Iujaz Zuhair – Resort Manager at Villa Nautica

Our team had the pleasure of interviewing Iujaz Zuhair, the Resort Manager at Villa Nautica. Embarking on a dynamic hospitality journey in 2010, Iujaz has a rich background, including roles with  Jumeirah Dhevanafushi, Four Seasons Maldives and Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort and Spa, where he navigated challenges during the pandemic.

In 2022, he returned to the Maldives, bringing his expertise to Villa Nautica as Resort Manager, emphasising operational excellence.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your professional background, and key milestones that have led you to your current role as the Resort Manager of Villa Nautica?

My journey in the hospitality industry has been an exciting odyssey marked by diverse experiences and notable milestones. From a very young age, I was immersed in the hospitality industry; my father, who worked at a local resort then, would bring me to the resort to visit him. This is where the spark for hospitality ignited.

Soon after graduating from the University in 2010, I joined Jumeirah Dhevanafushi as part of their pre-opening team. From thereon, I moved as a Guest Services Attendant with Four Seasons Maldives. Soon after, I was lucky enough to have been selected for the first batch of Management Trainees by Hilton Worldwide for the Asia Pacific region. These roles laid the foundation for my passion for delivering exceptional service.  My first overseas placement in this training programme was with Hilton Kuala Lumpur in 2014. Shortly after graduating from this programme, I returned to work at the Conrad Maldives. Call it wanderlust, but I craved a more challenging environment and applied overseas again in 2016, finally ending up in the Seychelles!

Joining Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort and Spa was one of the key milestones in my career. I started as a Guest Relations Manager and gradually climbed up the ladder to Assistant Front Office Manager, Front Office Manager and then to Rooms Division Manager. This period was pivotal, particularly during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic when, as a team, we navigated operational complexities with minimal staffing.

After several years abroad and taking on different challenging assignments, my compass returned to Maldives. I joined the Villa Resorts team as part of the Blue Ocean shift / rebranding efforts early in 2022. As Resort Manager, I support the General Manager in overseeing daily operations, setting strategic goals, and maintaining the resort’s exclusivity. 

As the Resort Manager of Villa Nautica, you oversee its strategic direction. Could you give us insights into some unique aspects that set Villa Nautica apart and contribute to its reputation as an exclusive destination?

Villa Nautica prides itself on several distinctive features that collectively contribute to its status as an exclusive and sought-after destination. We take pride in offering exclusive experiences explicitly tailored to our property, called “Nautical Knots.” These specially curated experiences add a distinct layer of personalised luxury to our guests’ stays, setting us apart as a destination that goes above and beyond to create exceptional and memorable moments.

With your extensive 12-year career in the industry, how has your experience been working for a renowned hospitality company like Villa Resorts?

It has been a very enriching experience so far. Working for Villa Resorts – and Villa Nautica in particular – has given me the privilege of being part of an outstanding team that consistently strives for excellence. One of the standout aspects of my experience here has been witnessing the evolution and growth of our brand. Our recent rebranding from Paradise Island to Villa Nautica and the uplift in our service standards have been significant milestones, showcasing our dedication to staying relevant and competitive in the ever-changing hospitality industry.

As someone who has overseen various hospitality properties, what do you believe are the key factors contributing to a luxury resort’s long-term success and sustainability?

Long-term success and sustainability in luxury resorts hinge on a delicate balance of several key factors. 

Firstly, maintaining an unwavering commitment to delivering exceptional guest experiences is paramount. Anticipating and exceeding guest expectations fosters loyalty and fuels positive word-of-mouth, a cornerstone of success in the hospitality industry.

Secondly, strategic innovation plays a crucial role. Luxury travellers seek uniqueness and exclusivity. Introducing novel experiences, whether in culinary offerings, wellness programs, or recreational activities, keeps the resort dynamic and in tune with evolving guest preferences. Sustainability is no longer an option but a necessity. A luxury resort’s commitment to environmental responsibility is not just a moral imperative but a strategic move. Implementing eco-friendly practices, from energy conservation to waste reduction, aligns with global consciousness and resonates with the discerning clientele that luxury resorts attract.

Lastly, but the most crucial factor for me is keeping the team engaged and motivated; investing in the development and well-being of the staff is often underestimated but integral to long-term success. A motivated and skilled team is the backbone of exceptional service. Training, professional growth opportunities, and fostering a positive work culture contribute to staff retention and sustained excellence. At Villa Nautica, we’ve cultivated a culture of appreciation and gratitude, ensuring that every act of kindness and teamwork is recognised and celebrated as something extraordinary. With the outstanding efforts of our Human Resources team, saying “thank you” has now become second nature. To elevate our gratitude practices, we took the pioneering step of enrolling on Kudos last March, making us the first company in the Maldives to do so. Kudos is an interactive appreciation platform designed for businesses which work similarly to a point system: it enables us to reward our team members with points for their unwavering dedication, which they can then use to redeem services, goods, or experiences within the entire Villa Group. Furthermore, we recently introduced Villa Academy of Excellence, a learning platform whereby team members are regularly assigned training to enhance their skills and knowledge, and it offers a diverse selection of courses aligned with individual interests.

For you personally, what is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

The most rewarding aspect of my job is observing my team members’ personal and professional growth. I have always been blessed with leaders who shared the philosophy of “your success is my success” and groomed me into the leader I am today. I dedicate time and effort to nurture our team towards our shared vision, and it is incredibly gratifying to witness them transform into independent and well-groomed professionals. Seeing them confident enough to make impactful decisions that benefit our guests and enhance our property’s overall success is incomparable.

How is Villa Nautica preparing for the festive season?

The festive season is always an extraordinary time that brings excitement and challenges, particularly on the logistical front (with a smile). Still, we all are very much looking forward to it. We prepared ourselves by learning from our past experiences. Shortly after concluding last year’s festive season, we made an extensive post-mortem assessment whereby we recognised and celebrated our successes (which we will undoubtedly replicate this year as well) and – equally important – we’ve delved into areas we could have done better. We gathered all the constructive feedback received from our guests as well as from our behind-the-scenes team. We tailored this year’s program to align more closely with our visitors’ expectations and enhance the overall experience for both guests and team members.

As a seasoned professional, what advice do you have for aspiring managers and individuals pursuing careers in the hotel industry?

My strongest advice is to stay humble and embrace every opportunity to learn, grow, and serve others (guests and team members). As mentioned, in hospitality, the only constant is change, and the only way to successfully implement changes is by remaining grounded and self-aware, acknowledging your mistakes and positively using them as life lessons.