Maheesha Ratnayake stepped into the role of Chief Operating Officer for Resplendent Ceylon (Pvt) Ltd in August 2018, after being promoted internally from his position as Director Operations. Having been with the organization since 2017, he was well placed to strengthen the operations and lead the luxury hotel chain, especially during these trying times.
With 20 plus years of progressive experience working in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Dubai, Riyadh KSA, British Virgin Islands, Jamaica West Indies, and Sri Lanka, Maheesha is a group level leader with a track record of delivering winning operations in complicated environments and crisis scenarios, which is a driving force behind the smooth operations of Resplendent Ceylon during a crisis period in the Hospitality industry.
Resplendent Ceylon, which is a part of the Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company, owns three small luxury resorts that offer the discerning traveler a remarkable circuit across Sri Lanka, with a range of authentic experiences, while contributing towards local communities and the environment through the MJF Foundation and Dilmah Conservation. Its resorts Ceylon Tea Trails, Cape Weligama, and Wild Coast Tented Lodge, have won global acclaim as the finest in Sri Lanka.
In recent achievements, the three resorts were ranked among the top 10 in the coveted Condé Nast Readers’ Choice Awards 2020, under Asia’s Best Resorts list. Resplendent Ceylon is the only luxury resort operator to have more than one property on the list, placing it as the number one small luxury hotel operator in Asia.
Explaining how Resplendent Ceylon maintained financial stability through crisis periods, he stated, “We achieved it by recalibrating human and operating resources to flex with occupancy fluctuations. A structured model that scales resource reliance vs. optimal efficiency and output is the key. Financial stress testing even during peak operating levels helped us. The devil is in the details. You have to dig deep for meaningful answers.”
Resplendent Ceylon has managed to maintain and improve team engagement levels during successive crisis periods. Elaborating the same, he said,
“Resplendent Ceylon’s operating ethos is, team first. We operate like a family. We share our victories and losses all the same. We have a nonhierarchical system where senior positions simply have more responsibility as opposed to power. Leadership is defined as mentoring, supporting, and facilitating greatness.”
The pandemic has led to pay cuts and higher unemployment levels, however, Resplendent Ceylon has ensured that salary revisions were only applied to staff of a certain level. “We, like other operators, had to make some salary revisions to get through this challenging period. No positions below Operations Executives were impacted. Our internal communications were and are transparent and forthcoming. We share challenges equally and will reap rewards the same.”
According to the respected industry personality, a crisis in the Hospitality industry means a direct impact to the livelihoods of over a million Sri Lankans, as a considerable portion of the working population is directly or indirectly employed in hotels, national parks and wildlife, logistics, tour operators, Food and Beverage industry, and several other Cottage industries.
“Sri Lanka is no longer just a follower of trends. We are becoming trendsetters now,” exclaimed Maheesha. “We as a country are continuing to redefine Hospitality with our own unique blend of culture, history, beauty, nature, and people. Even our approach to navigating the pandemic is something that other more developed countries are taking a page from.”
In Sri Lanka, the quality of Food and Beverage is a prominent factor to attract high-end customers, therefore, Resplendent Ceylon ensures world-class culinary experiences for its discerning guests.
“Our three properties are the sole members of Relais and Châteaux in Sri Lanka. The affiliation confirms our commitment to cuisine with a sense of place and quality. Our chefs curate culinary experiences for our guests as opposed to being menu or buffet led offerings,” Maheesha asserted.
With the experience he possesses after working in the Hospitality industry in many foreign countries, Maheesha divulged that the Sri Lankan Hospitality industry was lacking overall direction and support in the past. He continued: “Things are changing rapidly with the new and focused leadership of the Tourism industry. We need to avoid over-tourism and protect our national resources and heritage. We have to focus on developing talent. There is a looming workforce shortage which we should do more about. The talent pipeline isn’t looking healthy. We have to bring our own talent back to Sri Lanka by incentivizing their return. We need to increase the massive gender imbalance in the industry by supporting women to join and thrive in the industry. This is critical to become a world class tourist destination.”
Speaking of the future of the Hospitality industry, Maheesha feels that the recovery period from COVID-19 would extend for more than two years; however, if the industry remains resilient and focused, it would emerge leaner, stronger, and wiser.
In conclusion, Maheesha stated that Resplendent Ceylon would focus on expansion, its successes, while continuing to provide spiritually and experientially meaningful getaways to its guests.