Gautam Bhandari – Senior Vice President, Hotel Development & Operations at Marriott International

We had the chance to chat with Gautam Bhandari, the Senior Vice President, Hotel Development & Operations at Marriott International.

During the interview, Gautam delved into his two-decade tenure with Marriott International and the inspiration behind the Marriott International Maldives Apprenticeship Programme (MIMAP), discussing how it will benefit the Maldivian tourism market in the long term.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your 20-year journey at Marriott International?

I’m originally from India, but my journey with Marriott International began after I moved to Australia for my bachelor’s degree in hotel management. Starting as a night auditor, I embraced Marriott’s core value of prioritising people, which is deeply ingrained in our culture and focuses on personal development. Over the past 20 years, I’ve had the privilege of working across various departments and hotels, spanning countries like Australia, Japan, India, Hong Kong, and Singapore. I’m proud to say that I am one of the examples of Marriott’s commitment to developing talent, as my expertise primarily lies in operations, sales and marketing, revenue management, and hotel development. This journey has culminated in my current role overseeing operations in Singapore and the Maldives for select hotels.  

Marriott’s philosophy emphasises the importance of nurturing and developing talent. Mr. J.W. Marriott has always said: “If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of the customer, and the customer will keep coming back.” This guiding principle is engraved in every aspect of our business throughout Marriott International. 

Could you provide an overview of the Marriott International Maldives Apprenticeship Programme (MIMAP) and its objectives?

We established the Marriott International Maldives Apprenticeship Programme (MIMAP) through a signed MOU with the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Community Empowerment and the Maldives Institute of Technology in March of last year. This collaboration brought together three key parties to create the program.

The primary objective of MIMAP is to train our associates and empower the youth by providing them with motivation, skills, and industry knowledge. This initiative serves as a bridge between the government, the Maldives Institute of Technology, and Marriott International, leveraging our collective expertise to benefit aspiring professionals. Associates enrolled in the program acquire theoretical knowledge from the Maldives Institute of Technology while gaining hands-on experience within our hotels. We aim to equip them with the necessary skills and insights to thrive in the industry, emphasising multicultural environments to prepare them for diverse workplaces. The collaborative efforts of these three organisations have resulted in the development of a truly unique and impactful apprenticeship program.

What inspired Marriott International to launch an apprenticeship programme specifically in the Maldives?

The inspiration behind Marriott International’s launch of an apprenticeship program in the Maldives stems from our deep commitment to developing people at every level within our organisation. We have witnessed numerous success stories where individuals who started in the rank and file have risen to lead countries and departments across our organisation. Marriott International has always championed such growth opportunities.

Furthermore, the Maldives’ tourism sector, which supports over one-third of the economy, serves as a significant source of employment, making it an ideal market for expansion. As one of the world’s largest hotel chains, we recognise the immense potential for growth in this vibrant destination. The government’s enthusiastic support for initiatives aimed at fostering partnerships and collaborations has further fueled our commitment.  

Through this apprenticeship program, we aim not only to drive our own growth but also to contribute to the development of the country’s youth, empowering them to grow their businesses and thereby contributing to the nation’s overall progress. This collaborative effort, involving both the private sector and the government, creates a fertile ground for talent development and economic growth. 

The combination of these factors presents a perfect opportunity for us. While we have apprenticeship programmes in various countries, this program in the Maldives stands out due to the significant involvement of the government. It is indeed an exceptional opportunity to nurture talent and contribute to the ongoing development of this dynamic destination. 

What sets the MIMAP apart from similar apprenticeship programmes in the hospitality industry?

What distinguishes the MIMAP from other apprenticeship programmes in the hospitality industry is its customised training approach specifically designed for resort environments. In the Maldives, resorts present a unique setting compared to corporate hotels, requiring a specialised skill set honed through hands-on experience and a deep understanding of guest expectations. Managing resorts requires a unique training method tailored for individuals who have progressed within the industry ranks. For example, while housekeeping duties at a corporate hotel may involve routine tasks, in a resort environment, they encompass a substantial amount of effort, including managing sand, attending to children, and delivering a distinctive guest experience. In a resort, guests are paying for their experience, so the expectations are very high. The required skill set is unique and must come from a genuine place of care. 

The Maldives, known for its warm hospitality and exceptional resort experiences, serves as the perfect backdrop for developing expertise in resort management. The programme focuses on nurturing talent specifically for the resort sector, recognising that tomorrow’s leaders in this field will emerge from destinations where they have lived and learned firsthand. 

As part of our corporate responsibility, we believe in working with governments and local communities to address unemployment challenges by providing training opportunities. The diverse culture in the Maldives creates a rich learning environment, promoting personal and professional growth through mutual respect and shared experiences among professionals from different backgrounds. This unique blend of cultural exchange and hands-on training makes MIMAP a standout program, paving the way for future leaders in resort management. 

How does Marriott International support the career development and progression of apprentices after they complete the programme?

At Marriott International, the approach to career development is comprehensive and structured. We understand that development is more than just placing individuals in roles. It involves guiding them through a journey of growth and progression. 

There are development programmes at every career stage, designed to help individuals transition into leadership roles such as general managers or senior leaders. For instance, if an apprentice starts as an F&B server but aspires to become a supervisor or restaurant manager, there are specialised programmes to support this career path. We envision graduates of programmes like MIMAP joining our resorts and hotels, with the potential to further advance in leadership positions. My personal journey within Marriott reflects this progression, starting from the ground up and evolving into a leadership role. 

We have dedicated programmes across various work streams, covering technical knowledge, wine, food, service, leadership, and soft skills. These programmes are supplemented with online and classroom training, providing a holistic approach to skill development and career advancement. 

Personal development plans are integral to our approach. During annual performance reviews, supervisors discuss skill sets and career aspirations with associates, tailoring development plans to help them achieve their goals. Our culture and processes prioritise people development, resulting in visible progress and career growth within our organisation. 

In our resorts, it’s common to see individuals progressing and gaining experience by moving between properties, often receiving promotions along the way. This mobility fosters a culture of continuous learning and advancement, contributing to the overall success and development of our associates.

How do you think the apprenticeship programme will benefit the Maldivian tourism market in the long run?

The apprenticeship programme holds immense potential for the long-term growth of the Maldivian tourism market. As tourism continues to grow in the Maldives, driven by increasing travel within Asia, it’s essential to prepare for the growing demand. The government’s investments in infrastructure, including the new airport, are steps in the right direction to support this expansion.

As the market expands, the need for skilled personnel becomes paramount. Relying solely on external talent isn’t sustainable for the long run. The apprenticeship programme is designed to empower the local youth by providing them with valuable skills and experience. By working closely with the government, the programme is designed to empower local youth by providing them with valuable skills and experience, fostering talent, with the aim of contributing to the country’s overall growth.

By combining infrastructure development with people development initiatives, this approach not only builds a stronger tourism sector but also fosters the growth of Maldivian society. The programme offers structured learning environments led by industry experts, supported by government initiatives and local knowledge from institutions like the Maldives Institute of Technology. Together, we are cultivating a talented workforce that will propel the Maldives’ tourism industry forward and sustain its growth in the years to come.

What is your advice for aspiring hoteliers?

My advice for aspiring hoteliers is to work hard, excel in your performance, and strive to stand out from the competition. In the hospitality industry, there’s fierce competition, so it’s crucial to distinguish yourself. When life presents opportunities, seize them. I rarely turn down opportunities because I believe that if someone offers you an opportunity, they’ve already considered its potential. Embracing opportunities may involve some risk, but taking calculated risks makes you work smarter and harder, ultimately paving the way to success. Especially when you’re young, be proactive in seizing opportunities as they arise.