by Mohamed Khoorsheed & Zakwaan Asim

Inner Maldives Holidays is one of the leading and award-winning travel operators in the Maldives. The company was founded in 1998 with Mohamed Firaq at the helm since day one, with the objective of providing outstanding and one of a kind travel services to the booming tourism industry in the Maldives. Corporate Maldives was able to get a few minutes of his time to talk about his company and the motivations behind corporate success. Mohamed Firaq is also the Honorary Consul of Seychelles in the Maldives.

How did Inner Maldives come about?

I was still in school when I started working part time as an airport rep. This is how I got the much needed exposure into the industry. Right after school I was offered a partnership to work for Crossworlds Maldives and at the same time I got another offer from Sun Travels. After deliberating on the two offers for some time I eventually decided to go with Sun Travels. However, I also did some work for Crossworlds later on. Then about 18 years back, I decided to begin my own travel agency. Inner Maldives started operations literally in my living room, during a time when the ease of modern communication was not available. What we had access to was fax and even though the costs for installing and using fax services were really expensive, it had to be done and I managed to continue even though it wasn’t cheap. 18 years later, here we are.

What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

There are many challenges that my company and I have faced over the years and one of the first is making a name for yourself in this industry. You start out with nothing; basically just the name of your company. Real business is conducted between person to person, based on trust and credibility rather than business to business. This was one of the major hurdles I had to overcome at the beginning.

Then there are the financial aspects of things. Getting a simple loan or any sort of financial aid was one of many difficulties my company faced during its infancy. Without any physical assets, getting any bank related financial aid is a very difficult or near impossible task. We needed financial backing, not only to widen the company but to branch or get new travel operators into the country. To achieve this, we need credit lines which monetary institutions weren’t prepared to invest in.

However, I must say that the biggest challenge I faced, and am still facing today, is finding qualified personnel. I am not against hiring locals if they are qualified but it is a near impossible task. For example, there is a severe lack of people who are fluent in more than two languages. Even now it is very hard to find bilingual or multi-lingual speakers in from Maldives. It’s as if there is no emphasis on teaching and training youth for that sector. It’s as if our society and work environments have conditioned us to believe that one person is only cut out for one job, a belief which I completely disagree with. We need to step up to change this. I for one am willing to and will not hesitate to hire any local for any position in my company if they have the qualifications. And, of course, once you hire someone you have to trust them to do their job. If you make the workplace a very inhospitable place to work in, then your employees won’t perform as well as they are capable of. This is a message I really want to emphasize: trust in your employees.

What do you consider to be your biggest achievement?

Getting into and gaining a foothold in the aviation industry is no doubt the biggest achievement for our company. We got our start by becoming a general sales agent for a Bangladeshi airline called Best Air. It wasn’t the best experience we’ve had and we did suffer some losses from the whole venture because the company eventually filed for bankruptcy and we were unable to recover our deposits. While trying desperate to stay afloat during that turbulent time we worked hard and managed to secure a deal with Sri Lankan Airlines and also became the GSA for others such as Mihin Lanka, Fly Dubai and Tiger Airways. As usual there were many ups and downs when we first entered the aviation market but we persevered and pushed through and these were the changes we had manage to bring to the country within the last six years. Now, I can happily say that our turnover is very satisfying and the company is in very healthy condition.

Do you think Inner Maldives has brought any positive change to the industry?

Over the years we have brought in several major international players into the country and I believe that has made a huge difference, bringing a very positive impact to the industry. Also, we have been very quick to embrace emerging technologies and adapt to the changing requirements of the industry. For example, some of our competitors say they are losing customers due to online operators, but the fact of the matter is that every airline has online portals for the customers who want to use that service but that hasn’t affected the number of customers who walk into our office looking for a more personalized person-to-person experience. We as a company are innovating and evolving to meet the changing demands of the industry and I believe we have to abandon some of the old-fashioned and out-of-date practices and embrace more modern methods if we are to have a sustainable business model.

Where do you see yourself and your company in the next ten years?

Hopefully we’ll still be the number one company in this business even in ten years. We are already affiliated with and have partnerships with overseas companies that operate under our brand name but there’s still room to expand into new territories. Obviously, there are many constraints and challenges which we would need to find solutions for and overcome before we become a true international entity, but we will that goal in due time. As for myself, even if I retire I will ensure that our brand lives on for as long as possible. The team behind Inner Maldives is more than capable of taking the company into a bright future & they are also the main reason for the success we have achieved till date.