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an interview with south asia general manager finalist marteyne van well

 

“One can fall and that is okay. What is important is you own to the mistakes made. Get up, learn from it, make amends, shake it off, and go back to work.”

 

1. Can you describe your childhood and where and when your initial interest in hospitality began?

I come from a very “hospitable” family but not one where my parents found careers in the hospitality industry. My father was a General Practitioner with a large doctor’s surgery in our home and my mother was a trained (but not practicing) attorney. Both of my two brothers and I had a content, joyful childhood and a wonderful upbringing in the Netherlands. The success of my parents was hard-won with dedicated work. All throughout university, my father worked at my grandfather’s hotel and restaurant in a small Dutch city, Zoetermeer. When he began his practice, he started it with no financial support from the family. For both of my parents, the cup was always half full and they made it a point to work hard, give back and forge a successful path in life.

My late parents are my greatest role models and likely, my biggest supporters. They both modelled healthy relationships and encouraged us to follow our passion, and work hard at it too. They taught us to be responsible, showed us unconditional love and encouraged us to give back, share and be someone special for someone else.

It was under serendipitous circumstances that I discovered my passion for the hospitality industry. Right before then, I was all set to pursue a career in sports and had even enrolled in the Sports Academy. During that time, my parents did not think that athletics was the best choice for my career and encouraged me to look at alternatives. I was inspired by a General Manager who led a restaurant where I worked on weekends to apply for the Hotel school at The Hague (I did it more to please my parents than to seriously consider it as an option).

As fortune would have it, I was accepted by both the Hotelschool and the Sports Academy. In the week leading up to the day when I had to make a choice between sports or hospitality, I had a fairly serious bike accident and ended up spending two months in hospital with a concussion. The Sports Academy was consequently no longer an option (at least not for the immediate two or three years) and so I joined the Hotel School in The Hague.

I enrolled in the Hotel School at The Hague in 1983 and graduated four years later. My internship took me first to the UK (the former Inter-Continental at Grosvenor Square) and next to the US (the former Sonesta Village Hotel). Once I graduated, I landed a job at the Inter-Continental Hyde Park Corner. Blessed by pure luck, Mr. Graham Jeffreys, the GM at Inter-Continental at the time, was transferred to the Intercontinental The Willard in Washington D.C. and I “pestered” him to bring me along! He offered me a three-month internship at the Willard and challenged me to prove my worth in order to secure a permanent role. Three months turned into four and a half years and it was a wonderful experience covering everything from Front Office to Reservations and finally into Diplomatic Sales.

From the Willard, I moved to the Plaza Hotel in NYC (again, in Diplomatic and International Sales). That experience, and the relationships made there, temporarily diverted me from the hospitality industry, while I took on a role as a celebrity’s personal assistant.

Despite taking a temporarily leave from the hospitality industry, it continued to be my main passion and I returned to the industry for a position as the Director of Diplomatic Affairs at the New York Palace Hotel. When September 11 happened, I wanted to move closer to Europe and my roots. I subsequently landed a role as the Opening Director of Sales & Marketing for two Millennium Hotels in Morocco. Next, a period followed where I worked in the Bahamas (a move to Operational Management), Morocco (running a private riad in Marrakech), then in the French and Swiss Alps where I ran operations for ski chalets, and finally, 11 years ago, I found my niche in the hospitality industry. At last, I felt truly at home and in harmony with the ethos of Six Senses.

Reflecting back at the people I have met and the places I have been able to visit, I consider myself incredibly fortunate and I am truly grate for everything I have experienced through my career!

 

2. What opportunities have you experienced that you feel have been the most valuable part of your career development as a hotelier?

I consider myself very blessed to have found my way to the role of General Manager at Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives. I am mindful that I have a lot of people to thank for assisting me over the years, and developing me into the manager I am today.

Maria Razumich-Zec, the Regional Vice- President, General Manager of The Peninsula Chicago, is someone to whom I owe a great deal of gratitude to. Maria is an inspirational leader who I had the pleasure of working for at the New York Palace as the Director of Tower Sales. Maria is a natural leader who, through her actions, demonstrates that people matter; that your work, your attitude, your input and your outlook matter.

She takes care of her employees and makes everyone feel a part of the greater good. She encourages people to be creative and not to be afraid of sharing their ideas. Her actions as a leader taught me not to be afraid of thinking outside the box and taking chances. But most of all, as a leader, she makes people understand that mistakes happen. One can fall and that is okay. What is important, is not to put your head in the sand like an ostrich and ignore the mistakes made. Instead, you should own it. Get up, learn from it, make amends, shake it off, and go back to work.

One of Maria’s motto is “your reputation and integrity are everything. Follow through on what you say you are going to do. Your credibility can only be built over time, and it is built from the history of your words and actions”. She was a great mentor and I am proud to now call her a dear friend.

Aside from meeting inspirational mentors, in my role at Six Sense, I have the opportunity to work with fantastic people and make a difference in the world. As an avid scuba diver, keen underwater photographer, and passionate advocate for the environment, with the support of our owners and Six Senses Management, we not only set up and operate our own 5-star PADI dive center (an activity often outsourced by resorts in the Maldives) but we created MUI, the Maldives Underwater Initiative. Our aim is to be change-makers in the Maldives and drive sustainable practices, on land and underwater. MUI is one of the largest marine biology forces in the Maldives and our team carries out research, education and community work in a wide range of initiatives across the Atoll.

Our research spans across many fields, including seagrass conservation and monitoring, active coral reef restoration, coral reef monitoring and megafauna research. MUI also works closely with the Laamu Atoll community, raising awareness of the importance of marine life. This includes setting up a marine educational program for local schools, quarterly meetings with the Laamu Atoll council, and raising awareness of the importance of turtles and plastic pollution through an annual turtle festival.

To be able to combine my passion for marine conservation and sustainability with my passion for the hospitality business while working with an incredible group of passionate people (at the resort, within Six Senses and our owners) is a dream come true. Like I often say, “I am living the dream and incredibly grateful for it!”

 

3. Can you share one particular memory that you have experienced during your time as a hotelier that made you realise this was the right industry for you?

I am not certain that there was one single event or experience that made me go “this is it – this is the reason why I know this industry is right for me”. I think you grow into it and it is time that makes the experience that much more powerful. It is over the years that your gratitude grows for having been given the opportunity to do this.

An example that comes to mind happened in the summer of last year. We had a particularly bad week during our rainy season (a period that traditionally does bring rain but seldom for hours or days on end). We had an unfortunate week of truly torrential rains, tremendous winds and just really incredibly bad weather. In my six years here at that time, I had never seen such horrid conditions. Guests could not do anything outdoors and just a walk to and from our large overwater areas would drench anyone who crossed.

Outdoor dinners had to be cancelled, no outdoor yoga and even dives and snorkel excursions were cancelled as the weather brought terribly rough seas. We felt absolutely terrible for our guests who came here to enjoy a relaxing time. To confront the situation at hand, the team got together and made sure that during these difficult and unusual times, the guest experience would be as good as it can be.

Needless to say, guests did not travel to the Maldives for this kind of weather and our empathy for our guests was enormous.

About ten days after these terrible storms passed, I received a hand-written letter from a guest (writing on behalf of her husband and three teenage children). She wrote that they had saved for years to take this family vacation (a last vacation before all their kids left home to live on their own and start their own careers and families). They had dreamed of coming to the Maldives and visit a paradise with wondrous weather, and yet they had a misfortunate experience with the weather. She then proceeded to tell me that, despite the storms, they had the best family vacation ever! They were so touched by the empathy of the team and the efforts of each and every host who was trying to ensure that they – and all other guests – were as comfortable as possible. They connected with the hosts, not just as employees but as individuals. We had touched their hearts and left them with priceless memories.

Sharing feedback like such with the team and seeing the impact we made on these guests truly help you realise that you are doing something right and this industry is right for you. As my parents always said, “You are not someone until you are someone for someone else.” This very experience epitomizes why I wake up every morning.

 

4. What attracted you to apply for Stelliers and what does the platform mean to you and your team?

Truth be told, I looked into Stelliers not for myself, but for my team. I am privileged to work with an incredible group of people, who are committed and keen to ensure that not only our guests have an extraordinary experience, but also one that is excellent for our hosts. Our care does not stop at the resort but extends to the local communities and our marine environment. We have received some wonderful recognition for the team. This past year, the MUI (Maldives Underwater Initiative) won numerous awards, including Skål International’s Sustainable Tourism Awards in the Marine & Coastal Category, Green Hotelier’s Community Award, and Maldives Travel Award’s Leading Eco-Resort.

It was with this in mind that we looked into Stelliers to see if we could highlight some of our efforts and further celebrate our success. When reviewing the various categories, the team suggested we apply for General Manager too. I was touched by the support of my team and felt honoured to be one of the finalists of Stelliers. More than this, I am so incredibly proud of our team; to see our hosts, an amazing group of individuals from 27 different nationalities and equally as many different backgrounds and ages, come together and shine! It is the team that makes my job akin to “living the dream!”

The team deserve all the credit and praise for the incredible work they do each day. It is our hosts who are behind my success every day. If I were to win this award, it would be an award for them.

 

 

5. How are you planning on leveraging this opportunity to inspire the younger generation in Asia to work harder at developing their career in the hospitality scene?

Stelliers brings together the top achievers in the hospitality industry in a wide range of roles and responsibilities. This award provides even more motivation to continue to do what we do and continuously improve. Through this opportunity, we want to touch the hearts and the minds of the next generation of future hotelier leaders. We want to inspire and help the next generation find and follow their dreams; help guide them to a path which makes certain that what they do matters, a path that makes certain that they do something they care deeply about.

Here at Six Senses Laamu, we work to inspire the next generation of Maldivians by offering internships, especially in the field of marine conservation and sustainability. Through this program, our objective is so that they too can be stewards of their own environment. So many children, especially young girls, who do not know how to swim and thus have never experienced the magical underwater world that we adore, could explore and learn more about their habitat! If we can get these kids in the water, comfortable with swimming and snorkeling, then perhaps they will realize what incredible nature they have right in their own backyard. We hope that the experience would motivate them to help conserve the environment for their children and grandchildren. It is this rewarding work that, at the end of the day, makes it all worth it.

Someone wise once said “Work is expending effort on things we don’t want to do. Passion is expending energy on thinks we love to do. The goal is to do no work!” With that said, I hope we can help the next generation of leaders achieve that goal!

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