Taking on your first hotel general manager role is a big deal at any time but starting in the midst of a global pandemic that has resulted in luxury travel being put on hold and your property closed to guests, is even more of a challenge.
That’s the situation Henri Arnulphy found himself, when he took on the role of General Manager at Constance Moofushi, part of inVOYAGER Constance Hotels & Resorts luxury portfolio, on 14 March this year. We caught up with Henri, who has 13 years of professional background in the hospitality industry with previous experiences and knowledge gained in Mauritius, Australia, China and the UAE as well as onboard a luxury yacht, to find out how his first month has been…
Congratulations on your new role. How does it feel to be made hotel General Manager in the midst of a global crisis?
Thank you! I accepted the promotion from Constance Hotels, Resorts & Golf back in December 2019, prior to the crisis. Back then I just had in mind to focus on a good handover with the departing General Manager and take over management smoothly. I was definitely not expecting to start my new role in such a difficult time for the industry.
The hotel is currently closed. When are you hoping to reopen and are you taking bookings?
With all our main markets’ borders closed and so many travel restrictions in place, we had no other choice but to close all of our properties for the time being. We remain optimistic, and hope to reopen by July / August, but of course the re-opening does not only depend on us – there are a lot of different factors that need to be considered which are beyond our control. Giving an exact date today would not be possible and we will have to wait for more clarity over the coming weeks. Our main concern today remains the safety of everyone, guests and staff.
Where are you staying during this lockdown period?
I am still on Constance Moofushi at the moment and still working. The whole Resort team were on lockdown for 14 days after the last guests’ departure on the 28th March. Some team members were allowed to leave the island in the last few days, but we still have over 110 team members from 19 different nationalities on the island and we are planning their respective departures as and when the travel ban is lifted to their corresponding destinations.
Contrary to so many of my family members and friends overseas – here the lockdown and isolation is as a group and not in respective homes. This certainly makes it more fun I believe although we do of course still apply strict rules over social distancing and sanitary practices.
What is your key focus currently as GM?
There are no guests to take care of and business is on “a pause”. As a dedicated hotelier, I love the interaction with guests and it is extremely sad to be in such a magical place, with an amazing team, and not have anyone to host.
That being said, the safety and happiness of our team members has to remain our main priority in such a difficult time. As the new General Manager I am trying to use the time to get to know the team better and build better relationships. We are also focusing on some general maintenance – it is the perfect opportunity to do a few repairs and make sure that everything is perfect for when guests return.
What are you doing to engage with staff during these challenging times?
We did a nice “Honour walk” for the last departing guests with all the team present. It was very emotional. As I mentioned earlier, the focus is to keep the team positive and I believe that the management team did that well. We kept calm, took our time for important decisions and kept our team optimistic.
We were prepared for the closure; we reviewed the working hours and how we could make work more fun in such a time. We came up with a great calendar of activities to keep the team healthy, busy and cheerful. As the new General Manager, it was very challenging to find the right words when talking to the team, sharing important decisions and the way forward, but all went well, and things are in good control.
What does luxury mean to you personally?
For me, luxury means freedom. I think that word explains itself.
For our readers who have never visited the Maldives, paint us a picture of what to expect? Is it really as stunning as the photos suggest?
There are a lot of different countries, landscapes and beautiful things to see in the world. If you are a beach lover and a marine life lover then the Maldives is the place. The Maldives are definitely at the top list of best beaches worldwide. The country itself is unique, like no other place on earth.
The nature and the natural formations of all the Atolls and islands is just magical. Nothing on the horizon except sea and white sand… Time stops and you become the place. Pure bliss.
Tell us more about Constance Moofushi in particular?
Constance Moofushi is located in the South Ari Atoll and only 25 minutes away from the main city Male, via seaplane. The natural beauty of the island is gorgeous; it’s reef, the marine life, idyllic beaches and flora – combine perfectly with the Resort’s elegant architecture.
The local peoples’ genuineness & their natural sense for hospitality is also something I have been impressed with since day one. Overall I feel honoured to be here and represent one of Constance’s properties in the Maldives. It is a unique destination. Constance Moofushi is True, Relaxed, Barefoot & you quickly feel at ease with all the qualities that follows…
Can you share your favourite memory of working at the property over the past year?
I enjoy my place of work and have many good memories since my arrival here; with different guests, team members and other personal memories. We build memories and special moments every day in this industry. If I have to choose one – it would be the end of year festive season. I have done two so far here at Constance Moofushi and they have both been very special. There is a great atmosphere between guests and the team and everyone is in a celebratory mood. Seeing so many happy people at the same time, it’s a great feeling.
Constance has a strong sustainable ethos. Can you tell us more about how you implement it at your property?
Yes this is correct and as a proof we have been certified Green Globe for six years in a row. The Green Globe certification is a leader in controlled audit and assessment on Resort in the travel and tourism industry’s sustainability performance. For three years in a row, Constance Mooufshi has also been awarded the “Respect for Nature Award” – an internal Award within Constance Hotels, Resorts & Golf as best sustainability resort in the group.
Top best practices we are proud of include:
1. Using waste heat from the generators to heat water in guests’ and team members’ rooms
2. Making our own water and bottling it in reusable glass bottles (reducing hugely the need to buy plastic water bottles)
3. Stopping artificial fish feeding
4. Coral rejuvenation + a full time Marine Biologist at the property to monitor the marine life while also educating our guests on marine biodiversity and the ecosystem
5. CSR activity to our committee / neighbourhood island
6. Segregation of garbage; can crusher on the island / bottle crusher on the island
7. Others small contributions; no paper straws, Chef’s Garden, reusage of wood and waste coconut shells, broken umbrellas into bags, reuse of towels into flower pots, and so on. ..Constance Moofushi is constantly looking to grow towards further sustainability. We have a sustainability committee in place and brainstorm on new ideas constantly. The team knows that any small gesture or contributions count. When we have an idea we implement it.
Prior to the crisis, the Maldives had seen a boom in luxury hotel development. What was driving this and how do you differentiate in an increasingly competitive market?
Correct, there are new Resorts opening every year in the Maldives. Not only in the luxury sector – we are also seeing a boom in guest houses opening on local Islands in recent years. Constance has been present in the Maldives for 10 years with two properties Constance Moofushi and Constance Halaveli; our past experience in the country has given us an advantage and we have created a good reputation with our guests and in the local community. The two Constance hotels are popular and have both performed well in recent years respecting both their different identity and winning several accolades.
Constance Moofushi recently underwent a refurbishment in the Food and Beverage outlets and rooms – keeping the standard high with the focus on quality and guest comfort. We deliver amazing experiences to guests consistently. The Resort has kept its beauty by staying simple and wild. The configuration of the resort, the wide open spaces, the surrounding landscapes and the materials used has enabled us to integrate Moofushi into nature. It provides a wonderful feeling of freedom.
Are you confident that the luxury travel market will rebound after the pandemic?
Definitely. So far the local government has managed the crisis well, closing the borders early and thinking about their population’s safety first. They have only registered 20 cases in the Maldives as of today, 16 have recovered and the 4 others are doing very well. Maldives should be one of the first countries to bounce back after the pandemic. I believe our guests would like to travel again and to escape the feeling of confinement we have all experienced over the last weeks and we hope to see all of them very soon.