MMPRC is the World’s Leading Tourist Board 2022 - A reflection on 3 years of setting global tourism standards
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 this year, for the first time in the history of the Maldives, has been an affirmation of the hardwork and dedication of the team at MMPRC, under the watchful direction of our board, and with the support of our partners in the Maldives and worldwide. Our Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Mr Thoyyib Mohamed, provided all the guidance, resources and leeway for our team to contrive creative solutions for latent hurdles and innovative ways to engage our target audiences.
Our team itself expanded over the last few years as we tapped into potential markets, segments, and utilised every opportunity we 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. We have successfully constructed a gender positive environment at MMPRC because we believe in the capacity of women to enhance, enrich, and elevate this industry. The majority of our 69 staff are female, and we are proud to say that 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 comprise of self-driven and tenacious female workers.
2020 - The Year of Adaptation
As 2020 rolled around, things were looking bright for us. We had a 14% increase in tourist arrivals in the month of January. However, come March, we were 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 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 us 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, we planned for various scenarios which would come with the reopening of borders and resumption of travels. By analysing the situation unfolding across the globe, we forecasted that a number of source markets would be closed temporarily for travels, that only some markets would be open and the possibility of travel bubbles between countries. Our perseverance throughout history has proven one thing. The Maldives tourism industry thrived throughout the last 50 years by; overcoming challenges to rise as a trendsetter; adapting as necessary in critical circumstances; and introducing innovative products and world firsts. Rethinking is second nature for us, so we were able to shape our activities to impress, attract and invite visitors to a safe haven, to experience something truly unique when they choose the Maldives.
Under these strategies, the work at Visit Maldives began with renewed fervour as we shifted our 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 we had to be smart to maintain destination momentum yet encourage travellers to prioritise safety by initiating our marketing campaign to ‘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 my government authorities, industry stakeholders, PR agencies working with us across several continents. Our campaigns include; “Maldives, The Sun Will Shine Again”; a national level vaccinations campaign for tourism sector employees “I’m Vaccinated”; 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. Our means of communication may have changed, but it laid the path for a more effective channel between agents, partners, and visitors across various key markets for those who were willing to adapt swiftly, and we are proud to say that MMPRC led the charge.
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 our largest and most powerful industry was rife with ambiguity. The pandemic tested our strength, but we took on the challenge and came out stronger, with a great determination for growth and success.
Even amidst the pandemic, we welcomed over half a million tourists in 2020, a milestone unto itself as other destinations remained closed, and nations struggled to achieve even close to these figures. We 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 we provide valuable information about our tourism products. We reached millions of people in all corners of the world (with our team working from home) right to their homes, social media feeds, and mobile phones. It was an obstacle in itself as the Work From Home concept was new to us, but regardless of the obstacles we continued to persevere to achieve many more milestones through the hardships that we faced.
MMPRC carried out over 412 different types of marketing activities in 22 global markets, partnering with our 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 our activities for the year was at 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 us renewed vigour to continue our efforts to promote the Maldives, the safety we offer, the unique geographical aspects, natural beauty of our islands, and our 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 our data-driven research. Extensive market research and studies had to be conducted to understand the best ways to augment our travel trade according to the boundaries set by evolving new normals.
It was with optimism, earnestness, and confidence that we took our 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 we sell meetings, incentives, conferences, and events. We 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 that we offer in the Maldives. Our ‘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 our work amidst the global pandemic is that tourism helped to maintain and keep our economy afloat as the main contributor to our GDP. Our marketing activities helped to bring in numbers that reflected positively towards our country’s economic recovery post covid. Once we started to physically attending events, participate in fairs, exhibitions, many of our 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 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 & virtual events, 11 roadshows and 31 familiarisation trips. With interviews and other participation, over 400 activities were conducted in 2021. This led to us hitting a landmark 1.3 million arrivals in 2021, an unprecedented number as many nations still remained with closed borders following the pandemic. During the pandemic, we learned the absolute importance of maintaining a digital presence and advertising in both traditional and digital media platforms. Records reveal that our digital media campaigns have reached more than 61,995,090,549 with a media value of over USD 239,190,730.
We triumphed at the World Travel Awards again, securing the World’s Leading Destination title for the Maldives 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 dominate this year, 2022, both in areas reshaped by the crisis and as deeper trends reasserted themselves. Our 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 to the Maldives. With the success of our 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 our work had to be further bolstered to match the competition. We continued our efforts with no hesitation, even through the difficulties posed due to the Russia-Ukraine war putting a damper on some of our top and emerging markets. We adapted swiftly, shifting our attention to other potential top sources, such as the Middle Eastern, Nordic, and Indian markets.
MMPRC has already conducted a total of 149 activities in 22 global markets over the first three quarters of 2022, targeting the travel trade and consumers alike, with a reach of over 8.6 billion. One of the key focuses of our 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, our messaging was clearly communicated to build confidence in the destination. We augmented this with our Tourism Golden Jubilee messaging, to veer visitors towards the celebratory mood in the Maldives tourism industry this year, to great success. The success of our marketing efforts is reflected in our arrival figures, as we close in on achieving 2022’s target of welcoming 1.6 million visitors.
Since the beginning of this year, we aligned our marketing campaigns towards promoting experiential tourism, based on emerging travel trends, coinciding with the introduction of Homestay tourism in the Maldives. We 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 our effort to branch out and expand our segments, such as cultural and experiential tourism. We concentrated on marketing initiatives that promote the natural beauty of the Maldives along with events to network with our industry partners and get their feedback on the best ways to promote the Maldives further as a destination with consistent messaging, to work towards our mutual goal of maintaining the Maldives as a leading destination. The Tourism Marketeers Evening 2022 that we hosted late this year is one of the many joint activities that we conduct with industry stakeholders in order to reach our common goals.
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 we 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, increasing the budget allocated for tourism marketing and promotion during the last few years, had been key to achieving the record arrivals in 2019. These changes, along with the effective policies and guidelines implemented post covid, have also been instrumental in our remarkable recovery from the impact of the pandemic over the last two years. All the work conducted by MMPRC over the past three years has been in-line with the stipulations under President Solih’s administration’s Strategic Action Plan (SAP) 2019-2023.
The President has not only supported destination marketing by tripling the annual marketing budget, but continued to keep a close watch on our activities and the overall performance of the industry. The autonomy granted to MMPRC by the government has also helped us 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, and the law that governs a 10 percent 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 approximately 107 resorts in various phases of development across the country, with 22 new properties expected to open by the end of 2023. Our capacity would expand by approximately 5,000 beds due to these additions. 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 of our 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. Councils are now able to utilise their land being leased for tourism development in the most profitable way they can.
Thank you for voting for MMPRC - the World’s Leading Tourist Board 2022!
Regardless of the small size of our team compared to those of other tourist boards that competed with us this year, our work has been effective enough for representatives from the largest nations to consider us, Visit Maldives, the de facto benchmark for decisive, dynamic, and efficient destination marketing. It is a pleasure to have seen the fruit of the hard work this year, as the Maldives once again won the World’s Leading Destination Award, for the third consecutive year, in a moment of triumph for our entire nation.
We are humbled that visitors and tourism organisations around the world have recognised the hard work, diligence, and dedication with which we have promoted the Maldives through some of the most uncertain times of the modern age. We have received felicitations, well wishes, and congratulatory notes from government agencies, our industry partners, and tourism industry stakeholders. Thank you for expressing your support - this is as much a win for you as it is for us!
Thank you for voting for us- this year is the first time the Maldives has won the title of World’s Leading Tourist Board. We could not be prouder and happier with this achievement for our nation. We will continue to diversify, adapt to shifting travel trends, and lead the way to even more success and accolades for the Sunny Side of Life.