Interview with Marteyne Van Well, Regional General Manager for Six Senses Laamu and Six Senses Kanuhura, Maldives

Interview with Marteyne Van Well, Regional General Manager for Six Senses Laamu and Six Senses Kanuhura, Maldives


Six Senses has done extremely well over the last few years, expanding its base beyond its flagship Six Senses Laamu resort to taking over its new Six Senses Kanuhura resort in September 2023 with its 12 supersized beach retreats. In 2023, Six Senses Laamu was awarded a staggering seven awards, including the Condé Nast Traveler – Reader’s Choice Awards, Destination Spas, World, and Top Ten. To begin today’s interview, what can you tell us about the significance of these distinctions, and what’s fresh and new at the resorts this year that might specifically entice United States visitors?

The new element that we added in 2023 is the SHELL, the Sea Hub of Environmental Learning in Laamu. That’s been a many-year passion project. You can’t live and work in Maldives and not be enthralled with its people and its environment. Six Senses Laamu is exceptionally lucky in its location. We’re in a location where there are not 20 other resorts.  Once you’re here, all of it is yours; the wave is yours, and the dive site is yours. There are other beautiful places in the Maldives, but you share them with a few more people. The advantage here is that you can truly work with the local community. You can talk to the local islanders about what they’re doing and how funding can help.

Going back to your question, the SHELL is certainly new, opening in 2023. We had a section of the island that we had an opportunity to enhance, and we made it into a four-bedroom villa. The Japanese Restaurant Zen was upgraded and we added teppanyaki tables and the sake lounge. We added two pools and a children’s room to some of our beach villas: one master bedroom for parents and a smaller room next to it for kids.

I very proud of what the team has achieved in 2023. We have 10 marine biologists on the team. We work with three NGOs. In 2023 the work that we did locally with the Laamu community, with marine conservation and with regard to sustainability was leaps and bounds beyond what we had already done. We have an underwater videographer from the BBC and we are doing new and exciting research. We love our community and we love our environment. People are inspiring each other and growing together to offer something new for guests and a lot of it is guest driven. In the SHELL we have a wall of donations. Guests are inspired by seeing people like our technician in the coral lab who is a local host, working to make what is important to the Maldives be important to the local people.


With utmost respect towards the ecosystem in which it thrives, both Six Senses Laamu and Kanuhura are a perfect reflection of the Maldives’ luxury tourism industry, balancing natural beauty with five-star comforts. In what ways does Six Senses’ resorts encapsulate the essence of the Maldives, its culture, and its people?

Six Senses has a strong focus on local hosts. Currently, at this resort, our employment of locals is 56%. There are certain roles and certain jobs that we only make available to locals because it’s possible to train them on site. I hope we will have the opportunity to put more people through university learning. There are certain tasks where you need more technical knowledge, and you need to be able to read a P&L. You need training. The average length of service now at our hotels is slightly over five years, which is incredible. You’ll find that many people have grown with us. You’ve met Adam. He began at one of our partnering NGOs, the Manta Trust, then started working as a sustainability officer. After that he became a sustainability manager and is now the manager of sustainable land use. It’s not that he’s been here for eight years and been in the same role for eight years. He’s grown. We try very hard to do that.

What we try to do is not put a brand in a place. We are trying to make the brand adapt to the place. There are great brands and wonderful hotels the world over. I don’t think you’ll ever say of Six Senses: I went to the one in Laamu and the one in Yao Noi in Thailand and they are identical. Every resort adapts to its local environment. The core elements are the same; our ethos is very strong in all resorts. It is what you see at all our resorts. We fill it in the Maldivian way with this local environment, Kanuhura fills it with the Lhaviyani local environment, Yao Noi with its Thai environment. We opened in Europe in Douro Valley. You can’t do barefoot luxury in Douro, but they take sustainability and wellness and adapt it to the Douro environment. Likewise, we adapt it to our environment.


Mother nature has provided the Maldives with some of the most beautiful islands, beaches, and coral reefs seen around the globe. However, it took visionary leadership and shrewd investments to develop the world-class luxury tourism industry we know today. How would you personally define luxury and what standards and values does your brand uphold that contribute to the Maldives’ esteemed reputation for luxury? 

Six Senses for Luxury is all about offering our guests a unique experience. I personally fill that in by saying, for me, luxury is people having a choice. I’ve been with Six Senses for a very long time. In the past, there were discussions on whether we should take burgers off the menu because they were maybe not healthy food. Over time, we have come to a nice balance where if you want to be completely healthy and eat only locally grown or caught, then that is certainly a possibility. However, if you want a high-end piece of beef that has been sustainably sourced, that is possible too. In Six Senses you’re not likely to find an exceptional choice of caviar because that is not in our ethos.

For me, luxury is several things. It’s access to knowledge. I hope that we give guests the opportunity to experience many things. If you want to remove from that how to protect the coral or what you can do at home to contribute to sustainability, then you remove it; nobody is forcing you to do it. To have access to knowledge is a luxury, and to be able to feel at home, and be yourself. Some people love dressing up. Some people love being casual. You have high-profile individuals who have three T-shirts they love, and one has a hole in it and that is also luxury. It’s a luxury that you can do that.

As a company, we try very hard to make certain that we offer clients a unique experience. From there they can do what you want with it. We are giving them the tools to decide: if they want to take this home with them and do this at home, they can. They can spend three days in the SHELL, they can do the chocolate-making class, they can do a cooking class or they can meet with the local fishermen. If some of that is an experience where they go home and say I they a wonderful experience, and five years from now they’re still thinking about it but not doing anything with it, that’s fine. If it is not a life-changing moment, but it is a moment where they say, “When I go to the supermarket, I really should read where it comes from”, they have that choice. For me giving people access to knowledge is a luxury.


Six Senses’ resorts offer a lavish variety of unique experiences, including a Private Island Experience, turtle hatching, and the Finding Nemo Maldives Snorkeling Trip, amongst others. What distinctive features set your resorts apart from other 5-star properties in the Maldives?

In all their resorts, Six Senses combine traditional luxury; a nice room, good food, and great amenities – it all needs to be high-quality – with sustainability. You can go for a walk and end up in a chicken farm and see where your egg this morning came from, or you can go to the Earth Lab and see that the glass bottle from which you shared the drink, wine or champagne is now empty and this is what we’re doing with it.

I don’t think there is another Maldives resort that has 10 marine biologists, not necessarily on the payroll, but that are working with NGOs where we contribute to the NGO, and they loan us their talented team. The Maldives Underwater Initiative started here. Having this differentiates us from competition. Kanuhura has a beautiful location. It has two private islands next door to it. It has the opportunity for much larger villas. It has possibly the best beach in the Maldives. Laamu has the benefit of having a surf break that is one of the top ten surfs in the Maldives. On top of that, you cannot be here for two days and not see turtles or dolphins pass by at breakfast.

Many people have the opportunity and the means to do incredible things; see what they want to see and arrange what they want to arrange, but to be able to sit at breakfast and see a pod of dolphins come by… You can’t replicate that. The Maldives is beautiful in that aspect. We are remote, compared to Six Senses Kanuhura which is maybe half the distance of Malé. They opened in September.

At each Six Senses property, 0 .5% of total revenues are invested in the resort’s own local sustainability fund. Being newer, Kanuhura started with a much smaller sustainability fund. Here, we are working with the Blue Marine Foundation on the sustainable fishing program that we started. That is a great program to replicate. Kanuhura supports another turtle conservation on a local island. It isn’t necessarily that everything we do here we’re going to do there. We are going to adapt. They may have whale sharks’ path. They have a massive hydroponics, four storeys up in an indoor building where they grow all their herbs. It’s just beautiful. We have our organic garden, which is also beautiful, though it is obviously impacted by the elements. They have a great earth lab, and they are a little more advanced than we are in the wellness aspect.

Each resort is forging its own path. We learn from each other; we share success stories, and we share experiences that might not have been successful. There’s no need for two people to make the same mistake; if one makes it, the other one can benefit from the lesson learned. For Easter we are introducing mermaid PADI courses. It’s good for kids and It’s good for adults who are young at heart.


Are you the GM of both resorts? Do you have someone there on-site and with all your wealth of knowledge over these years, are you helping them?

Yes. It’s kind of like this is the older sibling and it now has a baby brother or sister and we’re teaching it things, but it has its own character.


The Maldives witnessed an unprecedented 12% surge in tourist arrivals in 2023, surpassing 1.88 million visitors, a historic record for the atoll nation in comparison to 2022. Considering the growth in arrivals and the implications this has on occupancy, how would you describe your priorities for 2024? Are there pet projects that you are spearheading as Regional General Manager?

Guests have access to so much information. You can go online and book a room. Six Senses is so different from your run of the mill, in what we try to do, and how we try to make an impact, that if you don’t read your packing tips and you bring seven pairs of shoes (because people might love dressing up) then you might feel a little out of place here; not because we make you feel out of place but because you’re most likely the only one who is wearing them. What is most important is that, as a growing country, we maintain our values in how we protect the environment, and what we will and will not accept. There is no point in growing the number of hotels that are available if the target market is the same as what already exists. I want people to understand what Six Senses stand for. I would ideally like for people to come and want to be here. When you are having a cocktail on a Tuesday night, or when you go diving, you meet like-minded people, and that feels good.

As the Maldives attracts more and more tourists, there is a place for everyone. However, if you go on you are probably only buying based on what the picture is. That’s why it’s so important that we learn, grow, develop, and innovate. We have people who are here for their 12th time currently in-house. All the time that we’ve been open, every single year they come. We have somebody who is a 16 times Six Senses repeater. This is their first time here, but they’ve been to many Six Senses resorts. It is so important that we stay true to ourselves. We are blessed with wonderful owners. This was not an inconsequential investment. We need to get that word out. We need to make certain that we tell guests why we do the things we do.


Six Senses offers personalized experiences where the splendor of the Maldives takes center stage, spanning from gastronomic pleasures such as lobster barbecues on the beach to relaxing escapades at the resorts’ designed spa treatment nests. Can you delve into some of the unique and stand-out experiences that guests can indulge in during their journey at each of your splendid venues?

At Six Senses Kanuhura they have two private islands that are a luxury and not everybody has access to. You can get on a boat and 35 minutes later you’re at the private picnic island and it’s yours. It is the quintessential Robinson Crusoe experience. You get a basket, and you get to bring your snorkel. It’s a great experience. They have access to a much bigger atoll. If people wanted to combine four nights here and four nights there, they could.

At both resorts you have access to unique people. You can go snorkeling in the seagrass with a marine biologist who is a turtle expert and see a turtle and he or she will tell you about it. You can go diving with somebody from the Manta Trust, who will know what the name of that manta is that you just saw. That access is personalized; curated to what you want. There are, of course, communal events: There is a dolphin cruise, a snorkel excursion and a Finding Nemo Adventure. If, however, you want something curated, we can do it.

We have learned that most of our guests want something curated. They want to have an experience that is maybe a little bit of this and a little bit of that, mix and match. We are flexible and this flexibility comes, in part, from our ethos at both resorts.

The other resort is very new, and we inherited a lot of the staff that came from the previous company. What makes me very proud as a general manager is to have team-proud people that are truly happy to be part of this.


Nestled within a natural paradise and camouflaging itself with the surrounding ecosystem and biodiversity, Six Senses is dedicated to sustainable practices, including your Sustainability Tour and mentoring with the Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI) team of marine biologists. Could you provide more details on the specific green initiatives undertaken at Six Senses’ resorts? What other measures or initiatives are being implemented across the whole tourism industry of the Maldives to make it truly a sustainable destination?


There are two things that we were possibly front-runners in amongst our initiatives that started here. One is the protection of our seagrass. The Maldives seagrass is, unfortunately, something that has a bad reputation because the vision is ‘I want to sit on my deck, I want to have a white sandy beach, and I want to have the blue ocean and see a turtle, a shark, or a ray’. Seagrass is natural to the environment, and it helps the sand to stay where it is.

When I started in the Maldives many years ago with Six Senses, we had five or six people on the staff who harvested seagrass daily because the perception was that guests wanted that. What happened over time is that the more seagrass you remove, the more beach erosion you are exposed to. In addition, seagrass attracts the animals that people want to see.

I have the best team. It’s a two-way street and people feed each other on ideas. We wanted to protect the seagrass, in part because of the erosion; people were saying if you plant something, it will help prevent erosion, and in part because we had marine biologists that said, “When I go into the seagrass, I see a turtle, and the more I go into the seagrass meadows, the more turtles I can see”. The green turtle’s main food source is seagrass. So, it can eat, and you can sit watching it from your villa.

We started the campaign protecting all the seagrass here by putting a piece of paper in every villa over water and saying: ‘Thank you very much for staying with us. We need some citizen science. Could you please let us know if during your stay you saw a turtle, a ray, or a shark, and just tick it off. Then when you leave, can you give us that piece of paper? ` It encourages people to start taking note of the wildlife around them. Suddenly, what was initially, “Why am I looking at a darker sea?” became, “In that darker sea there are turtles and rays”. This is an initiative that we are very proud of and has now been adopted by 38 resorts in the Maldives.

We also have the Coral Restoration Project. Many resorts are doing beautiful things with coral restoration, where they have structures made to encourage corals to grow. While these conservation efforts do provide valuable restoration to decimated reefs, they don’t increase the biodiversity or resilience of the reefs. We lead a project that does exactly that. Because of what we have achieved, people have come to us saying, “You’re doing great work. I have an idea. Can we talk?”

We have this great professor from Australia, Peter Harrison, who contacted us. He is an expert in corals and suggested that, instead of making structures where we plant corals, we should capture their spawn (eggs and sperm), put them in a tank where they can grow in a protected environment, and then release them onto the reef when they have grown and have a better chance of survival. That was the beginning.

Professor Harrison put us in contact with an underwater bioacoustics researcher, Professor Steve Simpson. Their research has shown that a healthy reef sounds different to an unhealthy reef. It turns out, that the coral babies will choose the healthier reef area to settle in based on the sounds the reef makes. We’re also utilizing this research to help with long-term monitoring of the health of our reefs. That is something we’re working on now.

Somebody contacted us just last week from the Caribbean and Florida. They have a big coral farm and they’re taking it one step further. Not only are they capturing the coral spawn, but they are now doing experiments where they put those corals under stress, heat, light, or water movement to see if we can make corals more resilient to what is happening in the ocean. By implementing our project, we just attracted people. You can’t achieve that without exceptional owners, which we are very fortunate to have. We have seen over time that positivity grows. This initiative is unique. Nobody in Maldives has that.


Travel technology trends for 2024 include mobile platforms, IoT, AI, and voice technology, among many others. Are you leveraging the use of technology or are you leaving technology at the door?

We need to grow. Six Senses makes use of IT but there is a fine balance. I am not technologically savvy but the SHELL would not exist without technology. We have our Six Senses App. If that technology helps us to tell our story in the right way and reach the right people, I’m all for it. If technology brings people who find Six Senses Laamu because the pictures and the price look right, but there’s no ethos, then I’m not a big fan.


Is there anything else you would like to mention?

We have the best team and the best owners. Six Senses is great. I’ve been with the company for 16 years. We all believe in what we do and that is a differential. There are great resorts in the Maldives. There are great leaders in the Maldives. There are great initiatives in the combination of conservation and sustainability. Fortunately, we have been able to forge our own path, and as a result we are getting followers.