Can a butler in the Maldives boost my Instagram likes
I was posing for an obligatory holiday snap – leaning against a palm tree on the beach – when the hotel butler taking my photo sighed. “It’s not working,” he said, and his face lit up. “Wait,
I have an idea. How flexible are you?”
This was my first encounter with an Instagram butler. Mohammad Shayam, my butler, is an employee at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, one of the first hotels in the world to offer a service dedicated to helping guests improve their Instagram feed while on holiday. The idea came about after staff found they were frequently being asked to take photographs for guests on holiday.
When I first heard about it, I wasn’t convinced. It’s a fun, millennial-inspired idea, but is it really what people want to do when they’ve flown thousands of miles to the Maldives to get away from the real world and all its social media trappings? Besides, could a butler really make a difference to the guests’ Instagram feeds in just one holiday (and wouldn’t everyone just end up with the exact same photos of the hotel, anyway? A great marketing ploy more than authentic or personal). But it all sounded so intriguing, I couldn’t resist trying it out myself.
And so that was how I found myself shimmying backwards along a horizontally bent palm tree, at least 6ft above the ground, clinging onto the trunk for dear life while a group of other guests looked on in amusement. “Just lean back and look into the distance, nice and relaxed,” said Shayam, as I somehow managed to arrange myself into something resembling a pose. “Very nice,” he praised while snapping away.
A select team of staff are on hand to help guests with their holiday snaps. These Instagram butlers can be booked free of charge, and have scouted out the best spots on the hotel’s three private islands to create a customised #InstaTrail that includes the world’s first underwater glass restaurant, yoga poses on the meditation pavilion, and sunset views from a traditional Maldivian boat.
Shayam, a receptionist/Instagram butler who is taking a photography course in his spare time, whizzed me around the InstaTrail in a hotel buggy. We drove quickly to make the most of “golden hour”: the hour before sunset where the sun creates a warm glow, meaning no filter is necessary.
First stop was the overwater spa, where I sat by the infinity pool overlooking the sea. “Play with the water,” instructed Shayam. “No, not like that… Well, okay.” Then I walked across the water gangway and adopted what I thought was a model-like pose. He winced. “Just walk naturally – I’ll take photos while you walk. It’s better that way.”
The sun started to set and we raced off to the traditional undholi – a Maldivian swing – where he took a silhouette shot of my back (“Pull your hair around your neck and keep your hand there”). Then it was off to the dhoni service – a traditional wooden boat that ferries guests between the islands. “Pretend to drive the boat,” he said, ushering the captain away.
When I later studied the photographs he had taken, I was impressed by how much better they looked than my normal holiday selfies. He had encouraged me into some really great poses at interesting locations on the island that I would have never found alone. But unfortunately, though some of the images were good, they didn’t quite meet the standards that would be required by professional travel bloggers whose business it is to create an envy-inducing lifestyle on social media.
Shayam took the photographs on his iPhone 7 (my iPhone 5 was deemed worthless), but even so, the results sadly lacked the lighting and clarity of the pros. The composition was a little off in some photos, and they would need some decent retouching to take them to the next level.
But the hotel has plenty of Instagrammable opportunities – from the white sun pods on the beach to the water huts that sit on stilts in the middle of the turquoise sea and the al fresco spa – so I tried again with other members of staff, who were all happy to oblige.
A waitress took a photo of me surrounded by shoals of fish and baby sharks in the underwater restaurant Ithaa – but the angle wasn’t quite right and the wooden tables behind me cluttered the image. At a 7am yoga class the instructor forced me to hold my tree pose because it “looks very good in the morning light”. It was nice to have photographic evidence of my gradually increasing flexibility, but again, the resulting photograph had nothing on the glossiest accounts.
Hotel manager Stefano Ruzza explained: “Guests who attend our yoga classes with our resident yogi can learn what poses visually look best on camera. Dancer’s pose, warrior poses and headstands – our yogi can coach guests through the poses to get the perfect Instagram shot, so you’re getting a workout and a photo at the same time.”
He was right. I did get a workout and a photo, but it didn’t look that different to something I’d take myself. The 7am light at the yoga class was too bright to produce a really great photo, and I had to fix the brightness and contrast on my phone. The photo got 72 likes on my Instagram feed – below my current average of 250.
Ruzza told me that the Conrad Rangali are considering employing a professional photographer as a full-time Instagram butler. It’s a good idea. Shayam and the rest of the team have an amazing knowledge of the island, but even more expertise is needed if guests are really hoping to give their Instagram feeds a proper makeover.
Just don’t forget to actually enjoy the resort, as well as photograph it!
Beach villas from £535 per night, including breakfast. For more information and to read a full review, see: Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.