The Covid-19 epidemic has badly affected the tourism sector of every country all around the world since the beginning of 2020. However, Maldives was one of the “rare travel successes” when the island could reopen the border for international travelers in July 2020, and has recorded many positive signs in tourism up till now.
Despite some setbacks, the tourism success story of the Maldives seems to continue with many campaigns and activities to get the key tourist markets back to the island this year. Destination Review had a talk with Mr. Thoyyib Mohamed, Managing Director of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), on what Maldives has achieved during the pandemic and what they are aiming for the next steps.
The Maldives indeed made headlines across the globe last year as a tourism success story amid the pandemic. Like many destinations, the Maldives also enacted a nationwide lockdown and border closures for three months in order to combat the spread of the virus. Regardless, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), the national tourism office of the Maldives, still worked persistently in ensuring that Maldives remains one of the most desired destinations for travelers across the world.
During last year, the promotional and marketing campaigns to digital platforms overnight. We recognized the importance of maintaining destination presence and the immense meaning of effective communication with the entire industry and beyond. There was greater enhancement in communication and inclusivity between agents, partners, and customers across various key markets than before. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have witnessed the world’s leading trade shows and exhibitions taking place virtually. With the easing of restrictions, we have not moved on to a combination of virtual and physical presence in the marketing sphere.
We took part in many regional and global marketing and promotional events virtually during the last year. We have also recently launched our own virtual event platform aptly named ‘My Virtual Maldives’. It aims to amplify audience engagement and networking by connecting attendees from across the globe, through hosted online events ranging from virtual exhibitions, roadshows, webinars to training programs and live marketing events, targeting the travel trade and consumers alike.
We also focused on the Maldives’ geography of scattered islands, and the ‘one-island-one-resort’ concept of our resorts, in addition to the stringent safety measures we have in place. Our naturally-distanced islands made Maldives one of the safest destinations for travelers. Each island offers unparalleled distancing and functions under strict safety measures. Thus, we highlighted this uniquely-Maldivian factor in marketing our tourism products including resorts, guesthouses, liveaboards, hotels, etc. across our key markets.
A digital first strategy, open and effective communication with industry partners, as well as the immense sacrifice and effort undertaken by all relevant stakeholders in the Maldives and beyond played a crucial role in marketing the Maldives during those challenging and unprecedented times.
One of the most successful digital marketing campaigns we have run was our ‘Maldives, the sun will shine again’ campaign. We live streamed a Facebook event which brought hope and conveyed to the entire globe that Maldives was slowly but surely on the road to recovery and that the tourism industry was getting ready to start welcoming back visitors. The message of ‘Dream of Maldives’ was the underlying theme of the campaigns we conducted when our borders were closed.
Besides, the campaigns with Thomas Cook and Amazon India were indeed incredibly successful. They are amongst just a few of the successful campaigns we have conducted in the Indian market and even boosted the number of tourists nearly to pre-pandemic levels in the first three months. Campaigns with WeddingSutra, Make My Trip, taking part in South Asia’s Travel & Tourism Exchange (SATTE), and hosting the first physical roadshow in India are amongst several other activities we have carried out.
We also launched the ‘Maldives Border Miles’, which was the first loyalty program initiated by a destination in the world. Travelers now have a great incentive to enroll in the program as they earn points based on their number of visits and stay, with additional points awarded for visits to celebrate special occasions. So far, the program has contributed in boosting tourist arrival figures as it is an effective added advantage in promoting Maldives. Moreover, it is also a golden opportunity for visitors to keep on returning to the sunny side of life.
Amid the border closure during March 2020, the only way to adapt to the changes was to embrace innovative techniques and new technology-based solutions. As such, IMUGA, the digital platform for the immigration services of the Maldives, was introduced.
One main objective of that platform was to ensure the safety measures as far upstream as possible in the travel process, by minimizing the risk of infection in the airport environment. The Traveler Health Declaration (THD) was introduced to collect travelers’ health information. THD guarantees that all travelers are empowered to take more control of their travel journey, including the responsibility of evaluating their level of health risk before a journey.
In another step to increase engagement and attract travelers, Maldives Immigration in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism, Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation and Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), initiated the introduction of the world’s first destination loyalty program, the Maldives Border Miles, focused on tourism promotion.
The biggest challenge to the program lies in the fact that it is the first of its kind in the world. We are exploring new options to attract visitors as much as possible. I believe the difficulty lies in promoting the loyalty program effectively throughout the globe. However, I also believe that with time and our marketing efforts, this will become a huge success.
Similar to last year, it is our strategy to maintain destination presence, increase brand visibility and promote Maldives as the most preferred safe haven destination in the world. We will conduct our marketing activities in destinations that are closed at present to ensure that Maldives remain the top of the mind destination to travel as soon as their borders re-open for international leisure travel.
The primary focus of our marketing efforts are aimed at raising our arrival numbers to pre-pandemic levels, re-orient the perception of Maldives from solely a honeymoon destination into a destination that offers so much more, simultaneously increase the benefits of the tourism industry to the local community through greater emphasis on experiential tourism, and maintaining sustainability within the industry.
We are proud to say that as of August 11, 2021, Maldives has welcomed an impressive figure of 665,159 tourist arrivals. It is becoming increasingly clear from our interactions with consumers and travel trade partners, that Maldives is gaining traction for all our tourism products, and we are slowly losing the perception as solely a ‘honeymoon’ destination. Furthermore, the community-involvement within the guesthouse industry, and the sustainable initiatives undertaken by the tourism industry in Maldives is a testament to the future of global sustainable tourism.
One of the more notable differences compared to last year is that we are seeing international travel trade fairs and exhibitions held physically across the world. However, taking part in such fairs is only one activity in the sea of marketing campaigns we conduct. So far this year, we have taken part in international tourism fairs, conducted major global marketing campaigns with outlets such as Expedia and leading airlines, and conducted familiarization trips, training webinars targeting key markets, virtual and physical roadshows, and so on.
In a crisis such as the pandemic, it is imperative that all stakeholders work together as one cohesive unit working for one unified common goal. In our case as a nation, our focus is the revival, growth, and continuation of the tourism industry. Therefore, it is important for all of us to share information, updates, guidelines, and lessons learned along the way.
As such, the Maldivian tourism industry has worked closely with all local and international stakeholders to ensure that all stakeholders are informed on the latest news, updates, and guidelines. We are constantly conducting training webinars for the travel trade community in our key markets as well as promoting much sought-after products and unique experiences in the Maldives.
Throughout the last year, we have learned that in-depth planning, communication, and an absolute prioritization of the health, safety, and wellbeing of the local population and travelers alike, are essential components in marketing and communications during the crisis.
Thank you very much for your sharing!