Seven Holidays - Your Guide to Maldives Resorts & Holidays

Adrian Nevilles Blog

Allow me to introduce Hanan Howlader. He was my neighbour when I lived in Dhaka. My familyfamily lived in a one storey house with a flat roof next to small lake. Hanan lived in a small enclosure with many relatives right on the lake. They tended the water pump.

It was natural and inevitable that we all got to know a little about each other, especially as we had three young childrenchildren. In fact, Hanan has one girl a year younger than ours.

After three years in the house, we moved on. But Hanan suddenly popped up in Male at the cafe where I went every morning. It was an amazing surprise. Turned out he had got a job looking after the cleaning of the office and retail block where the cafe was (the STO Trade Centre).

We would chat every now and again but I moved to another part of town and another cafe, so the chats became far more infrequent. This time in Male, I bumped into him three times in one day, so I felt I had to write something down about him.

In the morning I met him in the STO Trade Centre as I went for a meeting, and he was able to show me into his office. Just a few metres square but an office. He has risen from supervisor to Site Manager. Sharing the space was a Maldivian woman. Hanan explained that there were just four Maldivians in the cleaning firm: the owner, the MD and two women who did the books. All the other employees are Bangladeshi. When he first came, 8 years ago, he managed 12 Bangladeshi workers. Today he oversees 80.

Over those eight years and increase in responsibility his salary has gone up from $110 a month to $370 a month. “Now it’s OK”, he says, rocking his head back with a shy grin, “Now is good”.

In the afternoon I met him when he barped the horn of the minibus he was driving, stacked with full bin bags, and I was on the back of a motorbike. His grin came across the passenger seat and out the window to me, “See I told you I drove the car didn’t I?” it proclaimed, shy and proud.

After dark we ran into each other on the street. I was walking back to my room for dinner, he was on a bicycle, holding his phone light for a torch, and going between the various venues where the company have got new contracts to clean. I knew of the unbelievable hours he was doing when he first came to town but now I found out he is doing no less. He starts at 5.30 am and goes on until 9 pm..or maybe 10 pm. If there are many sites working at once or there are issues to attend to, his day may extend to 11 pm or even midnight. Does he get a day off? No. He has a few hours to himself on Friday, after about 6.30 pm.

For 8 years he has worked every single day he has been in Male. In those 8 years he has been back to see his family in Dhaka three times. He will stay, he says, another five years without going back home and then return for good. His daughter will be 14 years old. He will have seen her three times since she was one year old. “Now is good”, Hanan says, “Now is good”. Damn, what do we know? 

From the simplest of beginnings the Maldives has become possibly the most prestigious holidayholiday destination in the world. How did it get there? The country's natural assets have never changed but every new resort and almost every resort upgrade has incorporated the very latest Unique Selling Point and then pushed on to find another unique idea or level of luxury to distinguish themselves. 

It was 40 years ago this year that the first resort was built, against all the odds. A United Nations body had written in a report that tourism wasn't worth pursuing in the Maldives because the obstacles were too big. There was no bank in the country, so no access to finance, there was no airport to speak of, there wasn't even a telephone. Yet Kurumba manage to open in 1972 and Bandos a few months later.

The rooms were built of the best local materials available; there were coral walls, coconut wood beams and palm-thatched roofs. There was a bed, a wardrobe, a luggage rack and a dressing table. That's all. Drinking water was from collected rainwater or a well. The meals were a repetition of tuna curry, rice, local fruit and vegetables and not very much else.

As you fly to your destination today think back just 40 years to when the only way to get around was by sail dhoni. Think how long that would take to get to your destination. In the same year of 1972, the first engine was put into a dhoni, much to the distrust of the fishermen. It wasn't until 1989 that helicopters came along and 1994 that seaplanes made their appearance. By the way, the telephone system was finally established in 1980. Before that all communication was by ham radio or Morse code!

Hot water was probably the first major innovation. And for many years afterwards, resorts would advertise 'Hot & Cold Water' . When ceiling fans moved to air conditioners this was something to shout about. Then in-room telephones were something a bit special and finally televisions were put into the prestige rooms. Of course, these have gone from small, wide and heavy to 50" wafer thin LED numbers with Bose surround sound, which is also connected to the blu-ray player and iPod dock. 

Bathrooms have been the growth area for a few years now. Once a small, neglected space at the back, they are now luxurious expanses of flowering plants, sand and green marble, with twin basins, showers inside and out, a jacuzzi and plunge pool. The amenities have gone from wall-mounted soap dispenser to Molten Brown skincare products and other such premium beauty brands. The inside/outside style of resort bathrooms derives from the first resort rooms that in turn copy the design of Maldivian island houses. The bathroom of those houses, called a gifili, is a fenced enclosure extending from the back of the house, with a well in the middle from which water is drawn using a large tin tied onto a long stick.

When I went around the resorts in 1996 for the first edition of 'Resorts of Maldives' a saltwater shower in your room was not uncommon. Desalination was a major boon for the industry and its guests. After sweet water in the rooms came sweet water in the new swimming pools but I distinctly remember a couple of occasions when I jumped into a resort pool at the end of a day's work to be unpleasantly shocked by a mouthful of saltwater. Today there is some competition to have the biggest pool but this doesn't seem to me to be a great prize in a country that specialises in private experiences.

As for food and beverage, set plates of local curry and vegetables was superseded by the simple buffet, which in turn became extravagant buffet spreads sourced from all around the world and transported in very carefully controlled and documented container shipments coming through Dubai and Singapore. The all-day coffee shop was once a bit of a novelty. Now, of course, we have Conrad's and Anantara Kihavah's underwater restaurants. 

It was many years after wine was first served that the first wine cellar was built in Soneva Fushi - an impressive feat in shallow coral sand. Shortly afterwards the sommelier appeared. Quite a few resorts have a sommelier now and some have several, one for each outlet, but only a few have that latest, greatest, a mixicologist who will design a cocktail around your selection of spirits, fruits and flavours (Constance Halaveli is one). On the other hand Niyama now has the country's first underwater nightclub to have that drink in.

Underwater is the new overwater. It is the thrilling new idea that has resorts feverishly playing off the cost against the prestige and instant international media chatter. We now have the underwater restaurant (that you can also book for a night as a bedroom), the underwater nightclub and the underwater spa. The latter belongs to Huvafen Fushi and is the culmination of the spa idea that, amazingly, only arrived in the country in the late '90's. It was such a perfect fit for the Maldives that it took off like wildfire and in just a few years almost every resort had one. In the same way, waterbungalows took off in the early '90's, a full 20 years after tourism began, and quickly spread to every resort that had enough lagoon to accommodate them (and a few that didn't).

The overwater bungalow is probably the greatest and certainly the most significant innovation of all. It is fair to say that it transformed tourism for the Maldives. It not only enabled more, and more expensive, rooms to be built without impacting the island but they delivered the lagoon and reef drop-off right to the wooden steps off your deck. If that deck is entirely private and faces the sunset, you are as close to heaven as you are going to get while still smiling. 

I am happy to announce the arrival of the brand new edition of 'Resorts of Maldives'.

It has been a long time coming but it's worth it. More up-to-date than the website presently, the seminal guidebook to the resorts has expanded to 220 pages and 800 colour photographs. It covers every resort in the country.

No other guidebook comes close to this comprehensive coverage or gives anything like the depth of personally researched information and opinion. Alongside each review are telling photographs, a key prices box and two scales indicating room price and room density.

To buy it, put €25 or £20 into an envelope addressed to:

Adrian Neville
57 Lower O'Connell St.
Kinsale, County Cork

include your address and your book with be sent off to you straightaway. I will sign the books purchased in this way, and dedicate them if you wish. 

Here is the cover.


Resorts of Maldives Fourth Edition

 First came the guide book, then came the website and now comes the ebook. Then comes people asking for a print edition of the ebook. But it's over, sadly, it's over.

I love the look and feel of that book in my hands. The last couple of editions of 'Resorts of Maldives' have been in a recognisable guidebook size; a large guidebook but much smaller than the A4 editions that came before. The books were printed in Singapore and combine a matte laminated paperback cover with key aspects of a quality hardback book — the sewn binding (instead of glue) with textile top and bottom, the end-papers glued inside the covers and a lovely slightly rounded spine. All great to pick up, feel the quality and flick through.

But sales of books have been declining for years now. The leading UK independent book distributor, who placed my books in shops around the UK and Europe, closed itself down last year. They were not bust but they could read the writing on the wall.

Now as it happens, most of the sales of Resorts of Maldives have always been in the Maldives themselves, yet here too sales have been going down, as most people get their information from the web and from apps. I have noticed on each succeeding visit more and more mobile devices being used in the lobbies of resorts, around the pool and in the restaurants. More and more resorts are making wifi available in wider spaces.

So if physical book sales are down and reading on laptops, tablets and mobiles are up it makes sense to turn Resorts of Maldives into an ebook. But here’s the irony: Amazon do not sell Kindles or Kindle content to the Maldives.

The Maldives have not signed the international copyright agreement yet and I think this is behind Amazon’s reticence. No matter, in a couple of month’s time, the Resorts of Maldives ebook will be available in all the other forms, for download to any device.

A key advantage of the ebook is the distribution that is possible. Sitting at home I can make it available to almost every country on earth. You see now why the bricks and mortar book distributor, with agents pounding the streets, saw the future and closed themselves down. You’ve still got to get the book seen amongst all the clutter on the net and persuade people to buy your content but all in all there’s no looking back, this is where we are going.

Another advantage is the speed and cost of making new ebook editions, rather than designing, printing and distributing physical books. Faster still to update the reviews, pictures and prices would be a Resorts of Maldives app but that isn’t happening for a while.

The present ebook of Resorts of Maldives is available from your local amazon kindle store. You can read the book on any device as long as you have previously downloaded the kindle app.

The whole publishing industry is in turmoil or at least in constant flux as it tries to work out how to adapt to this extraordinary disruptive technology, the internet. I’m doing the same in my tiny niche that is the Maldives.

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About the Author

Adrian Neville - Seven Holidays : Your Guide to the MaldivesAdrian Neville lived in the Maldives and writes the definitive guide book: "Resorts of Maldives", now in its fifth edition. Having tirelessly reviewed every single resort, he is now continually asked ‘which is the best Maldives Hotel for my holidayholiday or vacationvacation?’ Enter – his comprehensive independent guide to Maldives holidaysholidays and how to book your perfect holiday. We cover everything from the cheap island resorts through to the luxury five star Maldives resortshow to book your perfect holiday. We cover everything from the cheap island resorts through to the luxury five star Maldives resorts