Maldives gets praise as unparalleled natural wonder

“Maldivian? You are lucky,” is the kind of response I got while I was covering the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) fair in Dubai when anyone realised I was from Maldives.

These people were in a city popular as a modern and high-end tourism destination that flourished in the barren desert of the UAE. Starting with beautiful beaches and luxury services, it’s also home to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. It is also the UAE’s main business hub. But for almost all of them, it was the tiny island nation of Maldives that has stolen their heart.

There was a man standing near Maldives’ beautiful stand at the ATM fair. He was watching people who had climbed into the 360 photo booths set up in the stand and was clicking pictures. When I asked him if the stand was nice, he said it was beautiful. Although the stand showcased the country’s scenery, the man had never been to the Maldives.

“I’ve never been to the Maldives yet, but someday [I’ll go]. It’s on my bucket list,” he said.

Everyone who came to the Maldives stand during the fair made similar comments. Maldives, which won the Best Stand Feature award at the fair, was lauded.

A big portion of Dubai’s three million strong population is workers from different countries. From taxi and delivery services to tourism business and other sectors, foreigners are often seen at different levels in different sectors. I got to meet and speak to so many of them every day.

I discussed Dubai with a Pakistani taxi driver I met one day. Since I was not on vacation and had not been out sight-seeing much, I told the driver that all i saw were high-rise buildings and not much else. His next question to me was where I was from. When I said I was from the Maldives, he did not know which country it was. So I Googled and showed him pictures of Maldives on my phone.

“It is so beautiful! I have never seen a place like this,” he replied, widening his eyes and responding in the exact same way that anyone who sees Maldives for the first time does.

“If this is where you come from, how will you like anywhere else?”

During my visit to the ATM fair, I met someone who had worked in the Maldives in the past. The Indian had moved to Dubai and now works at a hotel there.

“I used to work at a resort in the Maldives, but due to the pandemic, I lost my job and had to go back,” he said.

Asking about the situation in the Maldives post-pandemic, he said he still wants to return to Maldives. He said there is no place like the Maldives.

Not without reason. I also asked various people I met like this about life in Dubai. Everyone says that in Dubai they earn much better than working in their own countries. According to them, it is also easier to get a UAE visa.

Then there is the question of the cost of visiting the Maldives. Everyone I met said they wanted to go to Maldives even if for once in their lives. Their question is how to manage the big responsibilities in their lives and make the trip to visit an expensive place like Maldives.

It’s true. The Maldives is an exotic tourist destination. That’s how it is known for. But with guesthouse tourism, there is now a chance to experience the Maldives on a budget. In addition to that, there are budget airlines operating to the country. I passed this information on and told them that people from different walks of life can experience the Maldives now.

People’s praise rained on Maldives even at a high-end place like Dubai. Those who have visited still want to come back again. Those who have not, are waiting for the opportunity.

Arab businessmen also know that there is no place like the Maldives. The Maldives has won the World’s Leading Destination, the most prestigious award given by the World Travel Awards, for three consecutive years since 2020. Dubai was on the nominated list of places on all three occasions.

The Maldives has set an example for Saudi Arabia in their efforts to enter the tourism sector as part of their economic diversification plans. Efforts are underway to develop resorts similar to those in the Maldives and open some of them this year. The Maldives is a unique place. The concept of ‘One Island, One Resort’ has been developed and mastered by the Maldives, unique to the Maldives and accepted by the whole world.

The next question is whether the replication of Maldivian resort concepts in another country will have any negative impact on the demand for resorts in the Maldives.

When asked about this on the last day of the ATM, MMPRC Managing Director Thoyyib Mohamed said that Maldivian tourism will be adversely affected if efforts are not made to promote the Maldives, regardless of the concept being recreated or not.

“There will be places that are like ours, or different from the Maldives. There will be  in the future too. But will that have an impact? It will affect us even if it is not like Maldives if we stay idle like this without working,” he said.

“We have to explain how we are unique, what are the natural differences, and our experience is that we we always explain what food is available where, what can be done at different locations and explain the specialised features of different resorts. This is what we try to sell. We see if we can describe the experiences that could be had in the country and promote it.”

Thoyyib’s point was that we need not focus on the fact that places similar to the Maldives are being built, but rather, focus on how we can better market the Maldives to the world as the unique travel destination it is. The idea should be to market it properly. Both at the ATM fair and in Dubai, people’s perception of the Maldives and the level of demand for the place was evident. All that is left is to advertise properly.

Rich Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia can build facilities similar to Maldivian resorts. But the experience here is not something that can be replicated. Historical places cannot be copied. The beauty of the country is purely natural. Even if imitated, it will not be as perfect as is divinely crafted.

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