An Interview with: Carla Puverel

Carla Puverel, took up her role as General Manager of Conrad Maldives Rangali Island at one of the hardest times for the hospitality industry. Carla continues to drive innovation using her outstanding experience within the industry, and we asked her what it takes to be in charge of this luxury, tropical oasis.

Firstly, congratulations on your recent appointment at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. It’s been a turbulent year but how have you and the team coped in such unprecedented times?
Thank you, I am so proud of the wonderful team at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. We have all grown and developed so much over the last 18 months in very unprecedented times. We reopened the resort in late September 2020 and have grown from strength to strength as we have navigated the pandemic, the ever-changing goal posts, new restrictions, and guidelines, and we have had to continually evolve quickly to be where we are today. I have always tried to make sure that team members are continuously empowered and are given the opportunity to take ownership of tasks. Team members have adapted well to constant challenges, and all have seen this time as an opportunity for growth and change. Our guests have been wonderful during this difficult period and the experience for everyone has been very positive, despite much adaption and challenging times. Ultimately, communication and transparency are key within our teams, and empowering the team members is fundamental for me as a leader to see success.
During these unprecedented times, it is has felt like we have been given a clean slate as we all navigate on how we continue to give personal, heartfelt hospitality, exceed our stakeholder’s expectations, and embrace all the ever-changing ways of life, particularly related to the hospitality industry. I feel in a very fortunate position being at the head of this iconic resort, which proudly boasts a solid history of long-standing relationships with both guests and team members. Overall, our team members all have the same goals, ethos, and drive to take the resort to the next level of personal service, combined with authentic Maldivian experiences and reassurance that all guests have peace of mind during their time with us.

With over 18 years within the hospitality industry, what have been your greatest achievements?

I am very blessed to be where I am today and am very grateful for all the experiences that I have had, all the lessons I have learnt, and the many more to come. It is a wonderful way to live, grow and work, being exposed to so many different cultures, and live in so many countries around the world. I appreciate the team the most and seeing them being inspired and develop is a huge achievement as we strive for improvement daily. The last 12 months has been a big achievement for all of us at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. 

What drove you to a career within the hospitality sector and were there any people that inspired you?

I am passionate about travel, culture and history along with the ever-changing dynamics and constant growth and development of the hospitality industry. Hospitality evolves all the time, and you can never be stagnant or complacent! The diverse cultures and wonderful people I’ve met along my journey I have learnt so much and it’s encouraging to know there is still more is to come. I am inspired daily by the teams that I work with and the authentic experiences that are created for our guests. I have had many mentors along the way that I am still in touch with and reach out to often. 

What key attributes does it take to be a great General Manager?

It is so important to be aligned with the vision and ethos of the company, stakeholders, and team. Alongside this, being a good listener, understanding diverse cultures, confidently processing information, and building the best team of people around you. I believe its key to have a good understanding of the country you are working in and build good relationships with the long-standing team members to gain their knowledge and understanding of both the country and property.

The role of a General Manager has evolved vastly over time, but they should have sound commercial knowledge, as well as driving results, making good and clear decision’s and being agile. The most important attribute is to have the support of the team, to empower people and ensure everyone is accountable and passionate about our product, our resort, and our guests, as it takes an entire team to drive the success of a resort, the stake holder’s goals and the guest’s experiences.

What does a typical day entail?

Every day is different on Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, and each day brings new stories, challenges, experiences, and often lots of laughter and lessons. We meet as a team in the early morning and plan the day, as we often have private events to plan and entertainment in the evening. Planning is key in operating a remote Island resort, and everyone plays a big role in this. We then welcome guests during breakfast and greet the early morning seaplane arrivals. Each day is filled with passion, and many personal conversations and meetings with guests, team members, and stakeholders. I am generally up before the sun rises and start the day with a morning run alongside some of the early risers on the team, which helps sets me up for the day.  

Apart from COVID, what have been the biggest changes within the luxury travel industry in recent years?

I think one of the biggest changes has been seasonality in travel. As more people are starting to work remotely and children are continuing with online learning, the typical holiday seasons are shifting.  Also, flexibility in travel is, and will continue to play a major role in the future.  Guests require more flexibility in their bookings and can see the value that comes with long stay bookings. The length of stays in general have increased and will increase even further than it has already. Lastly, wellness and sustainable travel will be an even more important factor than it already is, and I think mindful and responsible tourism will play a big part in this. 

Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is a unique, luxury destination, how does it differ from the hotels you have looked after before?

The Maldives is such a unique destination and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is a pioneer amongst the Maldives and its hotels. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is an island of many firsts for the destination, we were the very first hotel in the Maldives to have an over water villa, the first over water restaurant, the very first underwater restaurant in the world called Ithaa, the first resort with an underground wine cellar in The Maldives with over 3000 labels, and the very first 3 bedrooms over water and under water residence in the world, The MURAKA. Lastly, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island was also the first international brand resort in the Maldives and set the stage for many after. 

The hospitality industry has had to be creative and often diversify over recent months. What have been the positives for you and the team during this time, and have there been any initiatives that you are particularly proud of?

The goal posts have certainly shifted in the last 18 months and will continue to do so as time goes on. We have had to be agile and evolve quickly to ensure we keep up with the pace of change and last-minute movements. The use of technology is far more present in the resort than before, and using technology to communicate with your guests and keeping a personal guest experience, is a fine line in luxury and personalised service. HiltonClean stay has played a big role in our success over the last year and will also continue to do so as it gives our guests and team members more peace of mind.

Wellness and experiences continue to be a focus for many travellers. How does the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island adapt to an ever demanding clientele?

Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is always keeping guests demands front of mind, however due to the unrivalled location of the resort, being surrounded by the ocean and nature, these attributes lend themselves to guests enjoying spending time experiencing the beautiful natural surroundings. Our resort is situated in the South Ari Atoll and is located very close to whale sharks and manta rays, giving our guests that are divers and keen snorkelers a wonderful experience being able to see these magical creatures in their natural habitat. 

We are also fortunate to have two beautiful spas located on the resort. The over water spa is more wellness centric with natural and organic products ISUN and the treatments focusing on wellness and mindfulness. The over water sunset yoga pavilion is a real treat for our guests, and we are in the process of developing an outdoor gym and fitness area with a range of TRX, weights, medicine balls, battle ropes, and a personal fitness trainer who can create bespoke workouts for guests. 

With our infrastructure set across two islands which are joined together by a bridge, we can offer both family and couples who are on vacation, personal experiences and adventures. We are very innovative with our culinary team, and with twelve dining options this gives our guests far more choice and options during their stay. 

We are constantly evolving our menus and offerings to our guests, and in 2021 we will be completing the final stage of our renovations, further elevating the guest experience such as refreshed water villas, revamped Atoll Market and new teens club, to name a few elements. 

Who are the typical guests at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island?

The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island guests are never the same as they are from all over the world and are seasoned travellers, which is part of what makes the island so special. We are very fortunate that our guests are forthcoming and know what they want when they go on holiday. We also have a large percentage of loyal repeat guests that travel to the islands at least twice a year, which always makes them feel like they are coming back home.  

What have been the most unusual requests?

We have had so many unusual and fun requests, which the team execute flawlessly and with such care and passion. We have had a couple get engaged in our world-renowned underwater restaurant Ithaa, where our divers were waiting underwater with a 

“Will you marry me?” sign, and our team timed the popping of the champagne perfectly. The couple returned a few months later to celebrate their honeymoon in The MURAKA – our most showstopping villa. 

What are your must-do tips for visitors to Conrad Maldives Rangali Island?

We have so many it’s hard to know where to start. There is nothing better than going snorkelling with the manta rays and whale sharks, it’s an experience you will never forget, and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is the perfect location for seeing them. Also, a sunset cruise sipping champagne and watching the dolphins frolic in the ocean, a private lunch on a deserted sandbank, a personal Maldivian cooking class, spa treatment in our beautiful over water spa, and a private chef cooked dinner on

 the beach in the Quiet Zone, are a few to mention, but this list is endless. 

If you could sum up the resort in just three words, what would they be?

Evolving barefoot luxury

Lastly, what can guests expect to experience over the winter sun season?

Perfect warm tropical weather, lots of fun entertainment, our newly enhanced kids and teen clubs, manta ray season in the lagoon and surrounding area, innovative cuisine with lots of local flair and inspiration, and many passionate team members looking forward to welcoming you.

An Interview with : Andrew Coney

The Hari is a stylish retreat in the heart of Belgravia which is designed for those seeking comfort and understated elegance. Bordering the areas of Chelsea, Kensington and Knightsbridge, Harrods is just moments away from and London’s leading attractions can also be found a short walk from the hotel, including Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace and The Royal Albert Hall.

Heading up The Hari team is general manager, Andrew Coney. We asked Andrew about his experience within the industry and what makes The Hari a must visit destination.

You’ve been the General Manager of The Hari for over six years; what key attributes and characteristics do you think make you a successful GM?

When I consider why I came into this business it was because I enjoy being hospitable – not a complicated concept.  Create a relaxed and enticing environment for your team and guests and it drives a successful business. It is dispiriting that so many operators focus so much on the bottom line and forget about the essence of what we are here to do which is providing consistently wonderful experiences.  Empowerment of the team is key. They must be allowed to be spontaneous and creative in what they deliver.

The Hari has been described as a comfortable and elegant place to visit. How does the décor and design interpret this?

We worked together with international interior designer, Tara Bernard, who is a good friend of our CEO and Chairman Dr. Aron Harilela, to create a home-from-home feel to the hotel. As we are located among the residential streets of Belgravia, we wanted an atmosphere that was stylish and inviting. Our rooms each have natural grey tones and textures with hints of aubergine, burgundy or ivy to add warmth. On entering the hotel, guests are met by a large fireplace in an open loft-feel lobby housing a rolling programme of art installations. The lobby lounge features an eclectic library and cosy hideaway areas. The mezzanine level plays host to The Bar and leads to a stylish al fresco Garden Terrace, its Belgravia’s best kept secret.

Who’s the typical guest at The Hari?

The Hari’s typical guest is a discerning traveller, they are sophisticated, well-read and like to truly get under the skin of the city they are visiting. Always on the lookout for authentic opinions and unexpected travel tips, a guest at The Hari is eager to experience the more hidden and curious side of travel.

There’s been quite a success story with The Hari London’s TripAdvisor position in the last four years. What has contributed to this success, and do you have your eyes on the number 1 spot?

We would be lying if we said they weren’t! The team have worked incredibly hard to get to where we are, and I think it naturally comes down to our personalised service. We are always keeping an eye out on how to make a guest’s stay more memorable. We call opportunities like this our ‘Stories to Inspire’ with which everyone is encouraged to do something unique for a guest whether it be to reinforce something positive like an anniversary, or turnaround a negative experience and relieve stress. “Have you had a tough day? Let me send a glass of Champagne to your room” – that can work magic.

The Hari extended it’s offering with the opening of il Pampero in 2017. What can visitors expect to see on the menu?

At our neighbourhood restaurant, il Pampero, you can expect a traditional Italian menu complemented by an impressive wine and cocktail list – worth a visit alone for our signature Cacio e Pepe, which comes served tableside tossed in a giant wheel of Pecorino Romano. New this year, we will be launching a brunch offering at the weekend, offering typical brunch dishes with an Italian twist. Watch this space! 

Was there one particular person who inspired you within your career, and how?

I could name numerous leaders and mentors who have guided me but my shout out is for a golf Greenkeeper. I managed a resort property that went through a dramatic case of Norovirus which took most of the hotel team out of action. This young man came to me and said he would work on the golf course in the day but could help in the restaurant in the evening. I asked him what experience he had, and he said none. That evening he spent the whole night reading about wine, our list and the service skills he needed. The next day he was charming all of our guests with his innocent and well-intentioned ambition to look after them and demonstrate the very best in teamwork and collaboration during crisis. I take his example as an inspiration to not be defeated and be ever determined to achieve the impossible. 

We’ve seen one of the most unprecedented years in modern times, and its impact on the hospitality sector is undoubtedly disruptive. How do you see the hospitality sector post- COVID and how do you think hotels will operate differently to cope with these?

I am a strong believer that the hospitality industry will bounce back. For so much of this pandemic, people have had to put their life on hold and there are a lot of milestones and celebrations which have been missed. We’ve already seen a huge pick up in wedding enquiries as well as birthday and anniversary celebrations. People are so excited to socialise again and our industry is ready to welcome them. We don’t like to make a big song and dance about all our COVID procedures because for the most part high hygiene standards already featured in our day-to day practice and our guests who are visiting a five-star luxury hotel expect this to be the case.

How do you think people’s expectations of luxury hotels are changing?

Emphasis on sustainability is absolutely key moving forward and is only becoming more and more important. Luxury used to mean being able to provide a buffet sourcing premium ingredient from all over the world, but these days, luxury is much more focused on experiencing local culture and local cuisine. The next generation of travellers are incredibly eco-conscious and so they should be. It is up to us to continue and move forward with what they have started.

The importance of working as a team is a key part of your management style and something you encourage. How much does this factor play in running a successful hotel?

Do we all remember those dreadful words “That’s not my job”? I don’t believe anyone would ever say that at The Hari and the communal sense that we are all here for one another is our ethos. Encouraging work/life balance, taking time to know everyone’s background and story makes the workplace a secure place. I feel strongly that we are here to deliver excellence but also to have time to not take life too seriously.

You invest a lot of time in community-based projects and incentives. Tell us more about those that you are involved in.

We have long supported the local community and have run projects through lockdowns to provide assistance to our neighbourhood, from a mass production of meals for those who would have gone without, to jumping on our Hari bikes to deliver groceries.  2021 will also be about giving back and our charitable work will continue. We want to do even more and are working on projects to support the arts who are in as much of a crisis as us, through sponsoring graduate artists and supporting young live theatre.

If you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be?

A little mischief here and there is actually probably not such a bad thing at all…….

An Interview with… Dan Visser, The Langdale Estate

As part of our series of getting to know the people behind the venues, we discuss what inspired the luxury rejuvenating getaway, The Langdale Estate, Lake District.

Tell us about your role at Brimstone Hotel & Spa? I am the Director of Sales and Marketing and part of the Management Team for the Langdale Estate. We work to maintain and develop Brimstone’s high standards and guest offerings as well as oversee the running of the whole Langdale Estate. Outside of this, I am also a Non-Executive Director of Cumbria Tourism and also on the Visitor Economy Sector Panel for Local Enterprise Partnership. Both of these roles give me a holistic view of the Lake District tourism industry and helps to inform my work at Brimstone. 

What is the size of the team at Brimstone Hotel & Spa? At Brimstone we have 16 full and part-time hosts who look after our guests during their stay – they do everything from lighting the fires in the bedroom to station pick-ups and are on hand to provide guests with whatever they need. 

Who is the type of traveller that comes to Brimstone Hotel & Spa? – Brimstone guests are predominantly leisure travellers who are wanting a short, luxurious break. We find that many guests often stay to celebrate special occasions – birthdays, anniversaries and the like.  We also host a very small number of high-end corporate meetings and events.  

What does Brimstone Hotel & Spa offer visitors and what sets it apart from other hotels? We offer guests a personal yet luxurious stay in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK. We have guests that want to have a luxury stay whilst enjoying the outdoors and guests who want a luxury stay without wanting to go outdoors – we provide both offerings to an extremely high standard.

How has Brimstone Hotel & Spa dealt with the rise of visitors looking to escape the pressures of modern life? – Brimstone has always been about providing our guests with luxury, relaxation and enjoyment. However, as I touched on above, the ways in which our guests work to improve their wellbeing is very individual – for some, it is going out on a mountain bike on the fells whilst they are here, for others it is pottering over to the spa to spend their day. We have worked to ensure that our guests have a way of relaxing that suits them which is why we have our spa, our Arcteryx Bootroom, our reading room and our hosts who can help guests organise and advise on whatever it is guest’s fancy doing whilst they are staying with us. We are always looking at ways we can develop our offerings further, for example, we have recently introduced a Mindfulness Map which is a free map with suggestions of mindful activities in the area for guests; everything from open water swimming to having a drink at the pub. We never want to be prescriptive – our aim is that our guests leave us feeling more relaxed and recharged than when they arrived and ensure that there are ways that cater to everyone. 

For those looking for a more active break, what does Brimstone Hotel & Spa provide or recommend locally? – We have lots of ways to make a visit to Brimstone more active. As I mentioned with relaxation, being active means different things to different people but however guests choose to be active, we can help, be that walking to and from the pub for dinner to organising a trip around more extreme adventures such as the Fred Whitton cycle race.

For those that want to go out and walk on the fells, we have our very own Arcteryx Boot Room which provides guests with complimentary, top of the range Arcteryx walking kit (everything from walking boots to coats to Ordnance Survey Maps) to ensure they are ready to take on the rather variable Lake District elements! 

All of our hosts are local and very knowledgeable about the local area, so guests are encouraged to ask the hosts about any adventure advice or recommendations. We have lots of links with local partners so our hosts can organise everything from paddleboarding to ghyll scrambling. 

We also have a partnership with BikeTreks and can organise guided mountain bike trips which is great for the more adventurous type. We offer special BikeTreks weekends during the summer at our sister hotel, Langdale Hotel, which have been popular.

How important is interior design when creating the right atmosphere at Brimstone Hotel & Spa? – The interior design has been fundamental in creating the right atmosphere across the suites, the more communal spaces and the spa and continues to be very important. We have worked hard to create an experience that is enjoyable and relaxing whilst also being that little bit more luxurious than what you’d have at home.  

We never stand still when it comes to any part of the hotel, but particularly the interior design. Although the hotel is only five years old, we are doing full soft refurb this year which will update and refresh our rooms to bring in more elements of relaxation and luxury – watch this space!

Who designed the suites and what were the key elements you wanted to include to give them their identity? – We have a collection of 16 luxury suites and rooms which were designed by Greyline Design. We wanted the rooms to be tranquil, relaxing yet opulent. To deliver on this, the design of the suites are cool and stylish with cues taken from the Lakeland landscape – all without compromising on quality or comfort.

What’s your favourite part of the hotel, and why? – My favourite part of the hotel is the service – it is second to none. The people here make the stay for our guests. They are friendly, helpful and will always go the extra mile. Sounds simple but it does make every stay that bit more personal.

In terms of the actual facilities, I love our Mezzanine Suites due to the scale of them. These suites have a large seating and bathroom area downstairs with a log burning stove and a folding glass wall onto the balcony whilst upstairs there is the mezzanine, gallery bedroom. They are quite amazing. 

Our Reading Room is also a favourite and is the first place I go after I’ve been out on my mountain bike for a beer, a few nibbles, and to put my feet up!

Have you got any tips on how visitors can make the most of their stay and the local area? – I would always encourage guests to get active and breathe in some of the wonderful fresh air during their stay with us, in whatever format that might be. Being active and exploring allows you to have experiences you wouldn’t normally have on a day to day basis. You’ll discover things like beautiful views, paths off the beaten track and even great pubs that you otherwise wouldn’t have known about. 

As the pressures of modern life continue to grow, do you think staycations will grow in popularity? – Yes, I do think staycations will grow in popularity. Mental health, mindfulness and self-care are all areas of wellbeing that are becoming increasingly popular, and people are becoming much more aware of the importance of taking some time out. I don’t think that is going to change any time soon – people seem to be more inclined to spend money on experiences to help with their wellbeing than ever before. 

I also think staycations are likely to grow because people are becoming more conscious about their impact on the environment. Staycations are a good way of reducing the carbon output produced from a holiday as it (usually) doesn’t involve air travel.

Please note that this interview took part prior to Covid-19 and therefore please check with the hotel prior to booking to make sure that all services and activities are available

Interview with Gareth Billington Group Executive Chef at Quinta do Lago

Image: Gareth Billington, Group Executive Chef Quinta do Lago

After joining the Quinta do Lago team earlier in the year, we caught up with Gareth Billington to hear what made him decide to take on his new role as Group Executive Chef.

Nestled within the Algarve with the privacy and security of the Ria Formosa nature reserve, the Mediterranean resort provides a treat for visitors looking for excellent cuisine along with sporting breaks within a boutique hotel setting.

Firstly, congratulations on your appointment at Quinta do Lago. How did this role come about?
Quinta Do Lago has very professional and talented employees. I was asked to come here to give my cuisine knowledge to assist the Food & Beverage department. Also, to train and mentor young professionals in the kitchens.

You have worked in some fantastic places around the world, what drew you to your current base in Portugal?
I have worked at exclusive and high-class establishments, and Quinta Do Lago was the natural progression.

What can visitors expect to experience when visiting Quinta do Lago?
As soon as you arrive, you see the magnificent landscape, perfectly nurtured. Then enjoy the welcome from our fantastic staff, enjoy carefully selected beverages and gastronomic delights all served in beautiful surroundings.

Sustainability is an increasing element within the hospitality sector. How do you reflect this in your menu and produce?
We get as much produce as we can for our menus, from Quinta Do Lago Farm or local suppliers. This is to help reduce our carbon footprint and assist local family businesses. We check that our suppliers have the same policy, as ourselves on increasing sustainability awareness and practices.

You recently invested time by training 60 budding chefs, who inspired you during your career?
All the people I´ve worked with have inspired me.

When you are not cooking for visitors, what is your turn to dish?
Pan-fried Halibut with tomato and red onion salad, simple and tasty !

If you had to sum up your culinary style in fours words, what would they be?
Fresh, Flavour, Texture, Memorable