THE BUSINESS - INTERVIEW
Managing Director of IMTM, International Maldives Travel Market
During the last few years the tourism industry had to face extreme difficulties with significant declines in passenger traffic in all countries. The situation was most successfully resolved by the specialists of the Republic of Maldives, using the country's excellent natural resources. Despite this, professional conferences and events have largely taken place in the virtual world - this year, after a break of several years, however, one of the most important professional events in the Maldives, the IMTM, i.e. the international workshop of the International Maldives Travel Market, was held again. We asked Ms. Hawwa Shiuna Khalid, Managing Director of IMTM about its history, past years and future plans.
Since when do you organize IMTM? What is IMTM exactly?
The International Maldives Travel Market (IMTM) is a business-to-business (B2B) Travel and Trade Fair held annually in the Maldives. We launched this Fair in 2018 with a vision to bring forth more opportunities for the Maldivian local tourism industry. This fair promotes both inbound and outbound tourism, as well as the Maldives as a world-class MICE destination. We have a unique fair concept, with participants divided into the following categories: International Buyers (foreign travel agencies, tour operators and DMCs); Trade Visitors (local accommodation providers, local travel agencies and tour operators) and Partners. International Buyers are invited to take on the role of Exhibitors stationed at booths where Trade Visitors will come to attend their scheduled meetings.
IMTM 2022 is the fifth edition of the fair, held from 7th to 8th September in Male’, Maldives. In particular, this year has been very special to us as it is our first return to a physical event since the COVID-19 pandemic. We held the fair in-person in 2018 and 2019, but during the pandemic, we developed our own in-house platform called IMTMAir and held the Fair virtually for the last two years. So this year, it has been brilliant to see the event come to life and have all the industry members come together and network.
How was it created and what was the reason why you thought it was necessary?
I have been working in the industry for a while now and am very much connected with the tourism scene. I had the opportunity to attend many international travel and tourism industry fairs, such as WTM, ATM and others. While at one such international fair in 2017, I noticed a gap in representation from the Maldives, one of the top travel destinations in the world. Whilst major fairs such as ITB Berlin and WTM are some exceptions which see more Maldivian tourism stakeholders in attendance, the high costs of participation prevent proportional representation between resorts, guesthouses and liveaboards from the Maldives.
Even after 10 years, the local island tourism sector is not represented well. Most guesthouse establishments rely heavily on OTA such as booking.com and agoda.com. Even though OTA’s are an integral part of the business, one of our objectives is to bridge the gap between travel companies and the guesthouse industry by allowing them to have direct meetings with each other, which will give them more diverse opportunities to expand their businesses.This is why we decided to introduce this fair concept in the Maldives: to present the local tourism industry members with a more cost-effective and accessible opportunity to join such a world-class event.
For the last five years, our aim has been the same; to help all our participants expand their clientele and sell their properties. In addition to this, I noticed there was a lot of economic activity generated by the Fair such as shopping, accommodations and restaurants were full, families traveling as well.
I thought to myself, yes, this is something that can be brought to the Maldives. Maldives is an ideal location for such an event because it is easy for people to travel due to easy visa options. It also helps boost other relevant businesses such as restaurants and help the local community when we hold events like this here in the Maldives. For example, we invited the aspiring youth to experience the Fair this year and we support local artists such as photographers, musicians and dance groups by giving them opportunities and exposure at our Fair.
How did it develop during the years?
The first edition of IMTM was held at Adaaran Select Hudhuranfushi Resort in Maldives. We had a total of 127 companies participating from over 19 countries. In 2019, we held IMTM 2019 at Farukolhu Fushi. We had 60 companies from 18 countries that year, with the 600 local tourism industry professionals participating. The next 2 years, we held the Fair online, on our in-house platform, IMTMAir.
We had more international buyers participating that in 2020, perhaps because online events are more easily accessible. In 2021, although there was a return of physical events, we chose to have the fair online, considering health and safety. Despite being virtual events, those two years were also very successful. This year, we’re excited to be back for a physical event. We have developed a unique fair concept and each year, our team works to provide everyone an even better experience based on the feedback we receive. In addition to this, we try to explore new markets to bring more opportunities for the Maldives. For example, this year we have invited International Buyers Nigeria, Portugal and Canada which are new markets for the Maldives. This is something we do every year.
What is the main purpose of organizing this Fair?
Our vision has always been to help our local tourism industry members. We seek to be a medium that powers the tourism industry. Every year, we invite international travel agents and tour operators from across the world to attend the fair and meet our local accommodation providers and travel companies. By providing this platform for leading industry members to network and boost their businesses, we hope that all participants have a productive time directly meeting each other and forming connections that will hopefully grow into long-term business relationships.
How did you change, develop the invited partners?
Initially, we begin by approaching the Ministry of Tourism and MMPRC, the government body responsible for promoting the Maldives as a destination. After this comes our main partner. For the last five years, our main partner has been Astrabon Maldives, a leading IMTM resort supplier in the Maldives. Every year, we have a lot of partners, from hotels, resorts, airlines and media, as well as local photographers, printing companies, merchandising companies and more.
What is the present reason for organizing? What is the target?
As I mentioned before, our goal every year has been the same. We hope to boost the tourism industry and help local accommodation providers sell their properties. In particular, we try to help the guesthouses more by giving them the opportunity to directly engage with international and local tour operators and travel agencies. This year, we set out with the aim of doing better than last year. It has been a difficult two years with the pandemic and lots of local tourism businesses have been hit hard. We hope everyone who joined had a productive time with their business meetings.
What other events do you organize?
We normally hold the Sustainable Tourism Forum with the IMTM Fair. In 2019, we introduced the STF that invites different properties from the Maldives and even some international participants to come together and share knowledge on how to sustainably develop the properties. It was a good session with some good discussions but we were unfortunately unable to have the STF the last two years.
We will be having the second edition of the STF this year so do look forward to that. It’s a very important discussion, especially for a country such as ours. It aims to find sustainable solutions based on the best international practices, local initiatives, technology and innovation. Apart from this, we will also be having the Bodukakkaa Food Festival soon. This is all about the local cuisine. We have local bakers and cooks who will showcase their dishes. We have also planned to hold the Women Leadership Conference next year.
I think that the Maldives as the Leading Destination two times is in focus of a very big interest by the travel profession; so a very big range of events could be organized with big success. You mentioned the MICE as a future event target center, what other kinds of events do you think could be organized?
Yes, we have been privileged to have received recognition as the Leading Destination in the world. IMTM has been continuously working to promote the Maldives as the ideal MICE destination. As you would have experienced, it is the perfect place to balance business and leisure. To be able to accommodate such large-scale events, a convention center is necessary and it is in the government’s plans for the future. This will help to hold other tourism related events. Events and even our STF and IMTM 2023 can be organized at the convention center. This will help us bring in even more participants.
Do you plan to organize any workshops, roadshows in the future abroad and where?
Yes, we plan on doing workshops with our international partners and guesthouses on social media management, financial management and more. We hope these will help the Maldives’ local tourism industry. It might be online or we might visit the properties to give the workshops. We will decide based on what helps most people.
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