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SPOTLIGHT ON Jason Kruse, General Manager at Amilla Maldives Resort and Residences and The Small Maldives Island Company

By Sharon Hirschowitz, Global Head of Media & Communications for The International Luxury Hotel Association
30 September 2020
6 min read
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When the borders to the Maldives closed Jason and his team decided to use the time to take advantage of their setting and get creative with some innovative projects that include sustainable superfood gardening, a jungle gymnasium, “Cluckinghampalace” and more.

Your situation is different from other hoteliers, with your borders temporarily closed and is a destination resort. How long were you closed and how did you manage your team and preparation for reopening?
We essentially phased down our operations for four months when the borders closed in March 2020. During this time, we still had a long-stay guest residing in one of our Residences for over three months. We then had a period of one month with no guests‚ and then once the Maldivian borders reopened on July 17, we welcomed back several returning guests who were looking for a break during the pandemic.

During our downtime, we sent many of our Islanders home for paid and unpaid leave since a lot of them wanted to be with their families and nobody knew how the pandemic was going to play out. My wife and I decided to stay to keep things ticking over and many of our Islanders also decided to stay with us. So, we decided to turn this downtime into a positive. We recognised we could capitalise upon the resort being quieter than normal to seize opportunities to make many improvements to Amilla for future guests and current staff alike. Doing this would also help put us in the best possible position to recover faster when the borders reopened.

Amilla is blessed to be one of the least-developed island resorts in the Maldives in terms of the huge areas of jungle we have and the limited number of Villas and Residences. It means we have a great deal of unutilised space, which has two benefits; one relating to the present and one relating to the lockdown period. The first is that the guests who are now travelling again are seeking resorts with more space and lots of open-air areas, since air circulation and low population density is very good for mitigating coronavirus risks. And there’s something very soothing for the soul about being surrounded by so much nature – particularly after so many people had such a bumpy ride this year – so a lot of travellers are seeking an idyllic, natural retreat. The second is that during the lockdown period we recognised we have a lot of space for innovations. So during the lockdown, we created plantations, organic herb and vegetable gardens, an aquaponics project, a mushroom hut, an outdoor exercise area named the ‘Jungle Gymnasium’ and even a new chicken coop called ‘Cluckingham Palace’, which supplies us with the freshest of eggs. Our team did a great deal of research and we discovered many islands underutilize superfoods that are either native or grow well in the Maldives. Hence, we planted largess areas of purslane, moringa, and Maldivian rocket.

In terms of the reopening, we carefully planned a phased approach which involves initially only accepting a limited number of guests to the island. We’re actually lucky in that we have far fewer villas than many resorts and lots of space between them, which lowers the risk of COVID-19 transmission. We complete PCR tests for all arriving guests and staff and have no-contact temperature checks on arrival too. Then we have special digital menus that guests can view on their phones, hand sanitiser stations, natural antibacterial hand soap in the villas, no touch billing and extended periods between guests checking out and new guests checking in so that extra attention can be paid to disinfecting the rooms. Combined with the enhanced hygiene practices implemented throughout the resort, it shows that we are doing everything possible to keep our island COVID-19 free. We have also planned for the worst-case scenario, so that if there is a positive case, they will be comfortably isolated and attended to with the least amount of impact on the island.

How have you reworked your F&B and spa operations to follow COVID-19 requirements?
Our staff have completed rigorous coronavirus-prevention training overseen by a professional body, we have appointed a Hygiene Manager who conducts regular audits and we have just launched several new protocols for the Spa and our Food and Beverage outlets which include PPE and following Maldivian government guidelines.

Also, we realize that wellness is going to be at the forefront of our guests’ minds due to COVID-19. That’s part of the reason we’re championing our new ‘Wellness Your Way’ (WYW), ‘Homegrown@amilla’, and ‘Homemade@amilla’ programmes. (‘Amilla’ in the local language means ‘Your Island Home’, hence the naming). Back to WYW. This is a concept where our new customisable menus offer for the first time in the Maldives a broad range of plant-based, keto, paleo, gluten-free, low-lectin, low-sugar and immunity-boosting dishes. We have an ethos of cook-from-scratch cuisine which greatly reduces the use of chemicals in our food. It’s a gastronomic yet healthy experience.

For Homemade@amilla, we feature homemade probiotic sodas including kombuchas and homemade ginger beer as well as fermented foods like kimchi and kefir. These are part of our immunity-boosting and gut health programmes which contribute towards overall health.

Along with using PPE and thoroughly sanitising spa pods between guests, our Javvu Spa is also embracing homemade elements by tapping our endless supply of island coconuts. We process them in our new coconut oil machine which produces virgin coconut oil – an excellent base oil for our massages and scrubs. We are making our own soaps, bath salts and masks using homegrown ingredients like herbs and flowers at our Alchemy Bar. Guests can even learn how to make their own bath salts at the Alchemy Bar too. The spa team has also introduced new ‘Dhivehi Beys’ treatments. Dhivehi Beys is ancient Maldivian traditional medicine used to treat all kinds of ailments such as inflammation and our massage treatments were developed in consultation with a local healer then combined with contemporary techniques.

What has been the response from guests?
Our returned guests that we have received so far are amazed at our developments. They have been very receptive to how we’ve created new things that demonstrate our core values of conscious luxury, sustainability, Maldivian charm and playfulness. Our new ‘Wellness Your Way’ initiative as well as our new sustainability projects have also been well received, particularly ‘Cluckingham Palace’- it looks like a traditional Maldivian coconut thatch home and guests can visit it to see the hens and even collect eggs for their breakfast if they wish to. It’s not the type of thing many of our guests would otherwise experience. Again, it’s very cathartic to immerse oneself in nature like this.
It will take a few months before we are back to full scale operations since we’re taking a very careful approach to reopening but I’m immensely proud of how our Islanders have helped evoke such a positive response from our guests.

www.amilla.com