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What’s it like... being a Maldives hotel manager?

Words by Rob Chilton

Wayne Milgate, the Australian GM at Velaa Private Island tells EDGAR the truth

Working on a private island in the Maldives is a dream gig where you spend endless days strolling around a beach paradise, right? Not so fast. Wayne Milgate spills the beans.

“I live literally 50 metres from where I work so I can’t turn my phone off and escape. I don’t have a day off, I have a few hours off where I do big ocean swims for about an hour and I can’t use my phone. I look at all the fish on the reef, it’s like swimming in a fish tank. If I go to the gym and get on the treadmill next to a guest, I can see out of the corner of my eye that they want to talk so I take my headphones out and have a chat.

“The three questions I get asked most often are how long have you worked here, do you have a family, where do your kids go to school. My family are living in Phuket in Thailand at the moment. My two children have grown up on private islands so when they were 5 or 6 they would have a new friend every seven days. It meant they had to adapt socially and be outgoing and be more accepting of people. They’ve never lived in Australia, they’ve lived in Fiji, Seychelles and Thailand and they’ve travelled a lot. By the age of 12 my son Hunter had been to about 45 countries, he’s probably at about 50 now – I think it develops their personality and makes them more adventurous.

Milgate on his way to work

“Most days at work I wear board shorts and a t-shirt, just kidding. During the day I wear a casual linen island uniform but I don’t wear shoes, I wear Havaianas or sandals. At nighttime, I change into something a little more formal with long trousers.

“During dinner I stroll around talking to guests all the time, it’s something I really like about the industry – although they probably get sick of me. There is a skill to it, which is picking how long you should stay for and which guests don’t want to talk to you. I’ve worked with people who get it right and some who get it wrong. You have to remember, it’s their dinner, not yours.

“I get to meet all types of people from the rest of the world: doctors, bankers, actors, sportspeople. I sat the other week with a Russian gentlemen who didn’t speak any English, but his son did. We chatted for 45 minutes about Australia using a lot of hand gestures.

Meeting all sorts of people is a fun part of the gig

“I’ve met famous people but I’ve never found it to be a different conversation to non-famous people. People often ask me if celebrities are difficult when they come to stay. Not generally. I’ve found 99 per cent of the time they’re able to interact as regular guests. What they really want is to feel normal. In their daily lives they’re so sheltered, so when they travel they want to play with their kids, enjoy the good weather, spend time together as a family – which is what we all want. They might have a chat with guests but like all of us, they don’t want to be bothered.

“I’ve had Olympic athletes stay with us who are not in training and being really indulgent. Usain Bolt stayed in a previous resort I worked at and he was the biggest character I’ve ever met in my life. He engaged with all the staff, he sat on the beach, he played football, he listened to reggae music, and was able to get away with wearing a bright yellow tracksuit – he was hard to miss!”

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