Many may see marketing as simply communicating the value of a product. However, conceiving a product, ensuring its evolution to suit generations of customers, while maintaining its unique character, and adapting to the ever-changing technology in this field of work, remains the essence of successful product marketing. As the national tourism office of the Maldives, responsible for carrying out promotional activities to become the most preferred destination of the world, the work of Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC/Visit Maldives) is perpetual.
Winning the title of World’s Leading Tourist Board in 2022, for the first time in the history of the Maldives, has been an affirmation of the hard work and dedication of the team at MMPRC, under the watchful direction of its board, and with the support of its partners in the Maldives and worldwide. MMPRC’s Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Mr. Thoyyib Mohamed, provided all the guidance, resources and leeway for his team to contrive creative solutions for latent hurdles and innovative ways to engage its target audiences.
The team itself expanded over the last few years as it tapped into potential markets and segments, and utilised every opportunity it could to show visitors around the world why the Maldives is a leading destination and what makes a vacation in the Sunny Side of Life special. MMPRC successfully constructed a gender-positive environment, affirming its belief in the capacity of women to enhance, enrich, and elevate this industry. The majority of the corporation’s 69 staff are female, and women hold several key positions within the upper management. There are 17% more female workers at MMPRC than there are male, and not just in junior, soft, or ‘feminine’ positions; 67% of the Heads of Departments in MMPRC are women and; 87% of the marketing department comprises self-driven and tenacious female workers.
Under the Considerate Counsel of the Government
MMPRC has been conducting a wide range of activities to market and promote destination Maldives in the global travel trade, especially since 2019, to great effect. The Maldives welcomed over 1.7 million visitors in 2019, a milestone for the entire nation, as this was the first time the Maldives had reached such incredible arrival figures. The priority given by the administration of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih towards easing the foreign investment opportunities and infrastructure development avenues, and increasing the budget allocated for tourism marketing and promotion during the last few years, had been key to achieving record arrivals in 2019. These changes, along with the effective policies and guidelines implemented post-covid, have also been instrumental in the remarkable recovery from the impacts of the pandemic over the last few years.
The President has not only supported destination marketing by tripling the annual marketing budget but continued to keep a close watch on activities and the overall performance of the industry. The autonomy granted to MMPRC by the government also helped cut down red tape, so that action can now be taken quickly, to suit evolving market conditions. The administration’s enactment of a minimum wage law benefitted the lives of over 13,000 tourism sector employees. The law governs a 10 per cent tourism industry service charge, of which 99 per cent is distributed to tourism sector staff.
Over the last three and a half years, the current administration has given permits to open 426 tourism facilities increasing the capacity by over 14,000 beds. There are currently 107 resorts in various phases of development across the country, with 22 new properties expected to open by the end of 2023, which would expand our capacity by approximately 5,000 beds. The current government is also actively working towards increasing the capacity of Velana International Airport (VIA) to keep pace with the industry’s growth. The completion of the VIA passenger terminal, which is currently under construction, would increase the terminal’s capacity to 7.2 million passengers per year. Additionally, the development of more airports in the atolls would help broaden tourism reach by easing accessibility to outer atolls where many resorts, hotels, guesthouses and liveaboards operate.
On July 3rd 2022, President Solih ratified the 11th amendment to the Maldives Tourism Act. One of the major changes this brought forward was empowering local councils to determine the market value of land under their administrative jurisdiction, and councils are now able to utilise their land being leased for tourism development in the most profitable way they can.
2020 — The Year of Adaptation
As 2020 rolled around, things were looking bright. Maldives had a 14% increase in tourist arrivals in the month of January. However, come March, the country was hit with the same issues as the rest of the world with the onset of the global pandemic. Arrivals decreased by 63% by the end of the month and the onset of the pandemic resulted in a border closure and halting of flight operations.
As borders closed worldwide, most of the traditional activities conducted by MMPRC ground to a halt, leading it to formulate and adopt a crisis management strategy called “React, Rethink, Recover”. During the initial stages, MMPRC, government authorities, and stakeholders from the industry got together to brainstorm and strategize contingency plans and recovery guidelines to subvert the effects of the pandemic. Along with this, MMPRC planned for various scenarios which would come with the reopening of borders and resumption of travel. By analysing the situation unfolding across the globe, it was forecasted that a number of source markets would be closed temporarily for travel, that only some markets would be open, and the possibility of travel bubbles between countries. The perseverance of the Maldives throughout history has proven one thing. The tourism industry thrived throughout the last 50 years, overcoming challenges to rise as a trendsetter, adapting as necessary in critical circumstances, and introducing innovative products and world firsts. As such, MMPRC was able to rethink and shape its activities to impress, attract and invite visitors to the Maldives’ safe shores, experiencing something truly unique when they choose this island paradise.
Under these strategies, the work at Visit Maldives began with renewed fervour as it shifted its campaigns to the digital sphere and online platforms to keep the destination fresh in the hearts and minds of travellers worldwide. At first, during the initial stages of the border closures across the world, MMPRC had to be smart to maintain destination momentum yet encourage travellers to prioritise safety by initiating a marketing campaign, ‘stay safe now and visit Maldives later’. Risk assessments were carried out for the ever-changing situations in the Maldives and the world. People were given the chance to explore immersive experiential content virtually in order to continue the positive image of the destination. Notable achievements were also highlighted in promotional activities to further build confidence amongst potential visitors.
In September 2020, the Maldives was awarded the Safe Travels Stamp by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), recognising the efforts in implementing enhanced health and safety measures, in line with the WTTC Global Safe Travels protocols, and creating a safe, gradual plan and ensuring a coordinated approach in reviving the tourism industry. It was the world’s first-ever Global safety and hygiene stamp, endorsed by the World Tourism Organization and more than 200 travel companies. This was the result of the united efforts put in by government authorities, industry stakeholders, and PR agencies working with MMPRC across several continents. MMPRC campaigns such as “Maldives, The Sun Will Shine Again”, the national-level vaccinations campaign for tourism sector employees “I’m Vaccinated”, and the Maldives Border Miles programme initiated by Maldives Immigration in partnership with MMPRC and other stakeholders as well as other activities spearheaded by MMPRC and partners. The means of communication may have changed, but it laid the path for a more effective channel between agents, partners, and customers across various key markets for those who were willing to adapt swiftly.
The economic downturn experienced in the Maldives, and throughout the world, as a result of the global pandemic in 2020 had led to uncertainty in the global travel trade. The future of the Maldives’ largest and most powerful industry was rife with ambiguity. The pandemic tested its strength, but the Maldives came out stronger, with a great determination for growth and success.
Even amidst the pandemic, the nation welcomed over half a million tourists in 2020, a milestone unto itself as other destinations remained closed, and other countries struggled to achieve even close to these figures. MMPRC conducted a multitude of events on various online platforms – marketing events and roadshows targeting different countries and markets, and webinars for travel agents through which valuable information about Maldivian tourism products was provided. MMPRC reached millions of people in all corners of the world (with its team working remotely) right to their homes, social media feeds, and mobile phones. It was a challenge as the Work-From-Home concept was new, but regardless of the obstacles, MMPRC continued to persevere and achieve many more milestones.
MMPRC carried out over 412 different types of marketing activities in 22 global markets, partnering with its international PR agencies to ensure that every visitor in every market still continued to see the beautiful sights of the Maldives despite global border closures. A total of 314 activities were carried out during this pandemic as part of the crisis recovery plan; some of these include fairs (online as well as offline), webinars, FAM trips, online roadshows, outdoor campaigns, digital media campaigns, and more. The total reach of all MMPRC activities for the year was 5,278,961,375.
All these campaigns, hard work, and the joint efforts of the entire tourism industry of the Maldives culminated in the nation securing the title of ‘World’s Leading Destination’ for the first time in 2020. The win gave MMPRC renewed vigour to continue its efforts to promote the Maldives, its safety, unique geographical aspects, natural beauty, and unmatched hospitality, to visitors from around the world.
2021 — The Year of New Opportunities
In 2021, MMPRC decided to take the opportunity to tap into under-utilised market segments of tourism, as recommended through data-driven research. Extensive market research and studies had to be conducted to understand the best ways to augment its travel trade according to the boundaries set by evolving new norms.
It was with optimism, earnestness, and confidence that the corporation took its first steps into revitalising MICE tourism in the Maldives with the ‘Redefining MICE’ campaign. The MICE segment is a trillion-dollar industry and one of the most profitable endeavours in the industry right now and the Maldives is in a unique position to redefine the way meetings, incentives, conferences, and events were sold. MMPRC targeted the MICE travel segment, as travellers around the world began to experience the inevitable ‘zoom blues’. Boardrooms on the beach, team building on a secluded sandbank, AGMs on a private cruising liveaboard, these are the kind of MICE experiences offered in the Maldives. The ‘Redefining MICE’ campaign was a great success and prompted even more travellers to see that the Maldives is truly a destination with something for everyone. Several other marketing activities and campaigns were carried out in 2021, providing a platform for tourists from around the world to relive their happy memories and rediscover the wonders of Maldives.
Another notable achievement of MMPRC’s work amidst the global pandemic is that tourism helped to maintain and keep the Maldivian economy afloat as the main contributor to the GDP. Its marketing activities helped to bring in numbers that reflected positively towards the country’s economic recovery post covid. Once MMPRC started to physically attend events, and participate in fairs, and exhibitions, many of its global travel trader partners, including travel agents, tour operators, PR agencies, and tourism-related businesses expressed gratitude and positive remarks on how MMPRC and Maldives continued work throughout the pandemic provided them with the opportunity to stay afloat during economically testing times.
MMPRC carried out 209 different marketing activities in 24 global markets in 2021. These include 110 marketing campaigns in 24 markets, 63 fairs and virtual events, 11 roadshows and 31 familiarisation trips. With interviews and other participation, over 400 activities were conducted in 2021. This led to hitting a landmark 1.3 million arrivals in 2021, an unprecedented number as many nations still remained with closed borders following the pandemic. Maintaining a digital presence and advertising in both traditional and digital media platforms was crucial during the pandemic. Records reveal that MMPRC digital media campaigns have reached more than 61,995,090,549 with a media value of over USD 239,190,730.
In 2021, the Maldives triumphed at the World Travel Awards again, securing the World’s Leading Destination title for the second consecutive year.
2022 — The Year of Setting Standards for Tourism Boards Worldwide
If 2021 was the year the world turned the tide against the pandemic, the need to adjust to new realities dominated in 2022, both in areas reshaped by the crisis and as deeper trends reasserted themselves. Traditional source markets were strong, and markets that were previously hit were now clearly recovering. The Maldives tourism industry’s capacity, in terms of accommodation and facilities, was increasing, with an operational bed capacity of over 50,000. We were also more connected to the world, with over 27 airlines operating in the Maldives. With the success of the vaccination campaign, over 95% of Maldives resort workers were fully vaccinated.
Most countries have now re-opened their borders for international travel following the Covid-19 pandemic, and have accordingly initiated extensive campaigns to revive tourism in their respective countries. This meant that work had to be further bolstered to match the competition. MMPRC continued its efforts with no hesitation, even though the difficulties posed due to the Russia-Ukraine war put a damper on some of the top and emerging markets. MMPRC adapted swiftly, shifting attention to other potential top sources, such as the Middle Eastern, Nordic, and Indian markets.
As of the fourth quarter of 2022, MMPRC had conducted over 171 marketing and promotional activities including 90 marketing campaigns, 44 Fairs, 06 Roadshows, 09 Virtual Events, 19 Familiarisation Trips, and 10 other events worldwide to promote Maldives as a tourist destination. One of the key focuses of its strategies was to maintain brand visibility in the global markets. In addition to promoting the Maldives as a premier luxury destination with various affordable options and diverse experiences, its messaging was clearly communicated to build confidence in the destination. MMPRC augmented this with the Tourism Golden Jubilee messaging, to veer visitors towards the celebratory mood in the Maldives tourism industry in 2022, to great success.
Since the beginning of the year, MMPRC aligned its marketing campaigns towards promoting experiential tourism, based on emerging travel trends, coinciding with the introduction of homestay tourism in the Maldives. The corporation also launched a series of books titled ‘Tales of Maldives’ to share some of the unique stories and folklore native to the Maldives, as part of its efforts to branch out and expand tourism segments, such as cultural and experiential tourism. MMPRC concentrated on marketing initiatives that promote the natural beauty of the Maldives along with events to network with its industry partners and get their feedback on the best ways to promote the Maldives further as a destination with consistent messaging, to work towards the mutual goal of maintaining the Maldives as a leading destination. The Tourism Marketeers Evening 2022 which was hosted in late 2022 was one of the many joint activities conducted with industry stakeholders in order to reach common goals.
Regardless of the small size of the MMPRC team compared to those of other tourist boards that competed with MMPRC, its work has been effective enough for representatives from the largest nations to consider Visit Maldives the de facto benchmark for decisive, dynamic, and efficient destination marketing. The fruit of the hard work was seen as the Maldives once again won the World’s Leading Destination Award, for the third consecutive year, in a moment of triumph for the entire nation.
Visitors and tourism organisations around the world also recognised the hard work, diligence, and dedication with which MMPRC has promoted the Maldives through some of the most uncertain times of the modern age. As such, the corporation won the title of World’s Leading Tourist Board in 2022.