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Hotelier Focus: Marteyne van Well, General Manager at Six Senses Laamu

Fathmath Shaahunaz
30 April 2019, MVT 09:28
Marteyne van Well, the General Manager at Six Senses Laamu, speaks at the Laamu Turtle Festival 2018 held in L.Maabaidhoo. PHOTO/SIX SENSES LAAMU
Fathmath Shaahunaz
30 April 2019, MVT 09:28

Surprisingly enough, the field of hospitality was never the first choice for Marteyne van Well.

“My wish was to go to the sports academy, I was always very active and keen on all sorts of sport and wellness activities”, she recalls.

However, after a serious bike accident left her hospitalised for two months with a concussion, it was time for a new dream. Following her parents’ advice to look into alternatives, Marteyne applied for Hotelschool The Hague and, much to her surprise, was accepted.

The twist in fate proved a fortunate and defining turning point for her, as she “fell in love with hospitality” during her time at Hotelschool from 1983-1987. She did one year at ESSEC Business School in Cergy-Pontoise, France and later completed the General Managers Program at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Starting out with housekeeping, Marteyne gradually climbed the ranks over her 30-year illustrious career, taking up her first position as a General Manager at Rock House Bahamas in 2004. She has held management roles in various properties around the world and her roles have taken her to wonderful locations such as the US, Morocco, the Caribbean, the French and Swiss Alps, the Middle East, and now Asia.

She was the Director of Operations at Descent International in the Alps when she received the opportunity to join Six Senses in 2008, as the Spa Director in Doha, Qatar. Since then, Marteyne has stayed with the luxury resort brand, later serving as General Manager at Soneva Gili in the Maldives, Soneva Kiri in Thailand, and now Six Senses Laamu, back in the Maldives.

Of the 11 years she has dedicated to the Six Senses brand, seven were spent in the Maldives at Laamu Atoll's only resort; and she hopes for several more of such happy years. With a keen love of diving and underwater photography, Marteyne is also a champion of promoting marine conservation and sustainability.

Marteyne van Well shares with The Edition her journey, the joys and hurdles of luxury resort management, and the initiatives undertaken by Six Senses Laamu for community development, conservation, and sustainability.

Is there any particular reason for working so long in the Maldives compared to your other tenures?

“I’m very fortunate, I think the places here are absolutely fantastic. There might be others who might challenge us for the distinction, but I think we have the very best team in the Maldives to work with. A loyal and committed team with 56 percent local Maldivians.

I think the Maldivian people are fantastic in hospitality. They’re really warm and caring, you know; the hosts we have here are truly exemplary.”

It is not just the wonderful team at Six Senses Laamu that nurtures Marteyne’s love for the small Indian Ocean island nation, though. A thalassophile at heart, her current post at Six Senses also allows her to invest her personal time and efforts in things she is passionate about.

“I am an avid diver and you can't really beat diving in the Maldives, it’s second to none”, she laughs.

“Six Senses and our owners HPL are fantastic in that they really care for not only the resort and the team but also care greatly about our local community and our environment (above and below water). They allow us to do what’s best for the guests and contribute to marine conservation and sustainability; things we’re really passionate about. So for me, it really is a dream job”.

As the General Manager of a luxury resort, what is the most challenging obstacle you face?

“What I spend the most time on is people management. You want to make certain that you do right by your team. If you do right by your team, they will do right by the guests.

Most of my time is spent on people management, making certain that they are engaged, that we give them growth opportunities, and that we comfort, support, and offer assistance; making certain that we communicate.

Even a small island comes with its challenges. People are in the same space all the time and it can be more difficult to disconnect. If you work in a city, then once you go home at night, you go to your space, your environment. If you want to go to a movie theatre or restaurant or to a coffee shop and have coffee with friends, all of those things are possible. On an island, it is not.

So creating a really good work environment is what takes the most focus”.

A brief look at Marteyne van Well, General Manager at Six Senses Laamu. IMAGE: AHMED SAFFAH / THE EDITION

Can you shed some light on the CSR initiatives taken by Six Senses Laamu and the impact they have on local communities?

“I feel our obligation is to help the local community; our wish is to leave a legacy for them … to help them grow and develop.

The Maldives is a really beautiful country and the marine environment is a very important asset. At Six Senses Laamu, what I’m passionate about is marine conservation and sustainability. I’ve been fortunate to be here for seven plus years and develop a team that is as passionate, if not more, about sustainability and marine conservation.

Some of the achievements and CSR activities we’re most proud of are the ones that don’t make the headlines. CSR is not done to get recognition; you’re doing it to be a good community partner.

Currently, we’re working to make Laamu Atoll a single-use plastics free atoll; we’re working hard with the atoll councils and island councils to achieve that.

In partnership with local stakeholders, we have organised a turtle festival in the atoll for the past three consecutive years. The turtle festival highlights the plight of the turtles. Even though turtles in the Maldives are protected, unfortunately, the reality is that they’re not. So we’re trying to educate young people at all the local schools, and explain the importance of turtles and why they should be protected, and the help they can give to the marine environment and why they are critical to our reefs.

We’ve had education programmes. Our sustainability and marine team consists of 10 marine biologists, a sustainability manager, a community outreach manager, a permaculturist, and an Earth Lab of three. Every month, a group of five or six goes to local schools and offers education programmes, which are very informative. They can be about the formation of atolls, the history, the importance of mangroves, and conservation. We also work with the local surf club and get kids out on the waves to have a fun time.

We’ve helped build a mosque at the local school, and worked with the local hospital in Gan. We’ve also worked with the local police on training programmes for youth, making certain that the youth are engaged and committed.

I think there are so many things you can do. But I don’t want to get credit; it should be part of your local fabric and it certainly is not done for recognition”.

What would you crown ‘the most defining experience’ you’ve had throughout your career?

“I’ve had a few experiences that had a tremendous impact.

I was terminated once very early on in my career and I thought that was completely unfair. I couldn’t understand why I was terminated. I was 20 years old and I hadn't done anything wrong, and I felt I was made an example of.

And it made me realise that life isn’t necessarily always fair, but it can always be good if you make something of it. So turning a negative experience into a learning experience has defined me”.

Based on your experiences, what advice do you have for young dynamic people venturing into the hospitality sector?

“My advice to them would be to commit.

I think a lot of young people are willing to try something, but then the first time they run into a challenge or a hurdle, the first time it really gets tough, they are keen on trying something else.

If our life was all stable, if there were no highs or lows, you wouldn’t necessarily feel joy or sadness because everything would be very monotone. The challenging times can help us appreciate the good times; by remembering everything that was tough, you appreciate everything that’s beautiful.

So my advice to young people is ‘Commit’. Don’t give up, persevere, make that commitment; you owe it to yourself to try and see if you can make it better. If you do that, over time you can really start feeling proud of everything you’ve overcome.

It’s those moments of feeling success and saying, ‘Wow, I did it’, that allows you to grow further and realise that, the next time you have a little blip in the experience, that its not the end of time. That too shall pass, and with commitment and hard work, you can get there”.

And what are your personal aspirations for the future? Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?

“At Six Senses Laamu, I hope!” she says with a laugh.

"I hope Six Senses will allow me to happily run this resort for five or 10 more years. I think I see myself at this resort, engaging, committed and enjoying the experiences we create for others, be that for our guests, the local community, our team, owners, or Six Senses.

If you can go to bed every single night and say, ‘We did good, we worked hard and we achieved something’, then I think you’re very fortunate”.

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