There's a Steady Increase From Indian Market: His Excellency Ahmed Mohamed on Tourism in Maldives
With multiple interesting tropical destinations gaining popularity by the year, one would expect Maldives to be overlooked by the international tourists. But that isn’t the case. For Maldives with its unparalleled beauty and tranquility offers the most unforgettable experience to the visitors. His Excellency Ahmed Mohamed speaks exclusively to News18.com about tourism and other interesting aspects of Maldives.
What is the USP of Maldives?
I think it is the pristine environment and secondly, privacy that our tourists can enjoy which is not necessarily available elsewhere. When we started tourism we focused on the concept of one island, one resort – we are group of 1200 of island – and these are all small islands. When a resort is built on an island, the resort itself becomes an island. Staff accommodation, guest accommodation, and various other utilities are present for the guests. Also rooms that are built around the island are quite far from each other to ensure it remains private. The person has a private beach, a private beach front and so forth. This gives an added benefit for us and attractiveness for people who want to enjoy their holidays without any disturbances from other parties.
Is there a particular section of tourists who often visit Maldives?
The main source of market for Maldives is Europe. It has been a dominant factor for Maldives in the past and continues to be so even now. Right now, 51% of the market comes from Europe and 40% from Asia Pacific. Interestingly, what we have seen in the past is that the number of Indian tourists visiting Maldives has been growing consistently. It has grown over the past 4 years. This year, according to the latest available statistics - we have seen an increase of 17% as compared to January 2016. More than 5000 visited last year in January. And this year, it has gone beyond 6000. So there is a steady increase form Indian market which we are trying to promote aggressively. For us it becomes very important to diversify our source market. This is to ensure that the tourism industry of Maldives can survive even when there is an economic impact in various regions.
Is education a sector you’d be focusing more on to get international students visit Maldives?
Tourism product itself requires diversification. Right now, we are dependent on sharing the pristine environment. Maldives, as we see it, has become a brand name as far as tourism is concerned. So there have been talks and documented works to see whether we can sell that brand name as education destination as well. But right now, the universities and colleges are on the islands where people stay. What we need to focus on is the need to establish various faculties – a specific island that provides tourism and hospitality management studies which is set up in an area which is both a serving resort, and a teaching school. That concept has been there for quite some time. It is something that we have being talked about. Also, when we talk about diversification within the product itself, we would want to focus on health tourism. We have good spas and resorts, but that aspect hasn’t been marketed to its maximum potential.
Much like Maldives, India is extremely popular with travelers. What do you like the most about our nation?
If we talk of luxury, it exists in both counties. But the product that we are selling is probably different. What we are seeing is more on ecological diving. In India, it is more to do with culture – and also various other natural aspects of things. In Maldives, we don’t have much of things that other countries have. Here we have only the seas. So the product is different and coming from Maldives, I would be always looking for something different from Maldives. In that aspect, India is attractive and as the normal behavior of human beings goes - you’d always want to get access to what you don’t have. India is a place where you will get everything. Yoga is something people in Maldives like a lot. And before I came to India, its impact had already started. About 2-3 years back people had started attending yoga classes. I have been told with yoga in Maldives some people have turned vegetarian and they see the benefits of it. Yoga is growing big. This is an aspect we can take advantage of together with health.
Like any other nation, does Maldives ever face challenges in attracting more travelers?
I think for any business to thrive, it is the key ingredient of business – participation of private sector. In Maldives, tourism began from the private sector and remain with it. The role that government plays is regulatory. Private sector mentality of running business is different from state. State will have a welfare component, but with private business, you move higher. Challenges are huge too. If there is a war, we get affected. If there is economic crunch, we are affected. So a lot of externalities affect the tourism industry. That’s why people recognize private sector and government recognize diversification within product and source markets.
How can travelers enjoy in Maldives if they have a shoe-string budget?
Well, Maldives is known to be expensive, but that isn’t necessarily true. We have guest houses that are much cheaper than resorts. Which would cost 100 dollars. You get to enjoy the same facilities available in the resort, but you also get to meet the local people. And it is growing popular and it has become a source of income for community-based entrepreneurs. Not everyone would have the caliber to run a resort, but local communities and individuals can easily afford guest houses. These guest houses are equally comfortable so that it is something people can see in terms of affordability. Sea safaris depends on the taste of people. But how it has mainly being promoted as a destination is as a honeymoon destination. It is a destination for children and sea sports.
How are you responding to growing interest of travelers in luxury industry?
We have all higher brand names that exist in the tourism industry. There are resorts that go beyond 30,000 dollars per night. I haven’t seen these places. But yes, people do come and stay for this amount every night. From high-end tourists to those on a limited budget, Maldives is able to meet the needs of the travelers.
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