THE BUSINESS - INTERVIEW
Managing Director of Maldives Marketing & PR Corporation
The Maldives islands is a dream destination and as such it is a dream of many of us to go here and enjoy the beauty of this unique country. Let's be honest, when we think about it, the slogan "Sunny side of life .." immediately comes into our mind, right? Well, it's not a coincidence. Serious work is behind the scenes, dozens of professionals are working on the marketing strategy of the Maldives, and Mr. Thoyyib Mohamed is leading this team in an organization with big responsibility, paying great daily attention for every detail. Long ago I wished to know more about this special work and during my last visit on the Maldives I was so lucky that Mr. Thoyyib received me and told me many of their everyday work’s details that I share now with you.
Interview by Szilvia Szeszler
- There is a great interest in how the organization that manages the marketing and PR activity of the World's Leading Destination, the Maldives is operating, I myself also wished to know more long ago about your everyday work and marketing strategy. Would you introduce us to the company?
The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) is similar to other tourism promotion boards. However, our tourism board is a hundred percent government owned corporation, and we are independent from the Ministry of Tourism. The President himself appoints the Board of Directors from different tourist establishments, such as from resorts, liveaboards, and guesthouses. Therefore, we have a fair resentation of the industry in the board of directors. as such, I myself and the current board of Directors have also been appointed by the President.
I believe the reason that we function so well is that we are not hindered by red tape. We are granted an annual budget based on our proposed activities for the year and the board decides how best to utilize the budget as the year progresses. There is no time lost with various approvals from various government ministries or agencies.
It has been very easy since November, 2018. A lot has changed. We are investing more in marketing and promotion, and the government actually granted a budget three to four times bigger than the previous budget because promoting the tourism sector is considered a top priority. The priority that the government gives to tourism promotion and the lack of red tape are some of the important reasons why we are the world’s leading tourism destination. Tourism is one of the main contributors to our GDP, it is the lifeline of our nation. Of course, the fishing industry is also an important sector of the economy and is the second largest industry, but tourism is the key.
- In the case of such a magically beautiful country, like the Maldives we could say that the product sells itself. Would you tell us why it is necessary to promote nonetheless?
Of course the product sells itself, we are indeed blessed with unparalleled beauty. However, it is still crucial that we promote the Maldives and educate the global travel trade community on the Maldives as a leading destination. In 2019, we recorded the highest arrival figure to the Maldives, a staggering 1.7 million arrival figures in one year. We went into 2020 with ambitious plans and a higher target. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit and everything changed
Most of the tropical destinations have not opened up, and it has not been easy for us as well. Our competitors, some of the other island nations in the Indian Ocean, ceased most of their marketing campaigns for the time. Yet we did not. Instead, we doubled our campaigns. We were all working from home and we were constantly monitoring what was happening around the world in our key-markets and providing up to date information on what was happening in the destination. We always kept the world updated on the steps taken by the government to control the pandemic and steps taken by the tourism sector to offer the safest environment for visitors.
We were carrying out a variety of unique marketing campaigns so travelers across the globe would have Maldives in their hearts and top of their minds. We made sure the jaw-dropping scenery of Maldives was visible everywhere. Our photos, sounds, and clips were everywhere. Even in China, even though they closed their borders for international travel since last year, we are marketing there and conducting visibility campaigns.
We were one of the first countries to re-open our borders for international travelers last year on 15th July, and we did so with stringent safety measures in place. We conducted a heavy campaign called ‘Visit Maldives Soon’, in which the entire tourism industry worked very closely with each other. I met with all the stakeholders of the tourism industry marketers during the early stages of the pandemic and we discussed and started envisioning a way forward.
During the initial phase of the pandemic, no one knew what would happen tomorrow. There were huge uncertainties on the future of the industry. Destinations were slowly closing their borders, nations were enacting lockdowns. Our government had a task force led by the President himself, and every day he met with the team to analyze the situation in the Maldives. With careful consideration, we opened our borders on 15th july to revive the Maldivian tourism industry and the economy.
- Certainly I was joking when I said that the product sells itself. I – as a travel journalist and as a tourism professional, working in the industry - continuously followed many pages of the Maldives and I can say I was well informed about what is happening in the country, day by day. In my opinion it is the Maldives that solved the pandemic situation the best. The industry was working with this, arriving with a negative PCR test to an island and staying there for a holiday system. I would like to inquire about your everyday work, what media, social media do you use to achieve people and how, what other channels did you use in practice? How did you change your media and marketing policy according to everydays’ need?
Since March 2020, we have been working together with the government, stakeholders and industry partners to overcome the challenges caused by the ongoing global pandemic. Uniting our efforts in finding solutions for the tourism industry, in coordination with the relevant parties has had a huge impact on the results we had hoped to achieve. Our marketing efforts would not have been successful without the continued support and cooperation provided by them.
Our main aim has always been to promote the Maldives as one of the most preferred tourist destinations in the world. During this unprecedented time, we have continued to work diligently in order to increase the visibility of the destination, and market our beautiful country as a safe haven for travelers.
Due to the unprecedented COVID-19 situation, all marketing activities had to be restrategized to align with the situation. We moved on to online and digital marketing activities in order to retain the visibility of the destination among tourists, as the borders closed and we had to put stringent measures in place to ensure the safety of everyone. We remained resilient in our efforts to market Maldives as an ideal holiday destination and continued to work day and night with more vigilance and hopes of recovery in mind.
A variety of platforms such as traditional media, social media, broadcast media, ambient campaigns, among others, were all in the pipeline. Yet once the pandemic hit, we completely shifted to digital marketing. We put a lot of emphasis on our digital media platforms. If we look at our activities now, you would see that we are utilizing mixed platforms. As the world is gradually opening up we are taking part in physical events, and hybrid events while at the same time maintaining our focus on the high level of digital activity we created during the past year and a half.
Additionally, we are also now working very closely with the travel trade across target markets such as airlines and travel agents. Through collaborative efforts to increase the number of arrivals to the destination, we are currently working together with Emirates, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Air Astana and have also worked with Tour Operators with their own charters to the destination. Across our target markets, we have worked with the leading TOs and TAs to ensure that the destination is a top-of-mind destination for those who are seeking their next holiday destination.
- This system could have been working much better than doing it alone and only with the media. Many destinations are working with bloggers which I think is not good because “discount” the otherwise prominent and outstanding destination. In the case of the Maldives this is especially true as it has never been a budget destination. In my opinion values must meet and the Leading Destination should work with the leading media only.
The Maldives remains as a luxury destination but we are expanding our horizons to carry on as the Worlds’ Leading Destination. As you may be aware, we have 4 products that we promote; Resorts, Liveaboards, Guesthouses and Hotels. We have offers for different kinds of travelers and we are working towards creating more experiences for travelers coming to the destination. We will be continuing our work, promoting the Maldives through various channels.
- As I know you are representing and working not only with the big hotels but also with the guest houses. How was the work, what were the possibilities, while they could not be visited?
Yes, we represent the entire tourism industry: resorts, guesthouses, liveaboards, and hotels. And of course, they are all different markets. As of now, we are focusing a lot on the ‘One Island One resort’ concept, as this symbolizes the immense safety provided by the geographical isolation of the facilities in Maldives. The geographical formation ensures that Maldives is one of the safest destinations to travel to.
- So that’s why it was the main slogan? It is a fact that only the Maldives was operating last year. We could not travel, Seychelles was closed, Thailand is still closed, except Phuket, Malaysia, Singapore is still closed, cannot open and only the Maldives could solve this situation with the One resort – one island concept.
Yes, but they are opening up so we cannot relax with our marketing, we still have to make sure we keep our momentum.
- By the changing situation your message is changing, I suppose? How?
Our message remains the same, that we are a safe haven destination offering a myriad of unique experiences. During the pandemic, tourists could not travel to the local island. Now, there are so many experiences that a tourist can have in the Maldives. You can visit different historical places, cultural spots, eat with locals, and go fishing with the community. The historical locations in Laamu, the atoll down in the south, are absolutely beautiful.
We have overlooked lakes called ‘kulhi’ down there. Up-scale tourists are also in for unique experiences, like sleeping in a bubble-tent made of glass, so you can see the equatorial starry night while you are sleeping. Also, romantic dinners or barbecues on the sandbank, going to other islands for a day trip, swimming with mantas are few of the many experiences one can have in the Maldives. So these experiences are what we are trying to promote.
We saw during the pandemic that the people’s traveling needs are changing. They do not want to simply lie down on the beach and enjoy the sunset, of course, one should never feel bad just lazing around in Maldives. But travelers, especially the younger generation, want to explore. They want to visit locals, and experience a more genuine lifestyle with them. We are getting ready to have webinars, and other marketing campaigns, to showcase these experiences for travelers. Also, during September-October, we will launch the MICE campaign for the first time in Maldives.
- When will you organize the next TTM (Travel Trade Market)?
TTM is a private fair but we support and sponsor them. It is a very good one.
- Is it better for you if a family or a couple come for a longer stay or more people come for a shorter time? Which can be said to be better for the country?
Before the pandemic, the stays were not that long in the Maldives. However, now we are recording average stays of 9 nights. Longer stay is good, but it depends on different markets. Some travelers are spending much in a short 3 nights stay, and some might spend the same amount in 15 nights; it depends on the rates of the room. I believe it is very important to keep the rooms at a recent rate, as there is a huge demand for Maldives now. We are a leading destination, if we all work together with the tourism industry, I think we can do much better.
Our destination is beautiful, our people are full of energy, we can work together and create something great. We are a success story in tourism, especially how we managed to persevere through the pandemic.
- I heard that there will be new investment and developments in the South and North areas, because now tourism concentrates in a circle, a maximum of two hours from Male. Are there any results already, I mean new buildings, new hotels and how do you promote it?
The Southern region of Maldives holds great potential. There are some infrastructure issues, but we must do something about it and we will. The Southern region is not only Addu, South is Huwadoo and Fuvahmulah. Four different atolls and many good resorts are there. The international airports there are also good and there are a lot of high-end resorts there.
- Which airlines are landing there?
We maintain connectivity from all parts of the world. After reopening, 30 airlines have resumed direct flights to Maldives. We get a lot of high-end travelers so we expect a number of private jet landings yearly as well. Domestic travel within the Maldives is quite convenient and accessible.
- What is the near future, what are you working on at the moment? You are the best, the number one - what else can be achieved?
We achieved major milestones in the previous few years. In 2019, we witnessed record-breaking arrival figures. We welcomed 1.7 million travelers in 2019. Furthermore, despite the fact that there were border closures and travel restrictions worldwide, we welcomed over half a million travelers and was awarded the ‘World’s Leading Destination’ of 2020 in the World Travel Awards. With the entire industry at the helm, we are working hard to achieve more, increase the arrival figure, and position Maldives as truly one of the best destinations in the world for travelers from all across the globe.