Catching first rays

The Maldives was one of the first few destinations to reopen amid the pandemic, giving her a first-mover advantage. Feizal Samath finds out how the island nation is keeping the dreams of travelling alive through targeted campaigns and marketing efforts over the last two years.

HIMMAFUSHI / MALDIVES - MARCH 08, 2019: Caucasian long haired surfer rides the tropical ocean wave with green island on the horizon and some underwater view of the coral reef.Tilt shift effect applied

Bucking international border closures and global travel restrictions owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Maldives is heading towards a successful tourism year in 2022, coinciding with the island nation celebrating its golden jubilee of tourism.

“We are hoping to break another milestone (in 2022) and welcome 1.6 million visitors this year,” remarked a confident Thoyyib Mohamed, managing director and CEO of the state-run Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).

Surfing is just one of the many activities that can be done in the Maldives

The Maldives reopened her borders to tourists on July 15, 2020, after a brief three-month pandemic related lockdown, with rigorous procedures in place to ensure the safety of tourists and tourism workers.

Arrivals in 2021 hit 1.3 million, revelling in a period when few other destinations were open. Pre-pandemic, the year 2019 generated a record 1.7 million arrivals.

Mindful of Covid-19 travel constraints, MMPRC has relied heavily on promoting the destination through digital media, forging strong relationships with tourism companies to promote longhaul market recovery.

Mohamed told TTG Asia: “We had to adapt our marketing concepts towards online and digital events. We also conducted several social media campaigns to ensure that the world knew we were preparing and waiting to welcome them once it was safe to travel.

“This included a major campaign titled, Maldives, The Sun Will Shine Again, where we encouraged travellers to stay safe and visit the Maldives later.”

Throughout 2021, MMPRC carried out 260 different marketing activities in 22 global markets last year – all to ensure demand follows the destination’s open borders.

It also had multiple partnerships and engagements with major international travel brands and companies. For example, Kuoni France held a month-long campaign in partnership with the Maldives, where the destination was marketed through articles, photos, and newsletters on Kuoni’s digital and social platforms.

There were also destination marketing campaigns with Polish tour operator ITAKA; fam tours for travel writers from key source markets; a joint campaign with Italy’s Sporting Vacanze, a member of ASTOI, the Italian Association for Tour Operators; a global advertising agreement with BBC Global News; and a joint campaign with News UK, among others.

Despite Covid-19-related challenges, a number of new resorts opened in the Maldives last year. Many resorts are also on track to launch this year, including the Hilton Maldives Amingiri Resort & Spa, and the Six Senses Kanuhura.

According to Dillip Rajakariar, group CEO of Minor International and CEO of Minor Hotels, the Maldives is a destination that can deliver a world-class experience on so many levels, thanks to its natural beauty, quality hotels, high levels of service and superb experiences.

“We have confidence in the future of the Maldives, so much so that we are launching our sixth property – the Avani+ Fares Maldives Resort – in the Baa Atoll in September this year,” he told TTG Asia.

Rajakariar expects easing travel restrictions across the globe to fuel demand for high-end destinations – the Maldives included.

Inigo Berastain, director, RIU Maldives, meanwhile, believes the Indian market, due to its proximity, will continue to be a very strong inbound market for the Maldives.

He is also confident that “the classic and strong markets” of Germany and the UK will continue to support the Maldives’ tourism recovery.

Berastain added that while there is a perception that the Maldives is a destination for honeymooners, RIU has been welcoming a wider variety of guests.

“We also receive families, groups of friends, people travelling alone, and corporate groups that decide to make their company trip here,” he revealed.

Travellers to the Maldives are often those who enjoy water activities, such as kayaking, scuba diving or surfing.

While the Maldives is widely popular for its one-island-one-resort concept, which provides guests with as much privacy as they desire, the destination also caters to all price points, from super-rich globetrotters to back-to-basics backpackers.

Mohamed said the Maldives is ready to welcome one and all, as accommodation inventory features resorts, hotels, guest houses, homestay options and liveaboards at different price ranges.

As such, the Maldives is also planning to court millennials, a group that currently makes up 40 per cent of the global travel market.

According to a recent Maldives Visitor Survey, statistics show that nearly half the visitors to the Maldives are below 35 years of age, while 60 per cent of them discovered the island nation on the Internet.

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