Althaf Mohamed Ali Chief Operating Officer Of Pulse Hotels & Resorts On Why The Group’s Maldives Resorts Are Unique

Lindsay Judge   |   18-11-2023

The Maldives has firmly established itself as the ultimate paradise destination in Africa and Asia. With a scattering of islands across the ocean, this previously untouched land has, over the last few decades, become the go-to location for ultra-high-end travellers looking for the holiday of a lifetime. But with so many luxury resorts now in the Maldives, the question of how to stay ahead of the game and differentiate from competitors is the one on everyone’s lips. In 2015, Pulse Hotels and Resorts became a newcomer on the scene, with the vision of creating luxury resorts that offered a different experience from anything else in the country. A subsidiary of Deep Blue Private Limited, which has decades of experience creating successful Maldivian resorts, Pulse is an umbrella brand for a range of innovative and contemporary destinations that are built upon their core philosophy of being smart, playful, rooted and responsible. The company prides itself on being creators of extraordinary experiences and using innovative thinking to develop hotels, resorts and properties that are intelligent and inspiring. With three resorts already in operation and some exciting plans in the pipeline, we talked to Althaf Mohamed Ali, Chief Operating Officer to find out more.

Pulse started its journey in 2015 with a vision to create something different to the cookie-cutter approach that many Maldives resorts have. We look at the approach of the Maldives as much more than the ‘sunny side of life’, it’s a 360 destination which offers so much more than just sun, sea and sand, and that’s what we want to share.

The visionaries behind Pulse were pioneers in the hospitality industry for many years. Our late founder comes from the first family of hospitality in the Maldives – his family started tourism in the country in 1971, building the first hotel. One of their properties, Baros, also just celebrated 50 years. While still part of the family group, he also wanted to pursue his interest in the hospitality industry and develop something different, and that’s how Pulse came into being.

The vision behind Pulse was to offer a more fun and experiential journey in showcasing the Maldives as opposed to the stereotypical experience. The first property based on this vision was Kandima where we brought in the lifestyle concept. We didn’t want the resort to be just a resort, but rather a destination in itself, where people could come and find there are many things to do so they don’t get bored (something which unfortunately can happen in the Maldives). We wanted to offer a curated experience where clients are not bored even though they are confined to a limited land area. They should have the option of having a very wholesome and fulfilled experience.

So, we brought this lifestyle concept to our resorts, which means that we offer a wholesome experience. Not only offering the best of the Maldives – the beautiful lagoons, the weather – but putting a lot of variety of choice. We brought in this concept of accommodation that would fit multiple demographics – be it honeymooners, large groups, young families, or older families – we have created ten different categories catering to a wide range of demographics. Along with that, we have ten restaurants on one island. So our customers are spoilt for choice. We also have exciting options for entertainment events and activities.

Our principles are based on fundamental core values whereby even though we have a diverse offering within our portfolio, we remain very connected to our heritage and Maldivian roots. We bring that ethos into our guest experience, and we allow our clients to experience the natural landscapes of the Maldives.

Tell us about the company’s commitment to being a responsible brand.

As a core philosophy, Pulse will always operate on natural islands; we do not operate on manmade islands. That is part of our commitment to being responsible to the environment that we exist in and part of our sustainability initiative.

The second part of this is the company’s commitment to contributing to the local community. In Kandima, we are the only resort in the Maldives that offers a dental facility for guests and the local community. It’s managed by an expert team in collaboration with a high-end hospital in Germany. We are also the only resort in the South of Maldives with a decompression chamber so that if anyone gets into trouble, especially local fishermen, they don’t have to go all the way to Male for treatment, which can be a life or death situation.

What other unique elements do your resorts have?

One of our other core values is to be playful and relaxed. For example, our check-in and check-out times are 24/7. So guests can arrive or leave any time they want. We use very relaxed and casual terminology, so instead of checking in and checking out, our guests rock-in and rock-out. The Pulse journey continues with this spirit throughout, and each of our resorts has a distinctive concept and story behind it.

Tell us about your wider portfolio of resorts today.

We already talked about Kandima; The Nautilus opened in 2019 and last year, we introduced a new concept called Nova. I will come back to Nautilus.

Nova is a dedicated resort catering to Millennials and Gen-Zs. It focuses on reconnecting with your soul and being more chilled. It’s a small resort, but it has one of the most sought-after diving destinations in the Maldives. Just 15 minutes away from the island, you can see whale sharks 365 days a year.

There is much more to come, and they will also feature the same philosophy of ‘how do we bring unique concepts and stories to our destinations, rather than just building another resort?’

The Maldives is one of the most loved destinations for Middle Eastern travellers; tell us about your client base from the Middle East and how you cater to them.

We have done a great deal of brand exposure and outreach, both within tour operator partners and our destination management companies, in curating an experience that will suit the Middle Eastern consumer and facilitating what would be convenient for them. We offer packages so that guests don’t need to worry about anything once they arrive at the resorts. Within that, we will include experiences, F&B, and transfers, so that our guests feel less stressed and don’t face any unpleasant surprises when they get to the islands. We have already quite a good market share within the GCC, of which, our top two markets are Saudi Arabia and the UAE. And, of course, connectivity to the Middle East is huge, and it remains one of our top three destinations in terms of focus. We also pay attention to detail to accommodate our Middle Eastern clients, such as having female butlers or Arabic-speaking staff.

How do you ensure you meet and go beyond customers’ needs today?

We go into understanding the DNA of every client demographic. Not necessarily in terms of where they come from but in terms of their lifestyle. We look at it from that perspective, and then we customise the experience based on their comfort factor. Our teams are constantly being trained and exposed to facilitate the needs of all cultures.

What can you tell us about The Nautilus Maldives – what makes this island different from other resorts?

When our founder looked at the ultra-luxury landscape, he found that even at the ultra-luxury level, there was always this question of ‘can I do this?’ When you look at the ultra-net-worth audience, what they are looking for from luxury is freedom. Freedom of choice to do what they want, when they want. In their personal lives, many of these people are under stress or guidelines, so when they go on holiday, they want to relax and not be disturbed. So with The Nautilus, we didn’t want to follow the regular rules around time. We don’t have set times for meals or experiences. It’s all about freedom. We wanted to change the status quo. We kept the resort at 26 units, so it’s manageable, and the first thing we did was to completely eliminate time. This means that when you visit, you completely lose the sense of time. For example, we say ‘eat when you’re hungry’. If you want breakfast at 4 pm, you shall have it! And we don’t determine which venue you eat in; there is complete flexibility to choose to eat wherever you wish.

In reality, even though the concept is called ‘private island’, in the Maldives, all the private islands come with a restriction that you cannot book a single room. Rather, you have to hire out the entire island. So, we wanted to offer a private island experience that is affordable, even to an ultra-rich consumer. This is why it appeals so much to the GCC audience. Each of the houses and residences on the island has its own private butler, and there is complete flexibility.

What are the biggest challenges of having a concept such as this?

The challenges are not so much in terms of guest challenges but more in terms of team challenges. The Maldives has become so saturated by international brands and ultra-luxury properties that there’s a lot of noise. For us to be able to navigate and be able to get consumers to really understand this kind of particular message, this is where we continue to face specific challenges. So, the way we have tried to overcome this is through a lot of storytelling. This is a concept that needs to be experienced for clients to really understand what it means. It’s very easy to say ‘time does not exist,’ but until you visit and discover that for yourself, you won’t truly feel it. In hindsight, what we have been able to achieve is that within three years, 30 per cent of our clients are repeated. Once they get used to it, it’s difficult for them to want to do something else, and even if they do, sometimes we get them calling us asking to pick them up from other resorts!

Post-covid, what did you change as a company to adapt to the needs of clients?

Two important lessons that we learned from the pandemic are to be more resilient and also to be more responsible and conscious of the world around you in terms of doing less harm to the environment that you exist in. And also to appreciate what you have. Since covid, 100 per cent of our waste management is now done on the islands. So, the carbon footprint of our resorts has become much less. We are also going into other sustainability initiatives, such as solar power and coral replanting. Then at the other end of the spectrum, what Covid taught us is ‘less is more’. We know now that we can manage with less. Productivity has increased because we have tried to bring technology where possible to support operational practices. Covid was definitely a wake-up call to be more prepared to face the challenges ahead.

What is the biggest challenge you face today as a company, and how do you overcome that?

Not only for us but for the Maldives in general, more and more inventory is coming into the market. One of the biggest constraints is that getting from point to point is more challenging than it is in other destinations. Here, you have to consider an additional cost implication in terms of a speed boat or seaplane. So, logistically, we are trying to see how we can improve by bringing in more connectivity between islands.

The other challenge is the current need for more infrastructure at the Maldives airport. To handle the kind of volume of traffic that is coming in, something needs to be done. What we are doing from a company perspective is that we are venturing into starting our own domestic airline. With this, we can give a much more complete, tailormade experience to our customers. So, we are introducing certain business verticals to bridge these logistical challenges.

And the third thing we are considering is how we keep Maldives relevant in the worldwide media in terms of continuing to be an aspirational destination. We do a lot of our own initiatives, working with our partners around the world in year-round marketing campaigns and awareness programmes. We do a lot of familiarisation visits with partners so that the more people who are able to talk about our resorts and the Maldives as a whole, the better.

What expansion plans do you have for the group, and what is in the pipeline for the coming year?

Exciting times ahead! We have already started working on two game-changing developments. The first is to bring in the concept of leased luxury residences. This is where you can buy your own private condo or residence and own your own space in paradise. We are starting this first with Kandima because 50 per cent of the island is still undeveloped. We are building 38 luxury condos, which will go up for sale. This has only recently become possible because the Maldives did not previously have the legal approval to subdivide an island. The law was amended early this year. We have a second island where we are planning to create standalone residences. Kandima is serviced by a regional airport which can take private jets as well as A319s, and it is an airport that was built and is operated by our own company. We decided to invest in this airport to not only facilitate the resorts and residences in that area, but also for the local community.

We have one other project in Kandima which aims to bring more lifestyle into the destination with an integrated amusement park. It will include an electric go-karting track, rock climbing, zip-lining, pitch-and-put golf, bowling and a VR studio. So the idea is to turn Kadima into a 360-integrated resort where you have entertainment, private luxury condos and a five-star resort. We don’t want to follow the stereotype of what’s already in the market and this gives us the satisfaction of offering something completely unique.

Image credit: Ahmed Yaaniu – Unsplash