Exclusive Interview – Gabriela Markova, Executive Director of Sales & Marketing – Velaa Private Island, Maldives…
Located in the Noonu Atoll, 187 km North of Male, Velaa Private Island is making its mark as a truly exceptional retreat. In a meeting at ILTM Cannes, we asked Gabriela Markova to tell us more about the resort.
We are 45 minutes away from Male. We have 47 villas on the beach or over water, and 400 employees living on the island. We are really focussed on service and focussed on privacy. Velaa shares its name and its home with the generations of sea turtles that have inhabited the island for countless years. The colours and patterns of a turtle shell make up subtle nuances in the design, while from a broader aerial view, Velaa’s exclusive over-water villas resemble the head of a turtle with the island forming the body. Designed by Czech architect Petr Kolar, the overall design concept is contemporary, yet intimate, with Maldivian nuances. In terms of privacy, we are the only resort like this to have a non-drone policy.
The villas are very big…
Indeed. The smallest villa is 280 square metres, and every villa has outdoor/indoor bathroom. We have one butler per villa and if you have a residence then you have two butlers per villa. Every villa has a pool… not a plunge pool, but a real pool with a gazebo. If you go fishing, you can have a “what you catch is what you eat” experience there, with our staff cooking for you, and cooking classes are also available. In the two bedroom villas there are two pools: a shallow one for the kids, and a normal one for the parents. Then of course there are the over-water villas, for which many people come to the Maldives. What’s good about being 45 minutes from Male is that there are far fewer resorts in the area. Here, when you sit on your terrace, the only islands you see are deserted. We sometimes take guests to the outlying islands for picnics, or for treasure hunts for the children.
We have one butler per villa and if you have a residence then you have two butlers per villa.
Two weeks ago, we had a client who said, “I love the Maldives, but it’s not Ibiza, and we’d love to have a party”. So on the Saturday, we took staff members who weren’t on duty, our house DJ, and some lighting, and installed it on the desert island to turn it into a disco for the night – just for them. It was a very personal experience.
You have a multi-storey building on the island… How do you manage that?
Yes, the Tuvaru is the tallest building on the Maldivian islands, at five storeys. You are not permitted to have anything taller than the palm trees, so we had to import especially tall palm trees to have this approved in the first place.
On the top floor we have a lounge and bar, the fourth floor we have a Japanese restaurant and grill, and the first to the third floor is the largest wine cellar in the Maldives – with the biggest collection of wine and Champagne. The building has the only elevator on the Maldivian resort islands. Our owner had noticed that some other resorts had underwater restaurants, so he said, “If they go down, I want to go up”.
In the spa, you have another major differentiator as well…
Yes, we are the only ones with a snow room in the Maldives where people can cool down when they take a sauna.
Tell me more about the owner…
There are many private islands in Maldives, but only very few of them are actually private, owned by one person. Velaa Private Island is such a case. The owner, Jiri Smejc, a self-made billionaire from the Czech Republic, spent countless weeks in Maldives both on holidays and while taking his business trips from Europe to Asia, and the islands became his true passion: many of them being beautiful, but each of them coming short on some part of the visitor experience he valued. That’s why he decided to build the Velaa Private Island. Having stayed at a number of resorts, he one day asked a butler to find him a resort and help him hand pick his personnel. They did this. It took three years to build the resort, and during these three years, he sent all the key personnel to the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne. When he finished the resort, they finished their studies, and he thus now has a very loyal “army” working for him. We have excellent complements about the personnel. They have a “savoir vivre”, or a sixth sense, being attentive, but not to be too intrusive. There is really a human side to it. Mr Smejc says, “Guests coming to my hotel are guests in my home.” He needs to taste every wine that is available. He wants to listen to every musician we bring there, because it’s like his home.