Baa Thulhaadhoo is known for its lacquer work, and now that resorts have been developed around the island, the tourism industry has been opened up to Thulhaadhoo’s youth.
41-year-old Hussain Shiyam is a Thulhadhoo local who has used this opportunity to make some notable achievements.
Shiyam of Muranga Maage is the fifth of nine children, and was notable for his academic prowess, as a student after he came in first place in the Baa Atoll short story writing competition, and second in the singing competition.
Shiyam now works in the tourism industry and has been happily married for 14 years and has a 7-year-old son.
He began his studies in 1983 in Thulhaadhoo Primary School (now Thulhaadhoo School). During his time there, the school only taught up to the seventh grade level, so Shiyam travelled to Male’ in 1992 for further studies and completed his O Levels at M.E.S in 1996.
At the time, the government has the policy of conscripting students who complete the O Levels into the military. Shiyam’s parents also wanted him to be in the military as two of his older brothers were already working there.
But Shiyam had no such desire, and escaped conscription after he failed the medical check-up due to an eye infection.
Since childhood his passion has been for the tourism industry, which was kindled because of his cousin Mohamed Yusuf.
“I became interested in the industry as a child because of the stories he would tell about it while spending his holidays in the island. I also knew that the tourism industry had potential in Maldives due to the natural beauty of Maldives islands.”
Because of his enthusiasm, Shiyam had already applied for a job at a resort even before getting the result of his military testing. His first job was as a receptionist at Kandoomaa Resort in 1997, which he received with the help of a sister.
While working as a receptionist, he also learned other skills such as excursion, billing, guest relations, accounting, and making reservations.
“I think it was fortunate that I got to learn so many things while working there. I received tremendous encouragement from Kandoomaa’s owner Mohamed Wafir and his father, who are like family to me.
After spending a year at Kandoomaa, Shiyam began studying for a Diploma in Hotel Management at Hotel School in 1998. While he began the course using his own money, he received a sponsorship from Bandos Island Resort after two months.
As per the sponsorship, Shiyam began working as a food and beverage intern at Bandos Island Resort after receiving his Diploma in 1999. He then became a front-office receptionist and spent two years working at Bandos. Shiyam said he still appreciate the spirit of teamwork he saw from the management during his time at the resort.
After working at Bandos, Shiyam switched to world famous Soneva Fushi Resort in 2002 in his quest for new experiences. Soneva Fushi is known for introducing personal butlers to the Maldivian tourism industry.
A resort butler is responsible for attending to a tourist’s every need from the minute he or she arrives at the resort until the moment he or she leaves.
Shiyam easily got the job and was one of the first 10 personal butlers that Soneva Fushi had trained. They were instructed by Former South African President Nelson Mandela’s personal butler Frederik Broodrick. In the three-month training course at the resort, Shiyam was taught everything that was being done in every department. He described this as an eye-opening experience.
“While I was there I also got the opportunity to advertise Maldives at ITB Berlin (the world’s largest tourism trade fair), and as a personal butler, I went to a jewelry factory in Sri Lanka with a tourist one morning, and designed and bought the jewelry he wanted, then headed back to Maldives in the afternoon. I accommodated everything during the trip. It was a huge exposure for me.”
At the time, resorts with different concepts were emerging in Maldives, and Shiyam wanted to gain some experience in one those resorts and so in 2005 started work as a personal butler at Huvafen Fushi Resort.
After three years at Huven Fushi, he wanted to further pursue his studies after receiving advice from Paradise Island Resort’s General Manager Qaisar Naseem, so in early 2008, Shiyam enrolled in Taylor's University Malaysia and achieved an Advanced Diploma in Hotel Management.
After studying in Malaysia, Shiyam returned to Huvafen Fushi in 2009, this time to work as a room division project supervisor, during which he had the opportunity to learn about making reservations while working under the room division director.
In 2010, Shiyam got the chance to work as a front-office manager at Adaaran Prestige Vadoo, near capital Male’.
“I got the opportunity to work in operations. Moosa Didi was the General Manager at the time, and I received incredible support from him. He is still like a mentor to me. I always ask him for advice. And he always calls me.”
In 2014, after working at Adaaran for four years, Shiyam transferred to Herathera Resort, now called Canareef Resort, which is one of the largest resorts in Maldives located in Addu.
Shiyam described his experience during the rebranding of the resort to Canareef, after a Singaporean company took ownership, as a unique learning experience.
He said the one and a half years he worked at the resort was filled with many difficulties but was ultimately fruitful.
Due to his excellent rapport with the owners of resorts he works in, Shiyam received a great job opportunity at Soneva Fushi through its owners Sonu Shivdasani and Eva Malmström Shivdasani.
Shiyam accepted in 2015, because Soneva was close to his native island and Male’. Within one year of working in the resort, he was promoted to Executive Assistant Manager and now works closely under Soneva’s General Manager.
He has since played a significant role in passing his experience and philosophy onto others, which includes his work as an instructor training butlers for two months in Thailand’s Ko Samui resort in 2004, when it was run by world renowned operator Six Senses.
Shiyam said that anyone who wants to make it in the Maldives tourism industry has the opportunity, if they are passionate and disciplined.
Shiyam approved of resorts in Maldives catering to tourists of different classes, but said that the Maldives government need to do more to advertise the tourism industry.
He said that notable progress have taken place in the Maldives tourism industry such as resorts being developed with various concepts, and the job opportunities for Maldivians in the food and beverage departments, especially the culinary field.
“Earlier the chefs had always been foreigners. Now Maldivians are needed in that field, and not only at the executive level. The opportunities become available due to the interest from Maldivians. We currently have Maldivians at the managerial level at the front offices of the Food and Beverage departments. This is an excellent development.”
He said the difficult part of working in the tourism industry is being away from his wife and son for long periods of time, but that he find the encouragement to work for so long in the industry due to the support of his wife Aishath Leena, his mother, and other family members.
“I got married while working in the industry in 2003. So my wife understands my work perfectly and gives her full support. I’m able to live away from my mother, brothers, sisters and other family members because they accept my work and provide me with opportunities in the industry.”
Shiyam said his happiest moment was the birth of his son, and the saddest was the death of his father when he was working the night shift at a resort.
He said that he has a special dream he wants realized after his 20 years working in the tourism industry, which is to work in Dubai or Europe and then to become the general manager of a resort.