A visionary with a passion for sustainability and female empowerment, Esin Güral Argat saw an opportunity to create a unique hospitality experience with the backing of Gürok Group to launch JOALI Maldives. Here, she talks to Hospitality Interiors’ Can Faik about the company’s ethos and dedication to giving back ...

What does your current position involve?
In 1992, I started my business life with Güven Çini and Seramik, which is my own venture. In 1998, I executed the structuring of all processes of LAV, one of the key brands of the Gürok Group, from the concept stage to its positioning, from the determination of the production process to the creation of the supply network. The LAV brand, which makes a difference in its field, is today the fifth-largest glass manufacturer in the world.
In 2008, I started to manage the tourism investments of the Gürok Group, leading the opening of the Ali Bey Resort Side facility during this period. In 2016, we made a successful entry into the luxury hotel segment in the Maldives with the JOALI Maldives brand, focusing on foreign investments in tourism. In 2021, we launched JOALI BEING with its wellbeing concept, the second property in the Maldives. JOALI BEING is the only property in the Maldives to have this concept.
Since 2009, I have been working as the Vice President of the Board of Gürok Group companies, including LAV, GCA, Ali Bey Hotels & Resorts, JOALI, Lapis Yapı, Gürok Kiremit, and Turkey’s leading consumer, tourism and industrial brands. In this context, I lead the group’s domestic and international investments and brand processes.

Why did you choose the Maldives as the setting for the resorts?
In addition to my many years of management experience in the hospitality sector, I always try to keep my explorer side alive. I have travelled the world to understand guests’ expectations and experience the distinctive features of luxury resorts. I found that there was great food and great service in the luxury hospitality industry, but there was one thing missing – the ‘soul’.
We set our goals accordingly. We didn’t just make a big luxury facility investment, we set out to give a new brand an identity and a story. JOALI Maldives was our first step on this path. We were looking for an authentic, unique and special place for our guests to experience our brand. Maldives is a very characteristic place in this sense. It’s unlike anywhere else. It is a place that fascinates with its beauty, and most importantly, that tourism continues for 12 months.

What is the biggest challenge you’re facing in improving guest experience today?
The main challenge has been to create a strong brand presence in such a crowded market. I believe we have successfully accomplished this.
In 2016, as a result of the El Niño event, reefs in the Maldives and around the world experienced high ocean temperatures for an extended period of time. As a devastating result, up to 95% of corals in the Maldives were damaged, leading to mass coral deaths. At JOALI we grew coral pieces in an underwater nursery and eventually transplanted them to the main reef. With the Reef Restoration Program, we carried out studies to enlarge the island’s reef. The more institutions and hotels operating in the Maldives that do this, the more the Maldives’ coral reefs will grow, and the biodiversity of the ocean will be increased. We believe it is our responsibility as a tourism facility in the Maldives to do our part to support sustainable tourism. 
Maldives is a unique natural wonder with a very fragile ecosystem. From the tiniest creature to a single tree, each plays a role in the islands' natural renewal cycle. When designing JOALI, the building was designed around the island’s trees to preserve the island’s native vegetation. This conscious decision saved more than 1000 original palm trees on the island today. Some examples of what we are doing today to implement sustainable tourism include offsetting all carbn emissions from guest accommodation - we have our own compacter, compact cans and systems that help us producee our own natural fertiliser. We protect nature with compost for all the wet garbage prouced, a desalination water system too create our own fresh water bottled in glass, and ranwater harvesting for landscaping. 

How important is interior design within your hotels? 
JOALI's design is very personal to me. I personally took care of every aspect of it, from its landscape to its interior decoration, from its architecture to its immersive art concept. The JOALI brand represents a story. We wanted to keep this story alive in every detail, from design to cuisine, from nature to art. I think the best thing guests can experience at JOALI is pure enjoyment.  think JOALI really stands out from other Maldivian resorts, with our attention to detail design and unique artworks positioned throughout the island. 

With the recent opening of JOALI BEING, what we can expect from this property?
JOALI BEING is the first nature-immersive wellbeing island retreat focused on wellbeing in the Maldives. We are not talking about an unconventional wellbeing approach that only offers spa therapies and special nutrition programmes. JOALI BEING is a centre that will allow you to return home with feelings of reconnection with yourself, cleansing from the ego. By improving our relationship with the natural world around us, our bodies and minds, we inspire one’s deepest conscious connections with oneself, with others, and with one’s environment. A transformative destination that aims to give and revitalise ... we can say that it is a mechanism that brings art, wellbeing, nature and people together, with programmes consisting of four main principles including mind, microbiome, skin and energy.
JOALI BEING’s services are inspired by both modern Western science and the traditions it honours, while guiding its guests on their journey of self-discovery and renewal. With its dedicated team of naturopaths, therapists and movement specialists, it aims to provide physical and spiritual enlightenment and healing by offering a holistic approach.

How does design play a role in driving customer loyalty?
JOALI’s island design was inspired by the idea of being the private space of a sophisticated, earthy, creative, intelligent and charismatic woman, who is collecting unique artworks and top-quality furnishings from around the world. We decorated the facility lovingly, with attention to detail. As women, we reflect a different perspective. We see that our social sensitivity, communication power, tendency to act with common sense, leadership abilities and sensitivity to details are reflected in everything we do. For this reason, we always consider and understand the preferences and needs of guests with a detail-sensitive approach.
With this, JOALI’s design is inspired by a commitment to sustainability, a belief in immersive travel. From the inspiring power of art to the life-changing gifts of nature, we celebrate life in all its vibrant glory. Each experience is engraved in the heart and mind and becomes a memory to be remembered for years to come. Inspired by nature and filled with artworks across the entire island, JOALI is the first and only sustainable art facility in the Maldives. With all these features, we have been awarded the coveted Best Holiday Resort accolade many times.

With social media becoming an increasingly important marketing tool, how do you factor it into the design of your properties?
Social media platforms are a great way to connect with our potential guests. Tourism facilities now use social media to share information about their destinations and promote themselves more closely. Guests don’twant to spend a lot of time visiting multiple websites to plan a trip, they want access to the entire travel experience in one place. In this sense, social media also provides great convenience by eliminating distance.

How would you define JOALI’s identity?
I define the ‘joy of life’ reflected in every aspect of JOALI as luxury. JOALI is a place full of happiness, to create unforgettable and joyful memories with your loved ones, which for me is the true luxury of life. JOALI’s concept makes clear both the female touch and the incredible nature that surrounds it.

Is there anything exciting you’re working on that you can tell us about?
As a group, we will enter the fast-moving consumption sector, where we did not exist before, and we will offer mineral water to the market. We are structuring an innovative beverage group in this area, which will be a new experience for us as well. We are very excited to try to understand customer needs and present a different product range to the consumer. We want to be a playmaker in this sector, not a player.

What one thing have you not yet done that you really want to do?
I have been interested in two areas throughout my life. One of them was business life and the other was politics. I chose to be a businessperson as these two dreams could not be achieved at the same time. One of the main reasons I made this choice was the responsibilities I felt towards the ecosystem I was in. However, if I were not a businessperson, I would like to be actively involved in politics.