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An Indian hotelier’s endeavour to carve out a niche in Maldives hospitality industry

Salil Panigrahi has been living in Male, Maldives, for over two decades and finds it a joy and privilege to be there. The Odisha-born hotelier, who started his career at Oberoi Hotels & Resorts in India, moved to the Maldives when he joined the Six Senses group.
“I led the finance department there but was also responsible for project management for resort construction, product launch, and was deeply involved in the resort operations. My love for Maldives was cemented through this experience,” he said. His entrepreneurial journey started in Maldives in 2003 with resort development ventures through private placements which resulted in a number of internationally managed resorts being opened in the archipelagic country.
There are challenges in doing business in Maldives, he said, but many have also become his strengths. “Global challenges like liquidity in financial markets impact Maldives in ways that we can neither imagine nor control. The common thread across them all was the resilience of Maldives,” he explained. “The country has always bounced back and displayed tremendous inherent strength in its tourism demand. We believe this will be the case post pandemic.”
Panigrahi, the first in his family to foray into entrepreneurship, is founder and managing director of Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts, a hospitality company in the Indian Ocean region. He feels that besides the short and convenient flight routes, the security, serenity, and exclusivity that resorts in the Maldives offer make them a favourite destination for Indians.
“The Maldives has always been a preferred destination for Indians, because of the unique ‘one-island one-resort’ concept. In India, holidays are quite a bit about family vacations. People will worry about domestic travel until their children are vaccinated. In island nations like the Maldives, where every resort is on a private island with minimum contact with the outside world, parents will be confident of safety,” he said.
He launched his company in 2012 to fill what he believed was a gap in the market for a resort brand in the Indian Ocean Region. “It was conceived to offer tranquillity, fun, and value and our extensive sales and distribution network across the world has been our biggest strength, whether in Europe, Japan, China or India,” he added. “In recent years, we have been receiving guests from newer source markets such as Brazil, USA, and Australia.”
Over seven years, the group has launched six resorts including Atmosphere Kanifushi, Oblu Nature Helengeli, Oblu Select Sangeli, Ozen Life Maadhoo and Varu by Atmosphere. Two more are scheduled to open by the end of 2021.
“The latest addition was Ozen Reserve Bolifushi in South MalĂ© Atoll, with which we launched our uber luxe brand — The Ozen Collection — in late 2020,” said Panigrahi who is hands-on with his company’s overall growth, brand development and operational delivery.
And though he will not risk a long-term forecast for the tourism industry post-pandemic, he strongly believes that the Maldives will continue to be a naturally self-isolated paradise, providing maximum security and tranquillity to travellers.
“People all over the world have a pent-up desire for travel and relaxation, which is a strong indicator of recovery. I am certain that global tourism will pick up — however it may look slightly different from pre-pandemic days,” he said.
A recipient of the Indian government’s Pravasi Samman award for 2021 for his contribution towards Maldives tourism and strengthening Maldives-India relations, Panigrahi believes that tourism is an industry that connects ‘human to human’.
“Beyond the property and offerings, what our guests, partners, and colleagues remember the most is the human connection. So, I call it a humanitarian industry. I believe what we do has the power to connect and build bridges with people in India, and Indians across the world.”

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