In this exclusive interview, we had the pleasure of speaking with an esteemed figure in the luxury hospitality industry. With over 30 years of experience and a diverse career spanning multiple countries and renowned hotel chains, Hery Kuswoyo, General Manager, Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru and Dhawa Ihuru, brings a wealth of insights into the world of luxury travel and hospitality.
Join us as we delve into his background, career journey, and perspective on the ever-evolving landscape of the Maldivian tourism industry.
I’m originally from Indonesia and I’ve been focused on the luxury hospitality industry throughout my career. It all started in Bali, where I went to a top hotel school and specialized in food and beverage.
After that, I worked on a cruise ship as an apprentice, starting as a busboy and learning about world-class hospitality while serving diverse guests. I then joined renowned hotel chains like Hyatt and Four Seasons, with The Ritz-Carlton being a highlight. I held senior positions there, travelled extensively, and opened new properties across China, Asia, South East Asia and the Middle East. In 2010, I joined Banyan Tree as an EAM F&B, where I gained a fresh perspective on luxury, especially in Thailand. Successfully overseeing the opening of a highly acclaimed Banyan Tree in Macau solidified my ability to deliver exceptional experiences to discerning guests.
With Banyan Tree, I continued to grow, becoming a Hotel Manager in Phuket and a Regional Director of operations based in Singapore soon after. I managed multiple properties and handled pre-opening projects, sharpening my operational and leadership skills. During the pandemic, I moved back to Bali as a General Manager, overseeing the pre-opening newest Banyan Tree brand, HOMM while also supporting Business Development Team in Indonesia.
Currently, I’m in the Maldives, leading the up-lifting the villas with each facilities including additional Food & Beverage outlets and enhancing the guest experience at two exceptional properties. I’ve been fortunate to work in various countries like Bali, Qatar, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, and now the Maldives.
As a General Manager, my day typically starts early around 5:30 or 6 o’clock. I prioritize spending time with friends and hotel colleagues, reading reports to stay updated on the previous 24 hours, and engaging in casual conversations with my associates. Throughout the day, I make it a point to personally interact with our guests, finding what more we can help to make their holidays a memorable one. I also have meetings with managers to discuss daily operations and upcoming events, while maintaining a balance between guest and staff interactions. After lunch, I catch up on emails and reports, and I dedicate time to connect with new staff members, providing guidance and fostering a positive work environment. Attending receptions and mingling with staff continues until around 7:30 or 8 o’clock. Despite the industry’s 24/7 nature, I prioritize my personal life and actively participate in activities like trying out the jet ski, going out fishing with staff, and identifying areas for improvement to enhance performance in the hotel. This hands-on approach allows me to stay connected with operations and ensure a memorable experience for both guests and employees is at hand.
Having worked in various destinations like Bali, Bangkok, Phuket and Macau, I can say that each place has its own ‘unique’ charms. In the Maldives, the hospitality scene is entirely different, but there is one thing in common, that is Banyan Tree Properties, we focus on leveraging the resort’s resources and the local experiences that the country and surroundings have to offer. We continuously strive to showcase the essence of the local culture and what makes each destination, whether it’s the Maldives or Bali, truly special.
For example, in Bali, we incorporate coconut into our culinary offerings, rice planting etc. reflecting the authentic Balinese experience. Similarly, in the Maldives, coconut is used in unique ways, like making snacks and oil. Regardless of the location, we emphasize these principles and ensure that our service, dining experiences, and room amenities highlight the distinctive aspects of each destination.
The differences between destinations are significant. While other places may have beautiful white sand beaches and water sports opportunities, what sets the Maldives apart is the unparalleled accessibility to coral reefs for snorkelling just steps away from the villas, sharks are just swimming next to you. It’s these distinct factors that make each location stand out in its own way.
This year in the Maldives, we are dedicated to uplifting all aspects of Banyan Tree properties. Our focus is on enhancing guest experiences while preserving the elements that made us renowned over the years.
We are emphasizing improvements in our landscape, paying attention to detail in every corner while preserving the natural beauty of the existing plantations. Villa enhancements are also underway, including the addition of living rooms in our prime categories and the upgrading of the quality of woodwork, pools, and interior features.
Renovations are taking place in our spa facilities to enhance the guest experience. Our treatment rooms are being upgraded, with two already completed and Dhawa Ihuru officially rebranded and opened earlier this year. On the front-of-house side, we are revamping our food and beverage outlets to improve buffet presentation, and quality, and showcase unique local products. We are also redesigning the lounge area and opening a new bar called Sunset Jetty, offering guests a stunning sunset with a variety of Yakitori while swimming in our seawater pool experience.
These are just some of the areas we are focusing on and will continue to improve throughout the year.
Sustainability is incorporated into everything we do daily. It is in the core of Banyan Tree Group DNA for a very long time. At the heart sustainability comes from all departments with the Green Team driving each new and existing project. The Team is made up of one representative from each department. We conduct monthly sustainability events aligned with international and/or global events, local community engagements, workshops for schools and mentorship programs.
Engineering Team sets a minimum target of five per cent reduction in carbon emissions from year to year. Kitchen and Service Teams work hard to reduce food wastage from the associate canteen by monitoring food consumption and cooking food to order. The resort has eliminated over 95% of single-use plastics from our 2018 pledge. Every day, we are one step closer to our goal of 100% by 2024. Both Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru and Dhawa Ihuru have been Earth Check certified for seven years. We just recently completed our eighth annual audit.
We also have a Marine Lab dedicated to the preservation of our coral reef while educating our guests, including the very young ones, associates, and local communities on the current global and local problems coral reefs face. In fact, our Marine Lab is the first resort-based facility in the Maldives to provide basic facilities and equipment for fieldwork and to share the importance of marine conservation and sustainable livelihoods with local communities.
We continuously strive and better ourselves with sustainability within the resort and group-wide. We believe the business cannot succeed if our society and surrounding fail.
Throughout my career, I have witnessed remarkable changes in the realm of luxury travel. Previously, luxury was often associated with older individuals possessing substantial wealth. However, in recent years, there has been a notable shift towards inclusivity and accessibility, allowing a broader demographic to indulge in luxury accommodations and travel experiences. It is now common to encounter guests under the age of 30 who possess the means and desire to enjoy the finer aspects of travel. The demand for luxury has steadily grown, resulting in the expansion of renowned luxury brands. In the Maldives, a destination where we have played a pioneering role in luxury hospitality, we have observed remarkable progress, with approximately 40% to 50% of the 170 resorts or hotels classified as luxury properties. Looking ahead, the future of the luxury sector appears highly promising, with the continuous emergence of new luxury hotels and a thriving market awaiting exploration.
I have had the opportunity to observe and understand the unique characteristics of the Maldivian tourism landscape. The landscape has evolved to possess its own distinct features that set it apart. Having been involved in the industry for the past three decades, particularly with Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru and Dhawa Ihuru, we have successfully identified the essence of what makes the Maldives truly special.
However, our focus now lies in effectively conveying these unique aspects to the younger generation, igniting their interest and motivating them to personally experience the wonders of the Maldives. Visitors to this breathtaking destination seek more than just the pristine white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters. They long to immerse themselves in the authentic Maldivian way of life. For instance, while fishing has embraced advancements in equipment and technology, we also strive to incorporate traditional and local elements into this activity. I recently had the opportunity to go fishing and was delighted to be offered dried tuna, a traditional snack, accompanied by slices of coconut. This experience served as a powerful connection to the local culture, leaving a lasting impression.
Our aim is to create authentic encounters that showcase the richness of the local culture, crafting unforgettable memories for our esteemed guests. Educating our younger staff members about the significance of these traditions and the profound connections they foster is an ongoing endeavour. The Maldivian tourism landscape transcends surface beauty, offering immersive experiences that captivate visitors and enable them to forge a genuine bond with the vibrant Maldivian culture. This is yet to mention the extensive activities that we were the pioneer between Marine Lab and the Sustainability array of engagement with nature where our guests and associate are part of it.
For aspiring hoteliers, my advice is to embrace the opportunities that the hospitality industry offers, especially for those who enjoy travelling and working in different locations. While hospitality may not be seen as a traditional career choice, it provides incredible prospects for individuals who have a passion for exploring new places. The industry allows for potential work opportunities in various countries and regions throughout your career, giving you a global perspective and diverse cultural experiences.
If your goal is to travel and work from different locations, consider roles in marketing, sales, or revenue generation, as they often offer flexibility to work remotely or travel for business purposes. This way, you can satisfy your desire for exploration while pursuing a fulfilling career in hospitality. My advice is to have clarity in your aspirations and commit to hospitality wholeheartedly, viewing it as a long-term path rather than a temporary experiment. Focus on developing expertise in your chosen field and embrace the experiences and opportunities that come your way.
Outside of hospitality, I have a few hobbies and interests. Firstly, I enjoy golfing as an amateur (weekend social player), usually playing twice a month with buddies. Unfortunately, being in the Maldives limits my golfing opportunities. Secondly, I have a passion for biking and used to commute to work on my bike in Singapore. Riding a bike is a regular activity for me, at least two or three times a week. Lastly, being near the ocean brings me great joy, whether it’s in the Maldives or Bali. Living close to the beach allows me to enjoy its tranquillity and capture moments.