Maldives says India & Russia new focus markets amidst Coronavirus rampage on tourism

Maldives has doubled up its tourism promotion activities in India and Russia amidst the global outbreak of Coronavirus, the island nation’s official tourism promotion body has announced on Thursday. Thoyyib Mohamed, Managing Director of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), told journalists in capital Male, Thursday afternoon, that planned road shows and several similar face-to-face activities across the globe had been postponed. Digital and online marketing activities are the current focus, he added.

Thoyyib admitted the challenges in promoting the world famous holiday destination in key source markets such as China, the single biggest source market, and Europe, the largest regional source market to Maldives’ tourism. “The situation escalated right when we launched a major outdoor advertising campaign in China. That was very tragic,” he said. “Despite everything, we are doing everything we can on digital media and online platforms. We have ramped up our efforts in key markets such as India and Russia.”

India and Russia are already considered important source markets. India was the best-performing individual market in 2019, as arrivals recorded year-over-year growth of 83.5 per cent to reach 166,015 from 90,474 in 2018. Russia claimed the fourth position amongst the best performing source markets in January with a market share of 7.2 per cent.

Meanwhile, Thoyyib said that the cancellation of major travel trade fairs such as ITB Berlin and the possible cancellation of similar fairs such as ITB India and WTM Africa had already proved to be a major loss to the Maldives. More than 240 representatives from the Maldives were set to take part in ITB Berlin 2020, which has since been cancelled. The cancellation of one of the most important international travel trade shows comes amidst preventive measures against the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Maldives has closed its borders to arrivals from mainland China, South Korea, Italy and Iran, whilst cruise ships have been banned from docking at any of the country’s ports. All direct flights to and from China had also been cancelled. The island nation has installed thermal screening cameras at its international airports. Quarantine facilities, including designated islets from the 1,192 islands that make up the archipelago, have also been established. Close to a dozen Maldivians who had travelled to China were quarantined for possible symptoms, but later discharged after they tested negative Maldives welcomed 1.7 million tourists in 2019. It was a 14.7 per cent increase from the 1.48 million tourists that chose to holiday in the Maldives in 2018.

Meanwhile, the government has announced an ambitious target of attracting at least two million tourists to the popular Indian Ocean holiday destination in 2020. The government aims to attract 2.5 million tourist arrivals per year by the end of its first five-year term in 2023. To achieve this target, the government had added MVR 50 million (USD 3.23 million) to the annual marketing budget of the tourism ministry. In the state budget for 2020, the government had allocated MVR 154.2million (USD 9.98 million) for tourism promotion — up from the MVR 104.2 million (USD 6.7 million) in 2019, and MVR 34.73 million (USD 2.2 million) each in 2018 and 2017.

However, challenges remain as the world-famous holiday destination struggles to match demand with a rapid increase in bed capacity. Over the past few years, dozens of uninhabited islands have been leased to local and foreign resort developers. Several international brands have entered into the market, increasing the number of resorts to more than 150. That number is set to increase as another 20 resorts are expected to open over the next two years.

Along with the new resort openings comes the challenge of increasing demand from budget travellers who choose guest houses over luxury resorts that the Maldives is known for. The guest house sector has rapidly expanded with over 500 guesthouses in operation today.

Two resorts and one island have been quarantined so far.