Thomas Weber is an elegant and mature hotelier who joined Dusit Thani Maldives in September 2019, with a portfolio of international experience leading pre-opening and operational hotels for brands such as Sun International, Hilton, Mövenpick and The Leela. Having a rich pedigree in international hotel management, Thomas Weber has enriched the iconic Dusit Thani Maldives with his 25 years of operational excelllence. The islandchief team spoke exclusively with Mr. Thomas about his principles, ideas, future plans and, of course, Dusit Thani Maldives.
1. You are being appointed as the General Manager of the Dusit Thani Maldives since late Quarter 3, 2019; with extensive knowledge over 25 years of experience leading pre-opening and operational hotel brands. As a GM with regional experience, how would you define your personal leadership style?
Having worked for many years in the area surrounding the Indian Ocean – South Africa, Kenya, Goa, and the Maldives – I was fortunate to meet, learn, and gain experience from people living close to the sea. I think it’s essential to get to know each destination’s local culture, customs, and traditions; only then can you fine-tune your understanding of what is important in that particular culture.
Since my early days as a GM, I’ve always focused on collaboration and relationship-oriented style leadership. I am a strong believer that happy employees deliver happy service, resulting in happy guests. To achieve this, all employees should be respected and treated equally. Every single team member has an important role to play, and we all depend on the performance of each other to be successful.
2. In response to the increasingly health-conscious aspirations of its guests and with a deep commitment to their ongoing wellbeing, how effective are the Dusit Thani Wellness Solutions, and how do you enhance its ancient influences, approach and practices in this modern world?
One of the core pillars of Dusit’s unique brand of gracious hospitality is ‘well-being.’ In line with Dusit’s group-wide Devarana Wellness concept, which aims to deliver holistic well-being beyond the spa, we integrate wellness throughout our entire resort operation. Throughout the guest journey at Dusit Thani Maldives, we have implemented mindful touchpoints to meet the aspirational health needs of guests – and provide the luxurious feeling that comes from de-stressing, detoxing, and getting a good night’s sleep.
Part of the way we incorporate the ancient influence of the Devarana Wellness concept is through massage therapies and treatments inspired by traditional Thai healing wisdom and the spirit of Buddhist wellness principles. And the younger generation is especially receptive to different and holistic experiences while on our island.
3. Located at Baa Atoll Muhdhoo -The Maldives’ first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – how has your contributions to the Biosphere reserve manifested recently in the overall environmental challenges in the Maldives?
According to UNESCO, Baa Atoll Biosphere supports one of the largest groups of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean and acts as a steppingstone for transporting planktonic larvae and reef organisms from the western and eastern Indian Ocean. The atoll consists of several habitats that support its rich biodiversity. This includes coral reefs, islands, seagrass beds, and mangroves.
We highlight the existence of this special protected area in all our communications. Our CSR manager is also conducting sessions for guests and employees to raise awareness about the area and our ongoing efforts to protect it – such as growing our own selected ingredients and promoting sustainable fishing methods among local fishermen. These small steps may have a big impact on the future of the conservation of the Maldives.
4. Dusit Thani has achieved many prestigious National and International Awards such as; Hotel of the year 2017, Hotel of the Year 2018, Haute Grandeur Global Excellence Awards 2019. what are your biggest achievements for Dusit Thani in its quest for recognitions and winning awards?
The fact we welcome many repeat guests is one of our biggest achievements. Another is our employees. Fifty-five of them have been working for Dusit Thani Maldives since the day the resort opened in September 2012, and it is thanks to the commitment of all our excellent employees that we have won so many awards and received great guest feedback. We believe great guest feedback is more valuable than any trophy in a cabinet. That is why we focus on constantly delivering great and memorable experiences for guests. We want to ensure they have such a wonderful time that not only do they want to return, but they want to experience other Dusit Hotels and Resorts worldwide too.
5. Called Thai heritage in combination with warm Maldivian friendly culture, Dusit Thani always shares the Maldivian experience to another level by sharing knowledge of the country’s culture, history, environment and cuisine in special activities designed to create long-lasting memories for international visitors; how effectively have these goals reached its ultimatum?
We are constantly evolving and creating new localised experiences, and I am very proud of the Maldivian employees creating and bringing these events to life. Starting with the Maldivian fisherman’s dinner experience, we have now gone further and offer a local island gourmet experience at a friend’s house on a small nearby island. The owner of the house prepares authentic, typical, and traditional dishes using local ingredients. Our guests sit in her garden and can chit chat with the other family members. Guests can’t get more intimate exposure to the friendly and generous Maldivian culture than this. Our guests are delighted with this experience and are thankful to have such a unique opportunity. Alongside the delicious food, they relish the private insights and learnings they discover while dining. We are also delighted to directly support a local family startup, which may become one of the top local restaurants in the future.
6. Managers work efficiently and effectively to ensure that stay of every guest is painless & untroublesome, yet issues arise; how would you handle disgruntled guests who are not satisfied with the service provided or how do you weigh your extended resolutions for the guests?
We are all humans, and no one is perfect. Making mistakes is part of lifelong learning and helps to improve one’s personality and performance. Having been in the industry for decades, I can say that guests, in general, have become more demanding, with higher expectations, and lower levels of tolerance and humbleness.
The constant demand for more for less, the increase of instant information, and the occasional mindset that ‘everything must be available anytime, anywhere, at the lowest cost, and just for myself’ are just some of the challenges we face in the service industry.
Of course, this does not apply to all travellers. Hospitality is also here to enable people to slow down, be mindful, and appreciate even tiny details. And the Maldives is an excellent destination for travellers seeking to escape the hectic pace of everyday life and find a bit of inner peace.
Should we ever have an unhappy guest, the top priority is to respond immediately and ensure we deliver what we promised. Better yet, we should seek to go further and be generous in the solutions we provide. At the end of the stay, the guest must leave with the intention to return and stay again.
7. What are the latest development activities by your established activity centers and conservation programmes; especially at Hanifaru Bay?
We are working very closely with SUMAS Sustainability Management School in Switzerland on various sustainability and environmental projects. Very soon, a new graduate from this school will join our team here to continue our CSR efforts, including introducing new initiatives to reduce the resort’s CO2 footprint, and working closely with the local island communities to assist them in their efforts too. We are investing in these initiatives to truly be part of making a difference – both as a company, and as individuals.
Hanifaru Bay is of utmost importance to us since we are only eight minutes away from this amazing location. Many guests staying with us during this time of the year are here to swim with the Mantas, and are her specifically to experience this soul-touching, once in a lifetime event.
In close cooperation with the Park Rangers at Hanifaru Bay, we make sure guests are aware of the do’s and don’ts and behave in the water accordingly. We also avoid too many people swimming with the gentle giants at the same time. Our local guides from the Ocean Dive Center are very well trained and are proud to showcase their own country’s natural treasure.
8. In Dusit Thani Maldives resort, it is a hotel of promising and extremely merry experience for guests for festive seasons; programmes and observances such as Baa Atoll Manta Festival and other festivals. What are your exclusive privileges for the upcoming seasons, observances and how successful will these festivals be in this year 2022?
The inter-resort combined festivals of the past are unfortunately not planned for this year. I guess everyone is very busy taking care of their own resorts following all the ups and downs in the markets recently. It needs a combined effort from the Baa Atoll GMs to bring these events back to life.
The planning for the festive season has already been started by our Director of F&B, Mohamed Azeem, and our Executive Chef, Paul King, who are putting together another mesmerising programme for the end of this year. Before that, we have many other smaller events lined up – including the next one, Eid ul Adha.
Always embedded in the planning of experiences are the four pillars of Dusit Graciousness: Service (personalised and gracious), Well-Being (delivering wellness experiences beyond the spa), Locality (uniquely linking guests with the local community), and Sustainability (social, economic, and environmental).
9. What do you consider to be the biggest challenge faced to our Tourism industry in the Maldives and the World at large?
The pandemic has certainly affected the travel industry in the past two years, but perhaps one of the biggest challenges that global tourism is facing comes from climate change.
Destinations, travel companies, and resort companies must be aware that travellers coming to the Maldives are more socially and environmentally conscious than ever. This will only become more prevalent in the next few years, especially among younger guests in their mid-20s to 30s.
People want resort companies that are genuinely responsible; that actually stand for something; that honestly become part of the change to improve the environment and communities they operate in; and that give back more than they take.
It is also very encouraging to see that young local people are much more educated about sustainability and protecting their islands and waters. We see this in the local school we are supporting, which has educational sessions about waste, and many pictures and posters highlighting the seriousness of this topic.
According to Sustainable Travel International, “tourism alone is responsible for 8% of the world’s carbon emissions.” With cheap flights readily available again, and more and more people travelling around the world again, this is only likely to increase.
They also report that “air travel emissions increased by 32% in recent years. If emissions continue to grow, sea levels could rise by up to 3.6 feet by 2100. Severe coral bleaching is happening 5x more frequently than in past decades already. Alpine resorts could lose 70% of their snow by the end of the century.”
In August, The IPCC (Intergovernmental Protocol on Climate Change) released their report on climate change, and it stuck a worrying chord. The BBC reported that it meant “A code red for humanity,” and The Guardian reported that “Major climate changes were inevitable and irreversible.”
With this in mind, we must all act now. And in the fight against climate change, every effort counts.
10. What distinguishes Dusit Thani from its competitors in the industry and what in your experience is a crucial trait for any member of the hospitality industry?
I get asked this question often, especially by travel agents who need to be able to distinguish between the resorts they are selling.
Dusit Thani Maldives has been in the business for 10 years this year. Therefore, it’s a well-established name here. We are different from others with our unique brand of Thai-inspired gracious hospitality – think polite, discrete, and reserved – combined with the distinctive Maldivian island culture. The island itself is unique, with very intact and undisturbed nature on the island and the house reef.
The most important traits in the service industry are genuine passion for serving others well, dedication to customer satisfaction and cultural awareness, willingness to take on challenges, a good portion of self-discipline, and patience to climb the career ladder. It’s also important to develop skills related to emotional intelligence to manage yourself, limit stress, and enhance other non-technical aptitudes.
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