Maldives inks $2.7 mln sponsorship deal with La Liga club Celta Vigo to strengthen sports tourism appeal

Maldives on Monday inked a sponsorship deal worth USD 2.7 million with La Liga club Celta Vigo, as part of the destination’s newfound push into sports tourism.

At a ceremony held at Regio Hall of A Sede in Vigo, Spain, Maldives’ tourism minister Ali Waheed and Celta Vigo President Carlos Mouriño signed the partnership agreement. Celta Vigo Vice President Pedro Posada and Football Association of Maldives (FAM) President Bassam Adeel Jaleel also attended the ceremony.

“It is for us, the Celtic RC, an honour and enormous satisfaction that we have chosen to promote the beauties of their islands,” Mouriño said, after signing the agreement.

Under the three-year partnership deal, the official ‘Maldives… The Sunny Side of Life’ branding will be featured on the sleeve of the game shirts and training kits of Celta’s first team. The club’s official bus, as well as various spaces in the Abanca Balaidos stadium and fields of training will also feature the Maldives’ tourism branding.

The partnership, which costs USD 900,000 per year, also covers development of football in the Maldives. Celta Vigo will receive several young Maldivian players for training at the club’s training academy, whilst club technicians will travel to the Maldives to share their knowledge and experience with the island nation’s national football team.

“This agreement will greatly promote tourism and sports and will strengthen the foundation of our team and football in our country,” minister Waheed said.

“We want to thank RC Celta for allowing us to bring the ‘Sunny Side of Life’ to this club. From this moment on, we are also the ‘Sunny Side of RC Celta’.”

Celta is a Spanish professional football club based in Vigo, Galicia, currently playing in La Liga. It was founded on August 23, 1923 following the merger of Real Vigo Sporting and Real Fortuna Football Club.

Nicknamed Os Celestes (The Sky Blues), they play in sky blue shirts and socks along with white shorts. The club’s home stadium is the Abanca-Balaídos, which seats 29,000 spectators.

Celta have never won the league title nor Copa del Rey, although they have reached the final three times in the latter. One of the team’s best seasons was 1970–71, when they finished unbeaten at home and were known as the “giant-killers”. Celta came sixth that season and qualified for the UEFA Cup for the first time.

The club finished in their best-ever position of fourth in 2002–03, qualifying for the 2003–04 UEFA Champions League, where they were eliminated by Arsenal in the Round of 16. In the 2016–17 UEFA Europa League, Celta reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League for the first time, losing to Manchester United.

This partnership with an international football club comes amidst a newfound push by the Maldives into sports tourism.

The island nation’s official tourism promotion body had earlier announced plans to look beyond the Maldives’ longstanding selling points of ‘Sun, Sand and Sea’ and venture into MICE, cultural and sports tourism.

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, a 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 two 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 nine months of the year increased by 15.8 per cent to reach 1,251,690 compared to the 1,080,459 in 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.

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