Industry professionals, travel agents come together to explore possibilities in guesthouse industry

Guesthouse owners and industry stakeholders from Maldives gathered on Saturday along with travel agents from around the world to discuss opportunities as well as challenges in the thriving industry.

Organised by local PR firm Maldives Getaways, second edition of the Guesthouses Maldives Conference took place at Paradise Island Resort and was attended by officials of 170 guesthouses across the Maldives. Fifty local and international travel agents specialising in budget travel as well as representatives from leading online travel agents such as Expedia and Booking.com were also in attendance.

An impressive lineup of industry professionals and experts joined the conference as keynote speakers.

The conference, officially titled Dhiraagu Guesthouses Maldives Conference 2017, began with a speech from Shoko Noda, the United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to the Maldives who attended as the chief guest. She shared her insights into the importance of sustainable tourism and supporting the local community.

Asitha Jayawardena and Pemindee Gamage, both Account Managers at Booking.com, spoke about attracting tourists to the Maldives in light of the increasing number of beds in the country.

Abhay Khanna, the Senior Market Manager for Maldives at Expedia Inc., addressed the attendees on how guesthouses can use online travel agents to grow tourism in local islands and briefed them on how Expedia could be a tool for growth.

The topic of guest handling and training for guesthouses was dealt by Vaibhav Garg, Cluster Director of Talent and Culture for AccorHotels Maldives. His speech also guided guesthouses to run in a more efficient, responsible and beneficial manner.

Shaahina Ali, Chairperson for Parley Maldives, demonstrated how the organisation has been combating the problem of ocean plastic. She urged guesthouse owners to actively participate in initiatives to reduce single use plastic, by organising activities such as beach cleanups and awareness programmes for children.

Ahmed Karam, President of Guesthouse Association of Maldives, presented a review of the guesthouse industry and highlighted the future developments.

In addition to the keynote speeches, representatives of official partners gave presentations about their products.

Title sponsor Dhiraagu introduced a new product called Dhiraagu Guesthouse TV, which is a customisable in-room multimedia system, and announced an expansion of its Ban the Bags campaign to include guesthouses, while gold sponsor State Trading Organisation (STO) launched a new product from Japanese paint maker Nippon, called Nippon MozzieGuard. Other gold sponsors, including Allied Insurance and Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC), gave presentations on products such as Allied’s guesthouse insurance plan and a new outboard engine marketed by MTCC.

Maldives flagship carrier Maldivian, which is a silver sponsor, outlined its efforts to support the guesthouse industry. Another silver sponsor Hatton National Bank (HNB) and its affiliate partner in the Maldives Villa Travels gave a presentation about the Sri Lanka-based bank’s new digital payment processing system, while officials of Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) briefed the attendees about the ongoing mega project to expand and upgrade the main Velana International Airport.

The one-day conference also saw networking sessions where guesthouse owners and travel agents exchanged ways to expand their partnerships. Hospitality suppliers and technology companies also promoted their products that are targeted towards the budget travel market and the guesthouse industry.

Maldives, known world over for its upmarket tourism industry, has resorts in the hundreds spread across the archipelago. The industry has in recent years expanded to introduce more affordable segments, including guesthouses and liveaboards. Some 330 guesthouses have started operations over the past five years as the number of travellers that choose to stay in guesthouses rise.

The annual Guesthouses Maldives Conference, endorsed by central bank Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), Association of Travel Agents (ATA) Maldives and Guesthouse Association of Maldives, is aimed at bringing together owners and key stakeholders from the guesthouses and travel industry to discuss and share ideas on the challenges as well as the opportunities in the industry. Through the invitation-only conference, the organisers target to find ways to bring in 500,000 tourists to guesthouses across the Maldives by the year 2020.

The first edition of the conference, held in Male in September 2016, was attended by over 160 guesthouse operators, local and international travel agents, tour operators, online travel agents (OTAs), airlines, government agencies and business leaders.

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