Maldives magic stays

TTM will return in April 2019

For the period January to March 2017, the number of visitors recorded from the Middle East totalled 11,326 arrivals, rising to 11,898 during the same period in 2018, according to Ministry of Tourism (MoT) figures. Saudi Arabia provided the lion’s share, followed by Kuwait and United Arab Emirates, respectively.

Globally, there was a 17 per cent rise in the number of arrivals in the first three months of 2018, even though earlier in the year a state of emergency was declared due to political strife.

Tourism accounted for one-third of Maldives’ gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017, equating to more than $2.5 billion tourism receipts annually. Come 2020, these are expected to swell to annual receipts of $3.5 billion.

Consisting of 1,192 tropical islands grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls within the azure Indian Ocean, Maldives continues to attract luxury travellers from all regions of the globe despite a growth in the mid- to low-end segments.

Visitors from Middle Eastern countries and the luxury sector in India are particularly attracted by the archipelago’s unique ‘one island one resort’ concept allowing privacy and security for the rich and famous.

 The tourism industry in the archipelago will see a significant rise in the development of resorts and hotels within the next two years. To cater for this demand, public relations and marketing agency Maldives Getaways held a second edition of the Travel Trade Maldives (TTM 2018), a six-day travel trade fair that provided a platform for the Maldives travel trade community to connect with tour operators, travels agents and destination marketers from all over the world.

More than 4,000 pre-scheduled meetings took place at the fair, held from May 1 to 3 at the Dharubaaruge Convention Centre in Malé, the densely populated capital of the Maldives. About 140 resorts and operators exhibited and more than 400 industry professionals were hosted.

Luxury resorts represented included newly opened Soneva Jani and Mercure Maldives Kooddoo Resort, while adults-only island Huvafen Fushi unleashed its “The PlayPen” concept under the guidance of The Small Maldives Island Company. (This 445-sq-m luxurious accommodation starts at $17,000 per night for a minimum of five nights.)

Soon to open resorts included the Heritance Aarah from Aitken Spence Hotels, and will be the group’s first ‘Heritance’ property overseas. Interestingly, sister company Adaaran Hotels and Resorts attracted 7,284 visitors last year from the Middle East, most of whom were honeymooners, according to Suresh Dissanayake, assistant vice president, sales and marketing.

And let’s not forget Conrad Maldives Rangali Island’s undersea residence The Muraka, due for completion in the fourth quarter of 2018. Already housing the world’s first undersea restaurant Ithaa, the undersea room is expected to give guests an “intimate and immersive experience of one of the Earth’s most breath-taking marine environments”, says a corporate press release.

Guest house Liyela Retreat opens in June on Maafushi Island in the South Malé atoll. “After 12 years’ experience in the tourism industry here we believe we can offer a quality product,” says Lola Stojkovic, its Co-Founder and Managing Director. “Liyela is an affordable, modest sanctuary for travellers who want to experience true Maldivian culture as well as the fabulous natural surroundings of the islands.” 

The island nation’s tourism industry is still facing some tough challenges and to focus on these, government officials and industry experts came together at an inaugural Hotelier Summit 2018, one of the components of TTM 2018. Held on Bandos Maldives island resort prior to the trade fair, many from the industry believe the destination needs to explore new options in order to continue attracting international arrivals, despite the ‘one island one resort’ concept being very successful.

Options could include expanding into other fields such as sporting, entertainment or celebrity events. Guest house operators urged their government to help market the 600 guest houses on islands inhabited by locals.

 While some summit attendees believed the concept of an integrated resort island caused threats for both sides of the financial spectrum, Mohamed Shahid, Managing Director of Maldives Integrated Tourism Development Corporation, assured there was space in the industry for both and called for all sides to work together.

Also under discussion was the development of the Velana International Airport by Maldives Airports Company Limited, an expansion project costing around US$1 billion and designed to cater for around seven million passengers a year. Among the hurdles facing the Maldives tourism industry was the ability to keep up the momentum of attracting tourists and repeat visitors. Mark Hehir, CEO and Curator, The Small Maldives Island Company, urged authorities to operate more direct flights in order to meet the projected target in visitor numbers.

After the trade fair, a Maldives Supplier Expo was held, allowing key decision makers from all resorts to network with local and international suppliers.

Exhibitor Ganesh Kumara, general manager, Somerset Hotel and Somerset Inn, believed TTM 2018 achieved its goal and had met many new suppliers and tour operators from different markets. “We are waiting for their response to lead the business,” he said.

Maldives Getaways announced the next TTM will be held from April 20 to 22 next year, and it will also partner Sri Lankan authorities to host the first Travel Trade Sri Lanka from April  24 to 26, 2019 in Colombo.