The Maldives has emerged as one of the safe havens for travellers in the Covid-19 era following several proactive measures taken by the Government of Maldives to contain the spread of the virus.
Being a tourism driven country, the Maldives was undoubtedly the hardest hit South Asian nation by the Covid-19 pandemic, said Shiuna Khalid, Managing Director, International Maldives Travel Market (IMTM).
As the world, and Maldives, experienced unprecedented and monumental changes as a result of the on-going global pandemic, trade events like IMTM aimed to help Reconnect, Revive and Grow the tourism industry in the island nation, by hosting its very first, virtual travel and trade fair.
Speaking to TTN, Shiuna Khalid discusses learnings from the pandemic and what steps have been taken to make Maldives a top of the mind destination to target markets and promote the destination as a safe haven to travellers.
Excerpts from the interview:
Covid-19 brought on a new set of challenges for the events sector. What have been the learnings from the 2020 event and what are the plans for the next one?
The Maldives is undoubtedly the hardest hit South Asian nation by the Covid-19 pandemic and this is not surprising as 21.5 per cent of the country’s GDP flows from tourism. The sudden halt of international tourism brought an unprecedented economic shock, severely weakening the fiscal and external position, threatening the economic and developmental gains in the Maldives, increasing food insecurity due to disruptions in the supply chain. Social and livelihood costs to people are immense: children’s education is being severely affected, and people have lost incomes and require urgent protection.
As we are part of one of the worst affected industries in the pandemic, we started the year with unconceivable challenges, especially Covid-19 regulations restricting all aspects of our physical event. In order to survive, we had to act fast and adjust to the new normal in order to sustain our business. Thus, we relied on technology to offer the opportunity to conduct business virtually, equipping stakeholders with a tool to Reconnect, Revive, and Grow the business. The virtual exhibition was a part of IMTM’s broader plan to gradually reopen the travel, tourism, and hospitality sector to new markets.
The company tackled its challenges through adaptation and innovation. With the launch of IMTMAir, an in-house virtual meeting platform, IMTM 2020 was conducted successfully, contributing to the government’s effort to recover the tourism sector and the economy of the Maldives. We have listened to all, and based on the feedback, we are working to improve the online experience of the platform for our community. We are proud to bring forth a platform locally developed by our own in-house team. This took a lot of coordination and immense effort by the team, to bring a first-of-its-kind travel and trade platform designed and created by local minds.
With the event industry transitioning into the new norm of virtual fairs, attending several events online became a battle filed. Therefore, we ensured that out IMTMair platform was easy to navigate throughout the event, providing a user-friendly experience to the participants.
IMTM Pvt. Ltd. has officially announced the Fourth Edition of International Maldives Travel Market (IMTM), to be held on September 21, 22, and 23 virtually on their online B2B platform IMTMAir. The platform will come with new features according to the user feedback and will aim to provide an enhanced user experience for the participates. If there is the possibility to have the event physically and if the authorities allow such events to take place, we do plan to hold a physical event of IMTM with precautionary measures in place. Some countries have resumed physical fair but the Health Protection Agency of the Maldives has not lifted the restriction to have large gatherings.
How has Maldives coped with the spread of Covid-19 and what measures have been taken to make the island a safe destination for travellers?
The government of Maldives alongside MMPRC and industry stakeholders took the decision to reopen its borders on July 15, 2020, to recover from the worst seen effects on the island nation’s economy. It was a risk that the country had to take financially to survive the pandemic. However, the Maldives implemented proper coronavirus protocols keeping the safety and health of its residents and tourists at top priority. The Maldives took the advantage of the closed borders of other popular Asia pacific island gateways and welcomed tourists from around the world with few restrictions entering the country. The unique geographical features of the Maldives, with many hotels and resorts providing health benefit of isolation by the ‘one island, one resort’ concept was the biggest advantage, making it the perfect holiday destination while much needed social distancing.
The Maldives continues to promote the destination as a safe haven to the tourists and has achieved many milestones along the way in the recovery of its tourism. The country is experiencing a huge increase in tourist arrival from around the world and the March of 2021 has been a record-breaking month for the country, as it has welcomed 100,000 tourists in a single month for the first time.
Last year, Allied Insurance company in association with the Ministry of Tourism has launched a Covid-19 insurance policy focusing on tourists who visit the Maldives. The covid-19 Insurance policy namely Allied Inbound consists of two options that cover medical charges, isolation facility charges, emergency medical transportation charges and interment charges which may follow a positive diagnosis for Covid-19 of a tourist during their stay in the Maldives.
The Maldives Immigration, in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism, Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) and Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) initiated Maldives Border Miles, the world’s first nationwide loyalty program announced last year during the pandemic, opening tourist facilities and other tourism-related businesses the opportunity to become its partners.
Maldives Border Miles is a three-tiered loyalty program designed to attract tourists in order to promote and increase the popularity of the Maldives. Tourists who enroll in this program will earn points based on the number of visits, duration of stay, and visits on special occasions. Points will also be rewarded for the predefined services obtained from the partners of Maldives Border Miles and for the visits during the off-season (June 1 to August 31).
The Maldives plans to offer Covid-19 vaccines to tourists as an incentive to reopen travel. The tourism minister has stated on CNBC this April that a new Maldivian tourism campaign, dubbed ‘3V,’ for ‘Visit, Vaccinate, Vacation,’ aims to make shots available for vacationers who travel to the Maldives, once all-local residents have been offered a vaccine.
Effective April 20, travellers who have got their final dose of vaccination (vaccine approved by WHO) 14 days prior to the arrival do not need to submit a pre-arrival negative PCR test to enter the Maldives. But the travellers must submit authentic vaccine certification to the immigration via the online portal, IMUGA prior to travel.
What are the buyers from the Middle East looking for in the Maldives?
The Middle Eastern markets are recovering with impressive results. According to the statistics by the Ministry of Tourism, UAE is showing an 86.8 per cent growth from last year in terms of tourist arrivals. We believe that there is an increase in short getaways as many resorts offer 3 nights packages specific for the Middle East market. Furthermore, as the market is very specific on their requirement for privacy, resorts offer villas covered with vegetation or wall. Most of the resorts also offer an in-villa pool to provide the ultimate privacy for the guests.
What are the latest hotel openings?
As of April 15, the Maldives has 159 tourist resorts, 159 liveaboards, 711 hotels, and local guesthouses are operating to service tourists arriving in the island nation. All major international and local luxury brands and budget hotels are in service, facilitating holidays to different kinds of travelers to the Maldives. Furthermore, 29 internatioal airlines are now currently connecting Maldives to the world.
What do you hope to achieve at IMTM 2021?
We hope this year even many travel agents and tour operators from the Middle East participate in International Maldives Travel Market (IMTM) 2021, our B2B international travel and trade fair held in the Maldives, which brings forth a platform for leading international tour operators and travel agencies to explore opportunities in the Maldives; as well as connect with all of the accommodation
providers of the Maldives Tourism Industry, including resorts, hotels, liveaboard, and guesthouses (local island tourism).
We are very proud of the accomplishment we have achieved this so far despite the pandemic. Some of the highlights include the privilege of being supported by United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and endorsement by the Ministry of Tourism and Maldives Marketing and Public Relation Corporation. Furthermore, we were able to host a very successful webinar on Rural Tourism Development, in which experts from Maldives, Malaysia, China, and Bhutan, presented about their rural tourism approaches and practices. - TradeArabia News Service