By Guest Writer Ruth Franklin
All of us who play a part in the Maldives tourism industry are well aware that the level of international travelers that we have become accustomed to, is for the moment a thing of the past. Resorts may well see a surge of bookings once the Safe Tourism Guidelines are published. However, it is likely that local island guest houses may have to wait a while longer.
This is why the guest house industry needs to look at the domestic travel market. There are many articles published that state that the Maldives does not have a domestic travel market. Certainly, we do not have a domestic market that is large enough to kick start the country’s economy. But we do have a population, who like most countries in the world have been on lock down. Have been unable to gather as family and friends. Are waiting for the day that they can head to the beach or jump onto a speedboat or flight and head to their home island.
We also have over 12 more public holidays to look forward to in the second half of the year. a time historically when many of us travel for enjoyment and to relax with friends and family.
It is therefore time for local island businesses to sharpen their marketing efforts and ensure they are considering the available local market as well as their international guests.
Here are my top 5 tips to marketing your local business to the domestic travel market.
1. Engage with locals
If you want to reach the local market, you need to communicate with them on the social media channels they use most – Don’t just consider Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Look at how Tik Tok has grown during lockdown. Viber groups are also very popular in the Maldives. Think about the way locals want to hear from you. For example this may be in Dhivehi as opposed to English. Consider creating a social media channel that is dedicated to locals. Tap into local influencers and research relevant hashtags.
2. Implement a local PR campaign
Identify local publications and local online sources and make it a goal to get a feature or a mention about your business. Your story. Your team. What actions have you taken to prepare for reopening? What can you offer? What is unique about your property or location? The top 3 reasons for a local family to visit. Consider inviting a local writer, influencer or agent to experience your property. It will also give you and your team a chance to practise the new procedures and guidelines. Their post COVID-19 experience can be used to promote both locally and internationally.
3. Promote the idea of Staycation
The word “staycation” is no doubt more commonly associated with domestic tourism marketing in the US and Europe. However, it is unlikely that many of us will consider travelling abroad to Sri Lanka, Malaysia or India in the numbers that would do so usually. So it’s perhaps time for the Maldives to embrace the word! Come up with a name for your idea. ‘Home is where your travel story begins’ for example. Encourage local guests to use your property as their relaxing home base to explore an area they have yet to visit or to revisit an island that takes them out of the city to have fun! Have a clear price strategy for the local market and stick to it.
4. Localize your offer
Whilst a ‘stay 3 nights, get the 4th night free.’ may appeal to international guests; it’s not necessarily appropriate to the local market. Think about alternatives, stay 2 nights and get a free dinner for people. Stay 2 nights and receive 1 hour free SUP hire. Talk to your family and friends, what would entice them to book?
Be sure to share this offer along with your rates to local travel agents or tour companies who can assist to spread your message and who will no doubt receive enquiries from locals for offers and deals.
5. Offer Value
Value does not have to be about your price. At this moment in time you are looking to build a revenue stream and importantly profit, it’s not about having a high occupancy rate and no margin. Perhaps look at who you can collaborate with to offer value, this could be transfer providers, activity providers, restaurants etc.Consider promotions or loyalty schemes that offer longevity and repeat business. ‘Stay with us on three occasions for 2 nights or more within a given timeframe and get one night free on your next visit.’
About the author: Ruth Franklin is the Co-Founder of local tour company Secret Paradise. Secret Paradise has provided local island experiences since 2012. They annually audit their partner accommodation properties and are currently finalizing a program to support their guesthouse partners in being ready for business.