As CEO of The Small Maldives Island Co, Mark Hehir has relaunched the private resort island Huvafen Fushi and, as Ali Catterall reports, has just unveiled a new Beach Bubble’ tent at the funky Finolhu resort in the Baa Atoll
As far as the tourism industry is concerned, Mark Hehir is a pioneer and a visionary, the man whose luxury resorts have by his own admission “shaken up the hospitality scene in the Maldives”. Hehir possesses a vast wealth of experience and knowledge about the corner of the Indian Ocean he calls his “second home”, and applies that to his resort concepts. Something of a hotel creative genius, each of his resorts has a unique and different identity; from the romantic, zen-style (no kids) Huvafen Fushi, “a timeless, grande dame of the Maldives” to the chic family-oriented Amilla Fushi, to the buzzy, uber-hip retro-beach club style Finolhu, the one that hosted Cara Delevingne’s 2018 ‘Caradise’ party and the “the Indian Ocean’s grooviest getaway”.
As Hehir explained, “We offer three key experiences people can move between… and the same people do go to all three. I have some families who are doing exactly that this season - chilling out in Huvafen Fushi, getting together as a family at Amilla and then the younger ones are staying on a week and welcoming their friends at Finolhu. It’s not a different guest. It’s more the mind-set. When you define a concept that well, it stands out and that eventually gives you the longevity.”
Born and raised in Australia, Hehir has been in hospitality for over three decades, with over 20 of those years dedicated to realising his dreams and others’ in the Maldives. Appropriately, for a man concerned with cooking up the perfect breaks, he started as a chef; originally trained in Australia, then working around the world in top hotels such as London’s Dorchester, preparing state banquets for the Queen and Prince Charles. “It was the first time in my career I’d really dealt with that premium luxury customer.”
And yet, the creativity of cheffing wasn’t quite enough for him - he had ideas beyond the plate and wanted to extend them to the broader hospitality offering. He arrived at the Maldives by chance, in fact, after a year spent working at the Hilton Colombo / World Trade Center Club. In 1997, he was invited by his company to join the Hilton Maldives Rangali Island team. “Then, I had no clue as to where and what the Maldives had to offer,” as he told The Island Chief.Com.
A three-month gig turned into three years, working his way up from executive chef to food and beverage director, and after a period working in the far East, in Thailand, Japan and Malaysia, he’d return to the private resort island Huvafen Fushi as Area General Manager in 2005. Having managed luxury properties for brands such as Anantara and One&Only over the years, in 2015 he became Chief Executive Officer, Partner and Curator at The Small Maldives Island Company, a specialist management company focusing on Resort Management, founded in 2012.
This season he relaunches Huvafen Fushi, updating its spa facilities, and reworking its two-story villa, The Playpen, to make it more like a London penthouse “not something that’s been done before in the Maldives”. He’s also introducing an overwater Japanese restaurant, Feeling Koi (complete with a consultant Japanese chef based in Hokkaido) and given a twist with c/o a Peruvian-Brazilian chef.
Meanwhile, his new brainchild, a transparent, inflatable ‘Beach Bubble’ tent – the first of its kind in the archipelago – will allow guests to get even closer to nature. Located at the end of Finolhu in a secluded spot, this fully waterproof, climate-controlled cocoon offers guests a uniquely immersive nature experience from sunset to sunrise; the perfect place in which to lie and look at the stars then watch the sun come up.
The Small Maldives Island Co eventually wants five resorts, and the eco-minded Hehir also wants to create another completely sustainable island. “I am so passionate about the environment and technology is so advanced that it’s now possible to create a luxury resort that is 100 per cent eco friendly and which still connects with mind, body and spirit through design and installations,” he revealed. “I want it to be 100 per cent solar powered and free from first- and single-use plastic, but we’ll still give you that luxury, design-led experience. I’ve created the concept and I’m now working on making it happen.”
This feature first appeared in Luxury Plus magazine.