Interview with Salil Panigrahi, Managing Director, Atmosphere Core, Maldives

Interview with Salil Panigrahi, Managing Director, Atmosphere Core, Maldives


Can you provide an overview of the company’s current assets and services, and how your resorts capture the spirit of the Maldives while differentiating themselves from the competition?

Our company’s slogan is “Joy of giving”, and this principle sets us apart from other five-star hotels. It is reflected in our service, food quality, guest experience and colleague engagement. There is an emotional connection fostered within the company, creating a culture where everyone is encouraged to get to know each other and seek opportunities to give – rather than just receive. This holistic approach defines the culture of our company and is what makes Atmosphere Core stand out.


What milestones have your passed recently and what kind of innovations and improvements can visitors look forward to in 2024? 

The business hotel market and the leisure sector are quite different in nature. Unlike city dwellings or city hotels where people primarily seek accommodation for practical, business purposes, the leisure sector represents dreams that are constantly evolving. With changing expectations, tastes and the rapid advancements in technology, guests are becoming increasingly informed. They seek diverse cuisines and are more discerning in their choices. In a luxury destination, speed isn’t necessarily the priority. Luxury requires us to remain at the forefront of the changing trends in leisure, so we must remain agile and continuously  innovative.

Recently, we renovated ‘OBLU Nature Helengeli’ and introduced two new restaurants, despite it being just five years old. We believe in staying ahead of the curve, which is why we have a dedicated technical services and research team so that we can cater to the shifting demands of our guests. We recently opened ‘OBLU Xperience Ailafushi’ and ‘OBLU Select Lobigili’. Lobigili is a unique concept, being an all-female operated resort with 90% women colleagues. Accessible only to couples and adults without children, this hotel has garnered significant attention and success, despite initial doubts about the concept viability.

Ailafushi, on the other hand, is family-oriented and buzzing with activities, including DJ performances, live bands, poolside events, and a wide array of food and drinks which has earned comparisons to Ibiza, with its vibrant atmosphere drawing in guests consistently since its opening.

Our goal is to create unforgettable experiences for our guests by curating engaging programs to ensure a memorable stay, no matter their age or interests. This concept mirrors what one might find in hotels in Dubai or elsewhere, and our research indicates its relevance in our setting. We offer different brands here that adapt to every kind of market taste.


How is Atmosphere Core expanding its portfolio in the Maldives and other international markets?

Previously known as Atmosphere Hotels and Resorts, we have streamlined and repositioned our corporate brand as ‘Atmosphere Core’. This change came about with our expansion into the growing Indian market, following a decade-long effort. Although our plans to enter India were initially set for 2022, they were delayed by the to Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, we are launching our first property in Kolkata in a few months, with an additional 10 properties signed. Our team in India is similiarly growing with departments dedicated to technology, finance, and business development. Expanding from the Maldives to India was a natural progression for us, given the increasing demand in India. We are also planning a venture in Sri Lanka and we have appointed a manager to help us move into the Middle East and Africa. So these are exciting times, as we are propelled forward by the collective efforts of our close-knit team and our shared corporate vision.


How is Atmosphere Core reducing its carbon footprint to position it’s resorts as top sustainable luxury destinations?

Sustainability is paramount and the key to success. As a company, we hold ourselves highly responsible. All our properties in the Maldives are, as a minimum, ‘Green Globe’ certified. We apply sustainable practices from the design phase to operations, and undertake constant auditing to maintain Green Globe certification across all our portfolio.

Furthermore, we rank among the top-five producers of solar energy in the resort sector here in the Maldives. Leading global solar power expert ‘Swimsol’ is our partner and we have a dedicated renewable energy division. Last year we saved close to 400,000 litres of diesel through solar energy and we are among the top-three renewable energy producers regionally. We have taken steps to process our own wastewater and recently installed a greenhouse that is now producing 600 kilograms of fresh vegetables ever day, with plans to increase that to 1000 kilograms next year, reducing reliance on importing.

We are also piloting a project aimed at achieving 100% garbage recycling at one of our resorts by May. All food waste, along with solid and liquid waste, is processed within the unit, contributing to soil enrichment. OZEN Life Maadhoo will be the first resort to reach this milestone.

Moreover, our philanthropic work is handled by the Atmosphere Foundation, through which we undertake various sustainability projects. For example, we have introduced bamboo plantation initiatives aimed at storing carbon and educating communities about bamboo cultivation. This project, spearheaded by Abdul Aziz Abdul Hakeem, distributes bamboo seedlings and plants across the Maldives.

Throughout our operations, we prioritise the use of sustainable materials, including timber sourced from sustainable forests and minimising the use of concrete. We are also exploring the use of biofuel derived from cooking oils for our diesel generators, which is currently in the experimental stage. We eagerly anticipate the results of this initiative as it could further enhance our sustainability efforts.


What technologies are Atmosphere Core using to keep up with innovation in the sector and the government’s hopes to digitalize the economy?

Technology is constantly evolving and it is difficult for anyone to claim they are consistently ahead of the curve. However, each new resort development presents an opportunity to apply the very latest innovations and embed them within our facilities. Keeping equipment upgraded can be challenging, but there is no alternative to this adaptation. We strive to adopt the best practices available at every stage of operation. This includes utilising top-tier distribution networks, revenue management systems, cost management systems, and property management systems. We aim to harness technology where it can benefit us most, without becoming overly reliant on it.


What are Atmosphere Core’s top priorities and what role do you see for the company in the Maldives and the broader region in the coming years?

The status of Maldives as a destination sparks debate. Some wonder if it is too much or too little. When I arrived here, there were only a handful of resorts. As the industry expanded, the same question persisted: if we build more, will the guests continue to come? The answer remains to be seen. With a global population of 8 billion, the Maldives, with its small size, has only a few thousand beds and attracts between one and two million guests annually. Clearly, there is significant potential for growth. In my career, I have been involved in the development of some 16 resorts in total for different management companies and ownership structures. The Maldives has ample room for growth and the country has a clear vision for its future. It is a beautiful nation with much work to be done. Despite our expansion into other countries, Atmosphere Core remains deeply committed to growing within the Maldives.


How important is the American market for the Maldives and Atmosphere Core?

The US holds significant importance for us. Americans particularly love to visit the Maldives and we are always happy to see them come. We now have representatives on the West Coast of the US and we are gradually establishing sales offices there. Over the past three years, the influx of American tourists to the Maldives has significantly increased and I believe this trend will continue to grow. Human beings are explorers; it’s ingrained in our nature. Without exploring our surroundings, life feels incomplete. However, the Maldives stands out as a unique destination. With the opening of India, where English is widely spoken, we anticipate further growth.


What is your final message for the readers of USA Today?

Tourism is a sustainable industry that can create numerous job opportunities and foster self-reliance, particularly in small nations where natural resources are scarce. Additionally, larger nations have a social responsibility to embrace a broader perspective and visit these smaller nations to appreciate their beauty. The Maldives holds a unique position, offering rare and exquisite natural luxury at its finest.