In Conversation With Thoyyib Mohamed Managing Director of Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC)

0
507

Thoyyib Mohamed is the Managing Director of Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), The National Tourism Promotion Board of Maldives. With his extensive set of knowledge and skills in management, Thoyyib has promoted Maldives as the ultimate travel destination. Collectively with the help of stakeholders and industry partners, his work saw Maldives welcome over 1.5 million tourists in 2019, a groundbreaking record arrival for Maldives. He has done masters in broadcast and film management from Bournemouth University, U.K. and has vast experience in international networking, marketing, pr and fundraising. We speak to him about the prospects ahead. Excerpts;

As Managing Director of the Maldives Marketing & PR Corporation, how have you been instrumental in the reopening of country to tourism?

Thoyyib Mohamed. The successful reopening of the borders in July 2020 was due to a concerted and unified effort by all the relevant agencies of the government and the industry as a whole. At MMPRC our operations were disrupted with the complete national lockdown imposed in April. However, just weeks after we went into lockdown, we were operating almost fully online, with our staff working from home. We reshaped and re-strategized our marketing activities and how they were conducted.

I think one of the most crucial actions on our part was our move to online platforms without delay. Of course, people could not travel during that time. But we made sure we kept in touch with our audience. Our Visit later campaign was part of this effort. Our immediate engagement with industry stakeholders at home and abroad at the early stages of the lockdown also contributed to the effort. With the uncertainty surrounding travel it was important that we shared our views and concerns so that those views could be factored into our planning. During this time, we worked on various strategies that could be adopted, for a time when borders would open. As a result we incorporated a great degree of flexibility in our marketing to suit various situations that we could face. The use of one of ourkey USP one-island-one-resort, and our focus on our geography as an island nation in our marketing campaigns during the time were important factors in our successful reopening. Those factors offered relative safety to those eager to travel as soon as border closures were lifted. Our work at MMPRC during the time and even today is a great team effort. I am fortunate to have a dedicated and hardworking team and a lot of credit for MMPRC’s contribution to the successful reopening goes to the enormous effort made by our team.

Please tell us about the history of Maldives and how it all began?

Thoyyib Mohamed. I assume you are asking about the history of Maldives tourism. Tourism began in the Maldives in 1972. It was a group of Italian tourists who first arrived here. As we celebrate fifty years of tourism in the Maldives, it is important to note that it was the pioneering efforts of a few young dynamic Maldivian entrepreneurs which made it happen. Soon the first resort opened with 30 rooms, on the island of Vihamanaafushi, currently known as KurumbaMaldives. A second resort was opened on the island of Bandos soon after. During the first year, just over a thousand tourists enjoyed their holidays in the Maldives. In the 1970s, the Maldives was one of the best kept secrets of the travel world. With no direct international connections, it was hard to access, and for those who managed to arrive here, it was a tropical adventure that was unique. The first direct flight from Europe landed in 1979. In the 1980s Maldives became well-established as a dive destination especially in niche travel market segments in Germany and Italy.

The Maldives tourism product has evolved over the last fifty years. In the first decade of the new millennium, the spa became an important part of the tourism product paving the way for luxury tourism. At the same time varied options for accommodation emerged. Liveaboards were introduced at a very early stage of the industry and the guesthouse sector emerged in its current form in 2008. While Maldives as a holiday destination was well-established in Europe since its inception, during the last ten years Asian source markets have grown in importance. Arrivals from Asian countries overtook European arrivals for the first time in 2014. In 2019 tourist arrivals crossed 1.7 million with arrivals from China, India and Italy topping the list.

Having reopened to international tourists earlier this year on 15th July 2020, how has the Maldives been recovering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Thoyyib Mohamed. Although we have faced difficulties in terms of new temporary increases in the rate of infections like many other countries,we have been able to control such increases in a relatively short period of time. As of now we are in a very favourable position with a positivity rate of just over one percent during the last few days.

Maldives is on track to be among the first countries to give COVID-19 vaccination opportunity to all working in the tourism sector, what are some essential travel tips for the tourist to stay safe?

Thoyyib Mohamed. The President of Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s policy of giving a priority for vaccination and also a high priority was given to the vaccination of those working in the tourism sector from the time the vaccination program began. The reasons are very clear. While out unique geography, and the fact that resorts offer natural isolation, we want to offer the maximum safety for our visitors. The “I am vaccinated” campaign to achieve vaccination of all employees in the tourism sector was launched at the end of April. As of that time 99% of those working at the resorts have received their first dose. And a large proportion among them were fully vaccinated. My advice for those planning to visit the Maldives is make sure that you are aware of the latest requirements for arrival in the Maldives and ensure that all requirements are met when they travel. We always make it an effort to simplify the requirements as much as possible without compromising the safety of travellers and Maldivians alike.

Maldives has announced to vaccinate tourist on arrival, how does it help in building confidence among tourists and promoting tourism?

Thoyyib Mohamed. This is something that has been planned. However, a larger proportion of the local population needs to be vaccinated before the plan can be implemented.

Tourist arrival numbers exceed 200,000 so far in 2021, how MMPRC plays a crucial role in carrying out promotional activities to make Maldives the most preferred island destination of the world? 

Thoyyib Mohamed. MMPRC is the national agency responsible for marketing the Maldives as a destination around the world. Our marketing strategies and activities are what determines how the Maldives is perceived as a tourist destination. We also ensure that potential visitors have access to the latest information about the Maldives. This is especially crucial during these times when matters related to travel are constantly changing. We carry out numerous marketing and visibility campaigns through our network of PR agencies in the source markets as well as in partnership with tour-operators, travel agencies airlines and the media in our important source markets.

Recently, Maldives hosted top travel agents from India market. What was the purpose behind this initiative? 

Thoyyib Mohamed. The concept of familiarisation trips for travel agents is an activity that has been part of our marketing and promotion effort. Maldives is a unique country, very different from our major source markets. Because of our geography the tourism experience here is like no other. Airport transfers by speedboat or by seaplane, the one-island-one-resort concept and many other traits of the industry have to be experienced in order for travel agents to be able to give clear information to potential travellers. India is one of the most important markets for Maldives and it is important that we offer this opportunity to Indian travel agents to experience the Maldives.

How do you see India as the top source market for tourism in Maldives?

Thoyyib Mohamed. While India was the second largest source market in 2019, India has been one of the most This was especially true at the early stages of re-opening. Now with the restrictions lifted for South Asian travellers from 15 July, we expect a surge in Indian visitors during the rest of the year. With its close proximity to Maldives and the growing popularity of Maldives among Indian travellers, India will remain one of the most, if not the most important source market for the Maldives.

What will be the upcoming top trends in Maldives?

Thoyyib Mohamed. As we move into the 2021, we are seeing a lot of new resorts with new trendy concepts and numerous experiences are opening up across the country. These new resorts offer an additional layer of charm to potential visitors. More resorts are also being opened further away from the Maldives, giving holiday makers access to distant atolls. The Maldives will remain one of the most desired honeymoon destinations of the world. However, new aspects of tourism such as MICE tourism will begin to expand during the year and beyond. The Maldives offers a relative safe destination for meetings and conferences, as businesses begin to host face-to-face events as the pandemic eases.

How Maldives is connected with the rest of the world? What is the current state of inbound tourism travel for Maldives?

Thoyyib Mohamed. Our connectivity to the rest of the world has rapidly expanded since re-opening our borders. Several flights operate from European cities on a daily basis. Major airlines of the Gulf States offer the most convenient connections to Maldives several times a day from the Europe, Africa and the Americas. New direct flights have started from Spain and additional flights from Eastern Europe are scheduled to be started in Q4. Several daily flights operate from India and Sri Lanka and we hope that operations from South East Asia will commence in the near future. We are currently meeting our targets for inbound travel this year. The first quarter of the year has been very successful and we expect this to continue throughout the year.

What according to you are the learnings from this pandemic?

Thoyyib Mohamed. I believe the biggest lesson that the pandemic has taught us is the importance of preparedness and adaptability. During these times we have been forced to change our course and our actions on short notice. Planning too is crucial in order to adapt to various situations that may arise. The systems required to ensure smooth operation of the industry in the new normal are already in place and have been strengthened during the last many months. These include the measures put in place to ensure the safety of visitors at all tourist facilities and touch points such as airports and transfer vessels and seaplanes. Resorts have the capacity to test for Covid-19 and isolation facilities in the event of someone testing positive. Industry staff are trained to ensure the safety of holiday makers and follow the protocols that are in place. Once all those working in the industry are vaccinated it will be contributing an additional layer of safety for visitors.

What advice from your own experiences would you offer to other nations yet to emerge from lockdown?

Thoyyib Mohamed. It is important to understand that different countries would face different types of challenges in emerging from lockdowns and opening up for travel. The circumstances in the Maldives may be extremely different from that of any other country. So, my advice on such an issue may not be applicable for the set of circumstances they may face. My wish is for all the countries to be able to emerge from the pandemic and for global travel to resume albeit with measures to ensure safety of travellers and the staff alike.