Maldives looks beyond ‘sun-sand-sea’, ventures into MICE , cultural, sports tourism

Maldives will look beyond its longstanding selling points of ‘Sun, Sand and Sea’ with plans to venture into MICE, cultural and sports tourism, the country’s official tourism promotion body has announced.

Thoyyib Mohamed, Managing Director of Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), told journalists last Thursday that the Maldives needed to diversify its tourism product and focus on more niche markets.

“We have seen temporary efforts in marketing Maldives to several niche markets in the past; without a significant result. Therefore, I believe we need a good understanding of niche marketing and even better plans to achieve results,” he said, during the press conference held at MMPRC office in capital Male.

Thoyyib stressed that his corporation was in the process of creating a destination marketing plan to reach several niche markets in a sustainable manner. They include MICE, cultural and sports tourism, he added.

“We are working with a consultant to formulate these strategies for the year 2020,” he said.

The Maldives has been known as ‘The Sunny Side of Life’ for decades, owing to its monsoon-based climate, as well as the pristine white sand beaches and clear blue waters.

However, with recent changes in tourist demographics and the introduction of more affordable products such as guesthouses, there is a need to diversify the Maldives’ branding.

The government had earlier said cultural tourism would play an important role in developing the Maldives’ tourism industry. However, no concrete step has yet been taken to realise those objectives.

Maldives has welcomed over a million tourists this year, as the destination attempts to reach an ambitious target of 1.5 million visitors over the next three months.

The one millionth visitor of the year arrived in the Maldives on August 2 — a month ahead of last year. In 2018, the one millionth mark was reached on September 9, whilst it was celebrated in October the previous year.

According to official figures, total arrivals for the past seven months of the year increased by 17.2 per cent to reach 994,733 compared to the same period last year.

Maldives welcomed a record 1.4 million tourists in 2018. It was a 6.8 per cent increase from the 1,389,542 tourists that chose to holiday in the Maldives in 2017.

Meanwhile, government has revised its forecast for the number of tourists visiting the island nation this year, increasing the estimate to a record 1.6 million from 1.5 million.

This positive growth in the tourism industry comes amidst concerns by private organisations representing industry stakeholders such as the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) over the lack of effort and budget to promote the Maldives as a destination.

These concerns come as the world-famous holiday destination struggles to match an increased bed capacity.

Over the past few years, dozens of uninhabited islands have been leased to local and foreign resort developers. Several international brands have entered into the market, increasing the number of resorts to more than 130. That number is set to increase as another 20 resorts are expected to open over the next two years.

Along with the new resort openings come the challenge of increasing demand from budget travellers who choose guesthouses over luxury resorts that the Maldives is known for. The guesthouse sector has rapidly expanded with over 500 guesthouses in operation today.

The previous government announced steps to maintain a structured growth in tourism, including a slowdown in leasing islands for resort development and increased marketing efforts in key markets such as China and the Middle East in order to reach an ambitious target of a record 1.5 million tourist arrivals this year.

Meanwhile, the new government has pledged to ramp up tourism promotion.

Reflecting the new government’s pledge, the state budget for 2019 includes MVR 104,200,000 (USD 6.7 million) for tourism promotion, up from MVR 34,733,333 (USD 2.2 million) this year and the previous year.

Cover Photo: Kurumba Maldives

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