Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has claimed marketing plans designed to boost consumer confidence in the Maldives have had a positive impact over the last three months, as parliament prepares to debate a proposal on cutting state promotional spending.
Maleeh said that the nature of global media coverage about the Maldives had been “much better” over the last three months, following a decision to hire several marketing firms to promote the country following February’s controversial transfer of power.
Among these firms is the high-profile multinational PR group Ruder Finn, which has been employed to “instil confidence in the tourism industry of the Maldives [and] gain understanding and public acknowledgement of the Maldives in the international community”.
Ruder Finn, which was appointed back in April under a three month contract reported in some media to amount to US$150,000 a month, has come under some criticism from at least one opposition MP, who has forwarded a proposal to parliament on rejecting further state spending on the contract.
MP Ibrahim Rasheed hit out at the cost of the Ruder Finn contract as being unsustainable considering the current economic situation in the Maldives.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Deputy Tourism Minister Maleeh said he was aware of the parliamentary resolution forwarded by the MDP MP for Maafannu-South, stressing concern at the potential impact it could have on the national economy.
“I’ve heard of the motion. Certainly from time to time MPs in the People’s Majlis will submit not-so-important motions,” he said.
The country has experienced ongoing political tensions amidst allegations by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) that the elected government of former President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted back in February under a “coup d’etat” supported by opposition politicians, mutinous sections of the police and military and certain business leaders.
Within the current partisan atmosphere, Maleeh called on politicians, regardless of their politics, to avoid actions that would sabotage the tourism industry and the wider national economy.
“I am concerned that a major source of revenue such as tourism is being put at risk. I condemn such acts,” he said, referring to MP Rasheed’s motion to cancel state funding to hire Ruder Finn. “Without tourism the economy would be in a grave state. It is the biggest contributor to our national economy for the last 40 years. Politicians should leave the economy aside.”
According to Maleeh, during the last three years, the former government “slashed” the budget set aside for the promotion of tourism.
He added, that with President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan now in office, the new government was doing “all it could”, along with working in collaboration with the private sector, to boost promotional efforts and undo the impacts of international headlines concerning February’s transfer of power.
However, Maleeh stressed that Ruder Finn was just one of a number of promotional contracts that had been signed by the government to try and improve damage to consumer confidence in the country’s tourism industry.
“We have several international contracts with agencies that are carrying out specific focuses for us,” he said.
Earlier this month, the tourism industry announced it had signed a contract to advertise the Maldives under its recently reinstated “Sunny Side of Life” branding on the BBC weather service both through its online and World Service.
When contacted by Minivan News today about the present nature of its contract with the Maldives government, as well as the company’s aims for its work in the country, Ruder Finn’s Ethics Officer Emmanuel Tchividjian said he had “no comment”.
The contract, said to cost US$150,000 a month for the three month-long campaign, was the result of a collaboration with the private sector that tourism authorities have said they hope to continue over the next few months as they secure more funding.
In addressing the impact of the industry’s recent promotional spending Maleeh added that the “results were hard to measure”, but added that there had been a positive impact during the last financial quarter on media coverage of the country.
“Marketing is a long-term strategy. It therefore can take time to get clear results,” he said. “However, with marketing contracts such as these, the main agenda is to protect tourism.”
Amidst “quite aggressive” marketing strategies being employed by neighbouring destinations such as Sri Lanka, Maleeh stressed that improved budgets would allow the country to compete more evenly. To this end, he expressed commitment to secure further private sector support such as the country’s resort industry to aid future marketing efforts.
With the Ruder Finn contract expected to expire next month, Maleeh stressed that no decision had yet been taken on whether to continue using the group in the future.
“That decision would depend of a review of the agreement when the contract was over,” he said, stressing that any decision would be based on the perceived impacts of its current work on the global perceptions of the Maldives.
MP Rasheed today told Minivan News that he had sought to forward a proposal to parliament that calls for a cessation of state funds to be spent on the Ruder Finn contract over concerns that money was being diverted from other areas such as public health.
With a hearing now scheduled for next Monday (July 2), Ibrahim Rasheed said he was confident that the proposal would be able to garner sufficient support in the Majlis chamber.
“We don’t have a budget for sewerage programmes or to fund healthcare,” he said. It is the government who are telling us the don’t have the money for these things.
When questioned by Minivan News as to whether the potential economic benefits of PR efforts from a group like Ruder Finn would not provide a greater economic boost than the amount being paid, Rasheed remained sceptical.
“My argument remains that there are not enough funds for this. [The government] should not be spending that amount on their image,” he argued.