Maldives agent is all at sea

Monday, 2 February 2009 21:03

As our seaplane headed from Male to the new Maldivian resort of Iru Fushi, we had no idea the owner was onboard.

It was only when we approached and he casually twirled his finger to tell the pilot to take a slow circle of the island to give us a better look that it started to become clear.

A former travel agent, Ahmed Siyam Mohamed is an elusive character with a burgeoning portfolio of resorts and a disarmingly positive outlook.

Siyam has built up his Sun Hotels & Resorts empire from scratch. In his early 20s he worked in various hotels, as a receptionist, in food and beverage, and store accounts, before setting up his own travel agency in 1990.

Armed with an investment of just $900, he set up Maldives-based Sun Travel by buying a fax machine, a table and a few chairs.

He credits a trip to ITB in 1991 as a major boost for his business, but the real catalyst came in 1992 when the Maldivian government opened up a bidding system for ownership of the islands.

Bidding wars
“We were given the highest marks,” Siyam boasts. “I created the resort concept, and wrote the environment report. We give high consideration to the environment. We don’t cut anything, we build around. That is how the build concept should be.”

Strong green credentials helped him win the bid, and Vilu Reef Beach Resort & Spa was born.

Building didn’t actually start until 1998, but with careful planning behind him, he constructed the resort in one year.

Two further bids were made, and won, between that time and 2006, leading to Olhuveli Beach & Resort Spa and Vilu Reef Beach Resort & Spa.

In 2006, Siyam made a fourth bid – this time for virgin island Iru Fushi.

Again, Siyam cites green credentials playing a big part in the bid’s success: “We recycle waste as fertiliser. Sewage is treated, then used for plant watering. Solar panels heat the swimming pools.”

Global outlook
Although he won the bid, I ask if the timing might be unfortunate, with the global economy and security issues putting pressure on tourism.

“I am happy we deal with the world,” he replies. “Now we are targeting eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East a lot more.

“The Maldives needs 800,000 tourists a year to have 80% occupancy rate. Our company in particular needs 80,000 tourists a year, which is a 10% market share. Two billion people travel worldwide each year, so 80,000 is not much”.

Despite his love for the Maldives, Siyam has recognised that to grow he must look farther afield, and has bought land in Bali and the Seychelles. But for now, his focus is closer to home, and his message to UK travellers reflects the positivity which is clearly part of his make-up.

“People must not stop holidays,” he says, smiling. “Keep up your way of life.”

Thomson is offering seven nights half-board from £1,149 per person based on two sharing. Includes return flights from Gatwick.


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