Do you care about a resort’s character?


The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi

The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort – analogous to a beautiful girl who thinks the most important thing in life is to own a Gucci bag

What’s a resort’s character and who are we to judge it? Neither is entirely clear to us but we’ll take a crack at the first part of that question.

Earlier this year we were in Abu Dhabi and then in the Maldives. When planning our trip we were thrilled to discover that between us we had enough Starwood points to stay at the  St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort for a couple of nights for free. Brunette (who started out as the sensible, unpretentious sister) was particularly excited that we would once again have our own “butler” as one comes standard at St. Regis properties. She had fond memories of a butler at the St. Regis in Singapore drawing her a bath.


Not drawing her in a bath, but still.

For the Maldives we were going to stay at Kurumba, a resort that has been in existence since the early 1970’s and is locally owned but does not include butlers although it’s (relatively) posh.

Did we mull the character of the resorts? We did not. We mulled affordability and access to what mattered to us (water in both cases and good reefs for snorkeling in the Maldives).

Kurumba, the Maldives

Kurumba, the Maldives – the pretty, in a quirky way, girl who doesn’t care about the Gucci bag unless it’s made from recycled materials.

But after staying at the two properties and coming away with a massively more favorable impression of Kurumba than the St. Regis, we wondered why. Who wouldn’t prefer a free luxury property over one they paid a considerable sum for and that was less luxurious? Apparently us.

It was in many ways a matter of character. The St. Regis is a brand – and a rightfully well-regarded one. But this particular property often made us feel uncomfortable. Everywhere we went someone – generally a well dressed but clearly “Security” person – would pop up. They would ask us if we needed anything, trail along near us or tell us annoying things such as that we could not go in the sea due to an oil spill. We felt – and were – observed whenever we were out of our room.

The staff fell all over themselves intending to be helpful. However, they were from all over the world and there were many failures to communicate even though all ostensibly spoke English. Some of these failures were amusing but when it took three calls to get someone to understand what an extra glass meant it became annoying. (Oh, our suffering!)

These things were probably more cultural and reflective of the UAE than of the St. Regis. Two western women being there without husbands may have made the hotel think that the AARP had infiltrated them with a hooker ring! And in the UAE it’s impossible to hire “locals” as employees because they simply don’t need the money that service (or maybe any) jobs pay. So everyone is passing through and no one is invested in the place or the guests. It isn’t that something is specifically wrong but more that something is missing.

Kurumba Maldives

Brunette arriving at Kurumba in tip top shape.

Contrast that to our experience at Kurumba. We arrived hot and exhausted. They promptly greeted us, whisked us off in their air-conditioned boat and  gave us cold drinks and cool wash cloths when we got to reception. No butlers, but really nice friendly people who seemed to genuinely care about making us comfortable immediately.

During the course of our time at Kurumba we learned a lot about the character of the management and things they do that make it a good experience for guests, staff and even the environment. Such as?

Marcia in the watersports shop at Kurumba Maldives

Marcia, a young Maldivian woman who led snorkel tours at Kurumba

At Kurumba they have a trainee program to help promising Maldivian team members eventually become management.

They provide other staff with the opportunity to be part of a 6 month training course to receive national technical and vocational education and training certificates. Those who are selected and successful will be certified as assessors by the Ministry of Education and that will open up opportunities to them.

And they have sent staff abroad – to Sri Lanka, England and Singapore to obtain culinary training.

When we were there we learned that more than 40 staff members were taking free classes on the premises to improve their English skills and some were learning Chinese and Russian.

The fact that the resort is and always has been owned by Maldivians is most likely key to this level of interest in developing local talent.

Staff at Kurumba Maldives

Our favorite waiter – Akter – has been there more than 25 years!

The employees know they have opportunities they wouldn’t have elsewhere and they are treated with very genuine respect. So guess what, they’re really nice to the guests and they are fiercely loyal to their employer. Why can’t more companies in general get this?

Also, the employees all live at the resort in air-conditioned rooms with wi-fi, a fitness center, a cinema, staff-use kitchen, cafeteria and laundry. We were trying to get jobs there before the week was over (but then we realized we’d have to work and be nice to other people so didn’t bother.)

Local craftsmen in the Maldives

Local craftsmen in the Maldives making liyelaajehun (wooden items covered in lacquer)

Kurumba also gave local craftspeople opportunities to come to the resort and demonstrate their skills and sell their products.

And to our great delight they had nightly entertainment of a very high caliber – all from the Maldives.

Bathroom at Kurumba Maldives

Un-airconditioned bathroom at Kurumba Maldives

OK, this was the less than luxurious aspect – we didn’t have air conditioning in our bathroom!!! Blonde pouted that it would make it awful to apply her makeup then realized she didn’t need make up on an island in the Maldives. Instead we both tended to use the lovely outdoor shower.

Kurumba has extensive programs to protect the fragile ecosystem they are located in. They have been steadily implementing more efficient systems that will reduce their energy consumption. They grind down glass and reuse it in cement, they shred recyclables and send them to recycling companies and have a mulcher that, with a composter, takes kitchen waste and turns it into compost for the resort gardens.

orchid from garden at Kurumba, Maldives

Orchid from the orchard nursery on the island

There were other things; providing valuable supplies to a local orphanage, supporting an education center that develops local musical talent and a program to educate guests about reefs and provide an opportunity to take dying coral and regenerate it.

Creating an artificial reef at Kurumba in the Maldives

Guests and staff at Kurumba creating an artificial reef to save dying coral

So, back to the question of a resort’s character (and ours too).  Kurumba truly felt like a family (not a dysfunctional one – apparently there’s another kind) and had a warmth and sense of caring that permeated everything.

Now our character isn’t so great that we will use this as the deciding factor in selecting everywhere we stay. There’s still the matter of cost, having the things we want (mirrors that make us look younger and very slender) and of course location.

And we aren’t dissing big luxury brands – we adore them.

But in the future when we plan a trip (Fiji anyone?) and have equally attractive options to choose from we will prefer the locally owned property that employs and invests in the local area and actively protects the environment.

Then we can stay there comfortable in the knowledge that someone is behaving well so there’s no need for us to duplicate that effort!



  1. Michele Peterson says

    The Karumba resort sounds like an amazing vacation. I love that it demonstrates social responsibility to the environment and community, proving that paradise truly is more than just a pretty face.

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by Michele! We had one of, if not the best, best vacations ever at Kurumba! After years of wanting to go to the Maldives and the finally getting the opportunity it was wonderful to have it actually exceed our expectations. I really can’t say enough good things about the place and we weren’t comped on our stay! 🙂

  2. says

    The Karumba Resort shows that there’s more to comfort than just luxury. Feeling welcome and genuinely cared for (by employees who know how important a positive environment is) wins my vote every time as does knowing that the resort treats its staff with respect and works to create more opportunities for them to reach their full potential..

    • says

      Hi Anita and Richard – glad you took the time to stop by our blog. It’s so simple that when employers are good to people and care about them as individuals the whole thing is a better experience for everyone that I don’t know why more companies in general don’t operate this way. We could not have enjoyed Kurumba more and that’s saying a lot!

  3. jankedonna says

    I enjoyed your comparison of resort character. Your experience shows how important investing in staff and treating them well is. And Kurumba management obviously understood how to treat their customers.

    • says

      There’s some old quote circulating the “internets” about a CEO saying “What if we invest in our people and they leave us”? And the retort being “And what if we don’t invest in them and they stay?” I don’t have that verbatim, but it’s so true!

  4. says

    Who doesn’t enjoy a lovely resort and this looks extra plush and wonderful. Glad you enjoyed your stay and it sure seems to be place one should add to her wish list.

    • says

      It was wonderful – great people, gorgeous location and even really really good food when you couldn’t go anywhere else to eat anyway! (Although we did the “dine around” program which let us eat at several restaurants on the property and not at a buffet.) This is a resort we would love to go back to and we don’t usually do repeats! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. says

    I always do a lot of research on the hotels I stay at. Although I’ve found it hard to go wrong with Marriott and Hilton resorts, sometimes a boutique style hotel is a better fit for me. I love all of your photos and I definitely think the Kurumba would be a great fit for me!

    • says

      We do a lot of research too and tend to stay with Starwood brands because they’re great and their point program is the best we know of in the industry. But in this case our research was to be sure we stayed somewhere that still had healthy coral reefs for snorkeling. A lot have been ruined by cyclones and climate change and bleaching that no one really understands. In this case the snorkeling was the priority and that took the major chains out of the loop. This was just a pleasant change and a way to remember that although chains are great they aren’t the only good option.

  6. says

    The ambiance of a property is really important to me when I travel. I hate pretentiousness, and really dislike staying at resorts and hotels where your fellow guests are eying you up to see the quality of your jewellery or handbag. Or when the staff give you the attitude that they’re doing you a favour to serve you. It’s about the training as you have mentioned.

  7. says

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Kurumba may be “low-key” compared to the other high end resorts and with the lack of butlers or overwater bungalows but the luxury is felt in the richness of experience and overall happy aura you feel within the resort. I had to laugh at your line : “We were trying to get jobs there before the week was over (but then we realized we’d have to work and be nice to other people so didn’t bother.” — because well, I did contemplate on that too and realised the same thing.
    Seriously though, Kurumba had me at the welcome coconut ice cream! 🙂

  8. Sun-dweller says

    Thanks for taking the time to write your blog :o)

    After being presented with the possibility….(or should I say dream?) by my husband to holiday in the Maldives this year I began to research what was available. I kept being drawn back to details about Kurumba despite having read lots of info on other resorts etc.

    We have booked Kurumba now and thanks to not only other previous guests reviews and opinions but to your blog as well I am feeling very, very confident that we have chosen a resort that will hit the nail on the head for us in every aspect that a holiday could. The whole resort sounds just amazing, we can’t wait to step onto that beautiful sand and begin our holiday at Kurumba.

    • says

      Brunette did endless research before we chose Kurumba and we got advice from a fellow travel blogger who’d stayed there too. We weren’t comped for our stay or anything – we wrote this because it was a fabulous place and we have nothing but good memories about that trip. I wish we could get back some day but it’s so far away that’s unlikely. Have a fabulous time when you’re there and ask for Jason – the manager – and tell him we said “hi”. We’re trying to show them the power of social media – hasn’t caught on so much in that part of the world but Jason’s a cool Aussie and will enjoy hearing from you!

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