The Maldives’ first ever travel awards ceremony was held at Paradise Island Resort on Friday evening to mark 40 years of tourism in the country.
The event, organised by the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO), was sponsored by India’s GMR, the current developers of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) which is expected to welcome over one million visitors into the country this year.
Following the opening of the events by some of the Maldives’ top musical acts, including Unoosha, Barchi, Ritte and Mummu, 21 awards were distributed for the categories of resorts, hotels, liveaboards and aviation.
The MATATO appointed judging panel included Dr. Mahamood Shougee (Former Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation and Former Minister of Education), Dr. Ahmed Adham Abdulla (CEO of Maldives Transport and Contracting Company), Ms. Zeenaz Hussain (Dean of Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism Studies), and Mr. Ghaly Murthala (Tourism Development Consultant for FJS Consulting Pvt Ltd).
Amongst the individual award winners on the night was Gasim Ibrahim, owner of Villa Hotels – the parent company of Paradise Island and current leader of the government aligned Jumhooree Party (JP) – who received a lifetime achievement award.
The Hulhule’ Island Hotel (HIH) also won the award for best luxury hotel whilst Paradise Island resort won the award for leading business hotel. The Villa group also picked up an award for leading domestic airport.
Mr Maleeh Jamal – formerly head of MATATO and current Deputy Tourism Minister – was also in line for a personal award, receiving an appreciation plaque alongside Abdulla Jabir – Deputy Leader of the JP – and Yoosuf Riffath, managing director of Capital Travel.
“The event was very successful, and we thank all the sponsors and MATATO for their assistance and support in making the first Maldives Travel Awards a grand success,” said Ismail Hameed, Director of Marketing for the event’s management company, High Rise.
“We also thank all the nominees and congratulate all the winners, and hope that more resorts, hotels, Liveaboards, airlines and airports will participate in next year’s awards,” he added.
Friday’s award winner Maleeh Jamal declared that the “hard days were over” for Maldives tourism, the country’s primary industry, responsible for over 70 percent of the country’s GDP.
Amidst the uncertainty since February’s power transfer, tourism authorities in the country have pursued a strategy of collaboration with the country’s private sector to try and strengthen arrival numbers to the country.
This focus included signing a US$250,000 (Rf3.8million) advertising deal to promote the country’s tourism industry on the BBC through sponsorship of its weather services.
In April, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) confirmed the appointment of New-York based public relations agency Ruder Finn to “oversee the overall media coordination and achievement of PR related solution for destination Maldives.”
Despite the scepticism of some leading branding consultants about the ease with which the Maldives can overcome the negative headlines of this year, Maleeh anticipated increased growth in the coming months.
Arrival numbers to the Maldives between January and August this year totalled 614,802 people – an increase of 2.9 percent compared to the same period during 2011.