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From pastel sunsets and the gentle drift of palm trees to the constant tidal rhythm, the tropics are imbued with a natural romanticism that’s hard to top. If love at first sight is possible anywhere, it must be here. And for newlyweds Di and Paul Lechner, Cupid’s arrow cut deep at the edge of the Indian Ocean.
“We went to the Maldives on our honeymoon 15 years ago and fell in love with the destination,” she says. “It became a place we’d visit a couple of times a year. I always think of it as a love affair.”
But by the time their second child arrived, the Lechners’ work–life balance had come undone. Paul’s senior IT position at Apple meant little time at home. Di, who was herself busy with a career in HR and executive recruitment, says the situation wasn’t conducive to a family environment. “I decided to take a step back from my job,” she says. “I wanted to do something I was really passionate about.”
A colleague asked her what was next. “It was a bit of a joke. They asked me, ‘Well, what do you love?’ I love the Maldives.”
The island nation of the Maldives holds a special appeal in the pantheon of tropical getaways. The journey, which usually involves at least two flights and a speedboat trip, gives the country a powerful sense of remoteness; just arriving at your resort is an achievement.
And then there’s the matter of choosing from around 180 resorts currently operating in the atolls of the Maldives. Some are better for couples; others for kids. Some put a priority on adventures; others are permanently set to chill.
Finding, let alone creating a definitive directory of Maldivian resorts seems like a ‘too hard basket’ job for many people, further heightening the Maldives’ sense of exclusivity. But not for the Lechners.
“Whenever we were trying to book holidays for ourselves we identified that there was a distinct lack of knowledge, particularly in the Australian market,” Di says.
“Since we travelled there so much, I’d quite often find that I was educating the travel advisor. They hadn’t been to the Maldives or, if they had, they’d only seen one property.”
Initially, a career in travel didn’t hold much appeal to the couple: “It never really seemed like it would pay the bills”. But once Di began analyzing the market, she soon concluded that becoming a Maldives travel guru was indeed viable. “The recruiting world I was used to was actually not all that different,” she says. “Only now I’m matching people to the right resort experience.”
Paul found his IT skills were a perfect fit for the venture. “Di will have a fantastic idea and I’ll come in and make it a reality,” he says. “I’m very much the execution person, a sounding board in how we guide the ship.”
“People would say we were pigeonholing ourselves. But it’s what I know intimately well.”
- Di Lechner
Addicted to Maldives launched in 2015, fueled by the powerful twin engines of passion and addiction. “People would say we were pigeonholing ourselves,” Di says. “But it’s what I know intimately well. And there are worse addictions to have, right?”
The Lechners’ costly habit became a factor in shaping the business. “As our dependence grew, so did our budget,” Paul says. “And we see that with our customer base; people will go once and spend A$10,000 [US$6,700], but after they see the value, next year’s holiday budget is bigger.”
The couple knew it was important to become partners rather than wholesalers with the resorts they’d come to know so well. That closeness pays dividends to its clients from the word go. “We’re able to handpick the teams on the ground to work with our clients,” Paul says. “We get the best of the best.”
In a market as busy as the Maldives, there’s a lot to keep on top of. Up to 20 new resorts open across the atolls every year, and existing resorts are constantly retooling and enhancing their offerings.
“You don’t want to bring on a resort that’s a direct competitor to one of your partners,” Paul says. “So we do say no, and whenever we do we articulate why.”
To help keep their knowledge base up to date, the Lechners organize an annual event attended by its top luxury resort partners and representatives of the sales agent community. “We really work to showcase the destination,” Di says.
But doing so means taking on an entirely different travel lexicon to Australia’s. “Luxury has a different meaning,” she says. “A five-star rating is much higher in the Maldives than anywhere else in the world, and we really only do five stars and above.” As a result, Addicted to Maldives’ carefully curated portfolio consists of around 30 resorts.
The company also forms tight relationships with its clients. “Choosing the wrong resort can be expensive. We’re conscious that holidays are a luxury, so we’re very responsive and we take the time to understand a client’s requirements,” Di says.
Addicted to Maldives’ service and standing have helped earn the business a place in the elite, invite-only Virtuoso network of the world’s top luxury travel operators. “We’ve been a part of Virtuoso for about four years,” she says. “You need to consistently deliver, and response time is key to that. We don’t leave inquiries hanging.”
And that’s simply because the Lechners are so invested in both the Maldives and travelers attempting what is for many an intimidating journey, both in terms of distance and expense. “We genuinely care, and we hire people who also care,” Di says.
It’s not just about the resorts, either. The Maldivian holiday experience tends to exclude the fact that the country is home to more than half a million people. While many of them depend on tourism for employment and income, many do not, and daily life in the country is often overlooked by visitors.
Not so in Addicted to Maldives’ case; the Lechners have established ‘Addicted to Change’, a philanthropic arm of the business dedicated to giving back to the Maldivian community. “We visited a good friend who lives on one of the local islands,” Di explains. “He took our family on a tour of the island, and we ended up at the local school’s football field.”
The modest sports ground inspired a feeling that more could, and should, be done. “We thought, ‘Imagine if we could turn this dirt pitch into grass’.”
The idea snowballed from there and aims to physically improve the livelihood of the locals who share their beautiful archipelago with holidaymakers. “It’s something we’re all incredibly proud of,” Di says. “To be able to use our business for some good is personally very important to us.”
“It’s probably the one destination that looks better than the postcard.”
- Paul Lechner
Despite their professional immersion in the Maldives, Di says the destination has lost none of its magical appeal for the couple. “Outside of work, at least twice a year we pay out of our own pocket to go and spend time in the Maldives,” she says. “And every time, I still get butterflies and such a sense of excitement about what is awaiting me. The fact that we get to create that and help be a part of that experience for someone else is super-special.”
Paul adds that it’s all part of their addiction: “Our goal as a business is to get our customers addicted to the Maldives, so they get to enjoy that holiday in a very special destination every time,” he concludes. “It’s probably the one destination on the planet that looks better than the postcard.”