Luxury hotels in Maldives seek differentiation in a saturated market

A bird's-eye view of a resort in the Maldives

The luxury market in the Maldives is at risk of being over-saturated, with hoteliers urging greater differentiation among resorts to better compete against competitors.

“The problem with luxury – not only in the Maldives – is that the difference between resorts is just the name on the door,” Sonu Shivdasani, founder and CEO of Soneva, asserted in a recent interview with TTG Asia.

A bird’s-eye view of a resort in the Maldives

Shivdasani said many hoteliers who have built high-end resorts are suffering from their inability to differentiate against one other, apart from the one-island-one-resort concept which is “old news”.

“They are just paying bank loans, (tax) and the island lease rentals. They are not getting a return,” remarked Shivdasani, who launched his first resort, Soneva Fushi, in the Maldives in 1995.

“A lot of these luxury hotels are opening and are surprised that they are not getting the premium rates they had originally projected – because there is no real differentiation,” he added.

Confident he can create a new differentiator to stand apart from the competition, Shivdasani shared that a Soneva property with a concept that does not yet exist in the Maldives is in the works, slated for opening in 2020.

Other hoteliers such as Andrew Ashmore, chief commercial officer at Coco Collection Hotels & Resorts, agree. He said luxury hotels have expanded far too quickly, resulting in the same look and feel, while the “soul of the true Maldives has effectively or will be gone”.

Referring to the return on investment, Ashmore said that while normally the “payback” is around 10 years, it’s now doubling to 20 or even 25 years.

Industry officials said that in the next few months there will be a total of 20 new, top-end resorts. “Most of these have the same type of water villas and restaurants with everything imported,” Ashmore added.

But Suresh Dissanayake, assistant vice president – sales and marketing at Heritance Aarah and Adaaran resorts, remarks that the oversupply situation is a temporary problem and will be sorted out once the airport increases its capacity.

“There is excess supply due to limited influx. And the limited influx is (due to) the limited capacity at the airport. Once the new runway is open and the number of arrivals increase with more flights at the renovated airport, that will take care of increasing room stock,” he said.

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