On the edge of the world with the world’s tallest

Image copyright TIME

Image caption Jia’s personal secretary, a hotel guide and an instructor sit across the table

Island hopping is rare in the United States. But it can be done in the Maldives, a former sultanate famed for its beaches, palm trees and lagoon-lapped coral. Just go to the one with the high, gilded towers and stunning vistas.

There’s also the experience of sleeping in the tallest hotel in the world.

The Global Residences at the Ritz-Carlton is the height of luxury, and that was precisely its goal. In a country where most people are on a minimum wage of $80 a month, the money is coming in at an impressive rate.

The building, originally meant to be halfway between Manhattan and Hong Kong, had to be recast after state funding fell through in the late 1990s.

“It really was determined that we had to go upscale to get people to come,” says Ricardo Pierse, the hotel’s general manager.

Image copyright TIME Image caption Glamorous residents lounge on the rooftop pool

Realising that no hotel had risen in the complex and, eventually, in the Maldives, in decades, he decided the best thing was to build an apartment tower that would compete with Hong Kong’s all-glass Trump International Hotel & Tower and the World Trade Centre.

“We knew we needed to become a premier property to compete with these other buildings,” Mr Pierse says.

Image copyright TIME Image caption There’s an all-white living room in the lobby for guests to relax in

They opened the doors to the outside world with its breathtaking views, but, in keeping with the spirit of Ritz-Carlton hospitality, kept the gilded, opulent atmosphere to a minimum.

“We wanted to appeal to everyone and never alienate one of our communities,” Mr Pierse explains.

That’s why he rounded up a doorman, concierge, kitchen manager, personal assistant and two instructors to make sure every window and doorway looked like something out of a luxury ad.

Image copyright TIME Image caption The Ritz-Carlton’s first residents get to see the former sultanate

“We wanted to do everything we could to extend their stay,” Mr Pierse says.

“We wanted to provide this a little flavour of the Maldives because the structure itself is very low, so we make it feel like you’re on the edge of the world.”

He personally supervised the construction and helped select each piece of furniture. The main public area, which caters to residents, has become the home from home of residents, too.

“We thought of a place that would feel like home but, in the same breath, somewhere that you would also probably never be able to get to again, somewhere that you might want to bring a few friends over,” Mr Pierse says.

Glamorous residents lounge in the lobby, sip on fresh mango cocktails and enjoy an all-white living room that, unlike all the rest of the state-of-the-art rooms, is completely white.

“I thought it would be really cool to install all white in the lobby,” he explains.

“I was curious if I was going to get a complaint. But not one. Everyone was like, ‘we’re so glad we live here’.”

At weekends, when the home from home is empty, a special meeting room that isn’t suited for guests holds select events.

“We have Barbra Streisand and Michael Buble come in,” Mr Pierse says.

Image copyright TIME Image caption As the Ritz-Carlton is a new development, investors are primarily from Russia, China and the Middle East

“This is an incredible property, but it is also very difficult to make a living here and maintain a luxurious lifestyle. There is so much competition, so many hotels.”

Halfway between Rangoon and Dhammajma island, on Ritz-Carlton’s other side, is a ferry terminal, where guests catch the boat to Rangoon.

It’s just one of the things that worries 44-year-old Mohamed Jia. For him, the future lies in going back to Rangoon.

Image copyright TIME Image caption The jetty in Rangoon serves as the plane deck for the resort

“My family still lives there and they are still very happy. I would have to think twice [if I stayed in the complex],” he says.

“The reason I did it was the lifestyle – but I don’t feel the same way now.”

He’s certainly not the only one. Demand for the resort on Rangoon island and in Semankhali are strong, but investors are largely from Russia, China and the Middle East.

“It depends on the country where you are coming from.

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