselling, an open channel of communication and most importantly Z.T.P. (Zero Tolerance Policy). Our retention ratio is quite high and we also emphasize on working without local communities as part of our team and as well as third party.


8. What will Outrigger Konotta Maldives Resort’s guests rave about to their family and friends?


Ours is a story driven by an unceasing passion for customer service and satisfaction. And while we are truly blessed with a landscape that is unparalleled, we add value to the way people connect and engage with each other.


Over the years people have appreciated our efforts towards sustainability and our care for the environment and local communities. For our eye to anticipate the needs of our customers and to care for them. For our enviable sense of joie de vivre. For the extra mile we are willing to walk just to see that smile of customer satisfaction. For the breathtaking views. For the un-urban adventure. For our personalized recreational activities (yoga and spa). For the sinful flavours (our a la carte preparations are a talk of the town). For an unforgettable tale of exceptional hospitality. For respecting and securing your privacy. For that personal touch. For the ultimate in luxury and hospitality.


9. Three years ago, you unveiled the OZONE Hut - a homegrown initiative focusing on the property’s efforts to spread awareness on environment conservation and preservation of marine life. Please tell us about the philosophy behind the Outrigger brand’s focus on environmental sustainability?


You can’t really separate Sun, Sea, Sand and Sustainability. What a disaster it would be if the generations to come don’t get to soak into this privilege that nature has bestowed upon us. At Outrigger we are extremely proud of the steps we have taken towards sustainable living and at the same time are geared up to advance those steps in years to come. 


The sea is part of our DNA, and its stewardship is a responsibility we take seriously. Outrigger Konotta Maldives has unveiled the OZONE Hut, an initiative under its environment conservation and sustainability programmes. 


Our OZONE (Outrigger’s ZONE) conservation initiative was launched to protect our oceans and coral reef from unnatural damage and help them to thrive for generations to come. We are committed to marine education and conservation through various platforms. 


Conceived under the OZONE initiative, the OZONE Hut is a homegrown project created to spread awareness on environment conservation, and especially on preservation of marine life. It’s been built — using recycled materials like empty glass bottles, plywood and dried thatch from palm trees for the roofing — to organize environmental campaigns, host presentations on the importance of preserving our natural habitat and address similar causes. We have also been a serious advocate of sustainable diving and replanting corals.


10. What advice can you give to other women aspiring to achieve leadership roles in the tourism and hospitality industry?


Don’t be scared to give things a go, as the fear of failure is just in your head. You are as good as the decision you make and the inputs you include before making them.


 

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