Hotelier Maldives sat down with Yoosuf Riffath, CEO of Capital Travel & Tours to learn more about his 35-year long career in the Maldivian hospitality sector. Capital Travel & Tours was founded by Riffath in 1990, and under his guidance, the company has now become one of the leading tour operators in the country.

Apart from leading his own company, during his remarkable career Riffath has fulfilled leading roles in various pioneering initiatives within the Maldivian tourism sector.

Riffath is a founder and former president of the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO), chapter president for the Maldives at the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), and board director at the Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC). He is also a founding member of the Liveaboard Association of Maldives (LAM).

In addition to serving as the CEO of Capital Travel & Tours, Riffath is also currently the president of Employment Bureau Pvt. Ltd. and CEO of Astrabon Maldives. He is also the founder and President of the Association of Travel Agents (ATA).

HM: How did you enter the tourism sector? Could you give us a brief description of the early days of your career?

YR: My career in the hospitality industry began in 1981. Back then the tourism industry was a much talked about topic in the country and I was very young. I was working at the Ministry of Education when some parties in the tourism sector advertised opportunities to work with them.

So I applied. I received my first opportunity from Universal Enterprises. There, I underwent training at various departments for a year. That’s how my career started.

HM: What events led to the birth of Capital Travel & Tours and how has the company expanded over the years to become one of the leading travel agents in the country?

YR: I started my own business in 1990. At the time there were a lot of foreign tour operators coming to the Maldives and a lot of them noted that there were too few local tour operators in the country. After numerous discussions with those foreign tour operators, I decided to form a travel company because even back then I believed that the Maldivian tourism sector was going to develop exponentially in the future.

HM: How did you turn Capital Travel & Tours into one of the leading tour operators in the country?

YR: It took great effort and dedication and now it is a leading travel company in the country. We are a leading tour operator because we value commitments, maintain business transparency and maintain our company as a responsible one. We’ve been upholding these values since our inception.

HM: What would you describe as your biggest career achievement?

YR: I think the respect I receive from others is my biggest achievement. Getting people to take part in the tourism industry, connecting them with business partners, providing those with opportunities on which they can stand on, these are things that I love doing. I look forward to a time when the Maldivian tourism sector reaches new heights of development.

HM: As a tour operator and travel agent, has there been any major changes to how you conduct your business over the years since you started?

YR: Those days, foreign tour operators came to the Maldives, they flew all the way. Back then we did not have the internet or other such resources. The difference between then and now is that now everything is online.

Customers can view and buy products online, and make their bookings online. I think in the future, the online mediums are going to get stronger and stronger. And I would say that’s the biggest challenge we are facing now.

HM: Could you tell us a bit more about the challenges presented by online booking mediums?

YR: For example, customers can get the products that they want at a cheaper price online. That, in turn, diminishes the role of tour operators. So far we have been able to overcome this because our partners know that they can trust us. Because they know we are reliable and responsible.

HM: Are there any exciting plans for the future which you could share with us?

YR: Over the last 2 years, local tourism has been experiencing a boom in the Maldives. As you can see income generation resources are few in the Maldives. But I think local tourism can provide occupation to everyone.

So, we are preparing a very big platform that would allow people to be engaged in the tourism sector while still living in their own islands and atolls. The platform will be used by local tourism agencies and guesthouses. We will be implementing ways to support them fully and further assist in the development of the industry.

HM: How would you describe the current status of the Maldivian tourism sector and what changes are you anticipating for the future?

YR: When we first started in 1990, resort room rates were around US$50 to 60. Now, the room rates of the same resorts have gone up to around US$400 and above. So, back then, Maldives was not under a luxury concept. It was an economy level destination with 2-3 star level resorts.

Maldives has seen such a huge upgrade that now it’s one of the world’s most luxurious destinations. As for the future, with the expansion of local tourism, I think the luxury resorts with US$1,500- 2,000 room rates would be forced to bring their rates down, maybe even by 50% in order to maintain themselves in the market. Otherwise, I think their occupancy rates would keep dropping day by day.

I also think the Maldivian tourism industry is going to experience massive expansions in the upcoming two years, especially in the local tourism segment, and I think around 2,000 additional beds are going to open up from the resort segment as well.