DestinationsTourism chief Thoyyib Mohamed is spearheading efforts to diversify Maldives’ tourism economy with a sustainability, family and MICE focus.

50 and glowing, Maldives tourism looks beyond the ‘Sunny Side of Life’

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The Maldives is much more than a 'sun, sea and sand' destination, said Thoyyib Mohamed, CEO and managing director of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.
The Maldives is much more than a 'sun, sea and sand' destination, said Thoyyib Mohamed, CEO and managing director of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.

Having gained global renown as among the world’s top places for honeymoon and luxury beach vacations, the Maldives no longer wants to be seen solely as a ‘sun, sea and sand’ destination.

“We are much, much more than that,” said Thoyyib Mohamed, CEO and managing director of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), the national tourism board of the Maldives. “There’s a lot more to discover about our local Islands, our local culture and even our local cuisine – which, like Southeast Asian cuisines – is spicy.”

As the country marks its 50th year of tourism in 2022, the tourism authorities are adamant to show that variety is the spice of life – and tourism – in the Maldives. There’s no shortage of unique experiences in this Indian Ocean nation, from above land to underwater, accommodation options across a spectrum of prices for different budgets, added Thoyyib.

Growing focus on Southeast Asia

Work to reposition the Maldives as an experiential travel destination had begun several years earlier, but its tourism diversification efforts took on an urgency during the pandemic when Covid-19 brought the travel industry to a grinding halt.

Amid the disruption in its key visitor arrival markets, including China which remains close, the MMPRC has turned its focus on “other potential markets, especially Southeast Asia”, where the market preferences for family trips, fishing and experience-based tourism are deemed a good fit with MMPRC’s post-Covid tourism strategies.

Diving, for instance, is a niche segment that Thoyyib sees growth potential. “The millennials are getting into diving, so we will be focusing a lot for diving and water sports in 2023,” he told Travel Weekly Asia. 

MMPRC also took part in the recent ITB Asia 2022, along with 18 industry partners, to market the Maldives as a preferred destination for Southeast Asian travellers.
MMPRC also took part in the recent ITB Asia 2022, along with 18 industry partners, to market the Maldives as a preferred destination for Southeast Asian travellers. Photo Credit: MMPRC

While none of the Southeast Asia countries has broken into the Maldives’ top 10 visitor source markets, the steady comeback of markets such as Singapore and Thailand have not gone unnoticed. According to MMPRC, the Maldives has welcomed 23,080 tourists from the region from January to September 2022.

Building air connectivity is thus a paramount task to attract more tourists from Southeast Asia. “Thai AirAsia, Bangkok Airways and Singapore Airlines are flying to the Maldives, but there is potential to increase flights from Indonesia, especially Garuda. We are meeting a lot of potential airlines, giving them confidence and offer them the opportunity to work and enjoy partnerships with Visit Maldives.”

Chasing after MICE in the Maldives

For the MMPRC, the “restrategising during Covid” includes a move towards sustainable tourism and diversification to other segments like MICE, which led to the launch of the ‘Redefining MICE’ global campaign in late 2021. “Some people might ask ‘MICE in the Maldives?’” said Thoyyib. “We are not looking for big conferences but incentive groups, smaller corporate meetings, etc.”

Meeting planners from Asia are urge to consider the Maldives as a destination for incentive groups and corporate meetings with a laid-back touch.
Meeting planners from Asia are urge to consider the Maldives as a destination for incentive groups and corporate meetings with a laid-back touch. Photo Credit: MMPRC

“Think of the Maldives as a place where you don't wear suits or shoes. Just relax and have your meeting in a bar, under the palm trees or on beanbags by the beach, with a cocktail in your hand.”– Thoyyib Mohamed, CEO and managing director of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation

The tourism chief is also urging meeting and incentive planners to think out of the box, or walls, in considering the Maldives as a MICE destination. “Think of the Maldives as a place where you don't wear suits or shoes. Just relax and have your meeting in a bar, under the palm trees or on beanbags by the beach, with a cocktail in your hand.”

He added, “Whatever you can think – underwater restaurants, underwater spas, or bubble tents – you can have meetings in there. Or you can have your board meeting in a liveaboard and watch the islands pass by. You have to see it to believe it."

According to Thoyyib, the Maldives is now gaining traction as an incentive destination since the launch of the ‘Redefining MICE’ campaign last year. Resorts near Male, too, are taking advantage of this campaign by ramping up their efforts to host groups of 100-200 pax within their premises, he noted.

“We've marked 50 years this year, and we want to move towards another 50 years with more things, more offerings, more ways of dealing with tourism,” noted Thoyyib.

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