Maldives has a similar culture and cuisine which binds both the nations, feels Maldives Tourism Minister. He hopes to increase footfalls through dynamic marketing and infra overhaul which will quadruple passenger handling capacity of its international airport in Male.
Located south-west of India, in the Indian Ocean, Maldives remains one of the world’s most exotic destination. Truly an island nation, it is an amalgamation of 1190 islands out of which only 202 are inhabited. Spread across 90,000 sq. km, it employs a unique system of having only one resort in one island, lending more exclusivity into its offerings. Having its shores thrown open to the outside world in 1972 when it welcomed the first batch of 22 Italian travellers, it has clocked a million mark and is pushing for more.
Its key tourism products revolve around leisure. It has cultivated a thriving wedding tourism segment, besides putting to good use the bounties of Indian Ocean. Given its pristine flora and fauna, it has put in place sustainable development policies which is an apt move.
In terms of its products, it is a Mecca of diving and snorkeling; has a robust water-sport and surfing industry; and, sea-planes and sea-boats for local transfers and escapades. Probably the most unique and noteworthy attractions are underwater restaurants, museum, spa and a discotheque!
Having long been associated with the luxury segment of travelers, it intention is to continue in the same manner. Moosa Zameer, Minister, Ministry of Tourism, Maldives explained the reason behind this posturing, saying that “If you take a look at the list of most expensive destinations, we are in the top five in the world. We have world’s most exquisite brands. That’s how we have positioned ourselves and, most likely, will continue. It is good for us and also for investors who come to us.” He added that Maldives was a unique nation.
He, however, tried to dispel the notion that it had nothing to offer to other segments of travellers. “There are certain products – like guest houses – which can be explored by other segments of tourists. They can explore our lifestyle in the most authentic and rustic way possible,” he said. He, however, conceded that marketing them well remained a challenge for them. “We will make it happen through creative marketing and liasoning,” he said.
Its inbound is heavily dominated by China which accounted for a total of 35 percent in 2015, followed by Germany and the UK. Indian share hovers around 4.2 percent which has grown at a healthy rate of 13 percent on a year-on-year basis. Explaining the dynamics of footfalls, Moosa Zameer said that Maldives was, mostly, a wedding destination for Chinese outbound. “A look at the number of outbound from China, the numbers we get from them is absolutely nothing. We have not had any issues with regard to an economic downturn and, the recent, stock market crash. We want to have more tourists not to compliment other inbound markets, rather because we are building capacity,” he said, stressing on the infrastructural augmentation undertaken by the nation. “International and domestic airports are being upgraded under the current president’s leadership. In the last two years, we have undertaken some major infrastructural augmentation projects,” he told us.
Pinning his hopes on higher influx with increased passenger handling capacity of domestic and international airports, he said “we will see a major boost in number of travellers once that happens in 2018. Right now, our international airport can handle traffic of 1.5 million passengers in a year – which will quadruple after its upgradation. If we can build on creative marketing here, India can count for a major chunk of those numbers.”
Given India’s relations with Maldives, the growth in tourism numbers was, both, necessary and inevitable, felt the tourism minister. “Why I say that I see tremendous scope for outbound from India that we are geographically very close to one another. Even the curries that you eat here are loved by Maldivians. We need to have enhanced bilateral. Whenever there has been a problem, it’s Indians who have come there for us,” he said, recalling the some difficult political moments for the nation. “We are like brothers. Even back in 1988, when we had that unfortunate political issue, India was there for us. There is a lot of talk about terrorism everywhere, but Indians understand Maldives very well. So, in case of a bad publicity, too, Indian outbound will understand that it should not stop travel, and of course tourism,” he added. Stressing on it was business as usual for Maldives, he said that “what happens in the capital has no bearing on resorts. Therefore, I believe that there is much room for us to grow here in India, and improve on the numbers we have been receiving thus far.”
Maldives is keen on creating more air-connectivity to leverage on these possibilities, we were told. “We are trying to establish direct connection between Delhi and Male, and Mumbai and Male; once that happens, there will be enhanced flow of traffic,” informed the minister.
Noting that besides footfalls, the measure of investments into Maldives from India was also on the rise, and, one of the key area was that of hospitality, Moosa Zameer told us “The Oberoi group will open a hotel soon; The Leela group is negotiating for a resort hotel in Maldives. With all this euphoria that is there, we can further build on it.”
The Oberoi’s forays into Maldives with the management contract of a resort
With a focus on tapping the abundant leisure segment, the Oberoi group has signed a MoU with the government of Maldives to build a luxury resort in Maldives. The Oberoi group will be partnered by the Subramanya Construction & Development Company Limited (SCDCL). The investment for acquisition and development of the resort will be undertaken by SCDCL, a Bangalore based Real Estate Development Company, and the management will be handled by the Oberoi group. P.R.S. Oberoi, Executive Chairman, The Oberoi Group commented on the progress stating: “We are extremely pleased to partner and assist SCDCL in the design and management of the proposed luxury resort. We look forward to bringing the Oberoi hospitality to Maldives.” Adding that the resort would reflect the legendary Oberoi service delivered by an attentive and caring team, he said that “it would make it the preferred choice for luxury travelers”.
Moosa Zammer, Minister for Tourism, also expressed satisfaction after signing the MoU, stating that “With growing demand of luxury hospitality services in Maldives, it is imperative to bring in the best in the industry and our partnership with The Oberoi Group will be a testament to this.”