Maldives to sponsor BBC world weather forecasts

The world weather service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) will be sponsored by the Maldives between June 18 and August 21, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation has said.

An agreement with the BBC regarding sponsorship of its international weather broadcasts is scheduled to be signed tomorrow at the Conrad Rangali Island Resort as part of a wider international marketing focus by the country’s tourism authorities.

The BBC, Britain’s public service broadcaster, is the world’s largest broadcasting corporation in terms of audience numbers and employees.


MMPRC targets social media push to bolster online presence

The Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) has pledged to more than double the number of users currently subscribed to its official Facebook and Twitter services in a greater focus on incorporating social media into its marketing efforts.

As part of a new campaign designed to try and specifically target the growing importance of internet users to the travel industry, the MMPRC said it hoped by May 31 to increase the number of Facebook fans from just over 4,000 to 10,000 users. Over the same period of time, the local marketing body said it aims to boost its current tally of 458 followers on Twitter to 2000 people.

The pledges are part of the MMPRC’s wider ambitions in 2012 to accrue over 50,000 “likes” on its Facebook services, 14,000 followers on Twitter and to also sign up 10,000 people to its official newsletter.

As part of the plans to achieve these aims, the MMPRC has said it will be adopting real time updates on its Twitter service in order to establish it as a key source for breaking industry news for the travellers.

From the perspective of Facebook, the marketing body added that it would attempt to provide timely communication with tourists and industry stakeholders like airlines, PR agents and journalists to deal with queries and questions about the destination.

Earlier this month, the MMPRC said it was aiming to record one million tourist arrivals into the country during 2012 as it reverted to its long-standing “Sunny side of life” branding.


Maldives rebranded as ‘always natural’

The Maldives has been officially rebranded with a new marketing slogan, ‘always natural’, and a fingerprint logo consisting of islands, corals, turtles, sharks and herons that transitions from blue to green.

The objective, said CEO David Keen of agency Quo, was to create a brand “in which Maldivians around the world can be proud.”

Speaking at the unveiling of the rebranding at the The Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) today, Keen said the brand “should talk to the Maldivian people, about industry, sustainability and environmental challenges and successes the Maldives has had.”

“The slogan ‘always natural’ emphasises the huge influence the natural world has on the Maldives,” Keen added.

The new logo and slogan replace the Maldives’ existing 11 year-old branding, ‘The Sunny Side of Life’.

“The old tag line was more targeted towards the tourism industry,” said State Minister for Tourism, Thoyyib Mohamed Waheed, explaining that the new branding broadened the brand to attract investment in industries such as energy and fisheries.

The former national branding targeted tourism

“The last slogan was great for the European market,” added Managing Director of the MMPRC, Simon Hawkins, as visitors from countries such as the UK considered the sun a key drawcard. “But the number one market is now the Chinese, who don’t like the sun [as much]. We have to adapt to the market.”

Keen noted that the broader national branding would allow cross-marketing opportunities, such as stamping the logo on Maldivian products such as tins of tuna.

“A can of Maldivian tuna sold in Marks&Spencer or Waitrose is reaching exactly the market we need to reach for tourism,” added Hawkins.

The new branding was approved by the Cabinet today.

The Tourism Ministry has meanwhile published figures revealing an almost 15 percent increase in tourist arrivals in September 2011, compared to the previous year, and a 17.7 percent increase in arrivals for the first nine months of the year.

Tourist arrivals from traditional European tourism markets for the Maldives dropped in September, including the UK (10.3 percent) and Italty (16.6 percent). Chinese arrivals meanwhile increase 54 percent.

Visitors stayed an average seven nights in the country’s 24,480 beds, while the average occupancy rate was 71.5 percent across the country.


Maldives hosts networking event for Asian travel reps

The Maldives is currently hosting representatives from over 30 tour and travel companies from across Asia, as part of a ‘Discover Your Island’ campaign to increase tourism from these countries.

The representatives were flown to Male’ by Singapore Airlines, while airport developer GMR and the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) set up a networking event with local resort and tour operators at Nasandhura Palace Hotel.

Speaking at the launch of the event, MD of the MMPRC Simon Hawkins observed that tourism arrivals had grown 15 percent year on year, and Maldives was expecting to reach one million visitors a year by November 2012.

“We currently spend US$2 million to bring in one million visitors. By comparison Indonesia spends US$70 million to bring in seven million,” he said.

The Maldives had historically based its marketing strategy on the twin drawcards of sun and sand, but need to differentiate itself given increasing competition with other destinations offering the same attributes, he said.

“One island one resort means that in the Maldives you can have a three star resort within several hundred metres of a six star resort, and everyone is happy and satisfied,” he said, explaining that most other beach destinations had roads, hawkers and crowded beaches.

“In the Maldives [tour and travel] operators have a hundred islands to choose from.”

In spite of the jet-lag, representatives spent the better part of two hours exchanging business cards with local resorts and travel operators,, reviewing services and exploring new opportunities.

Several representatives expressed interest in Hawkin’s suggestions for Maldives tourism, such as an increased focus on the high quality dining offered by many resorts and safari operators, and emphaised that individualising the customer’s experience was a priority.

Marketing and communications managers at the event meanwhile said that growing interest from the Asian market was driving their plans for the future. But other resort representatives indicated that adapting to emerging markets had to be achieved without alienating existing, established markets.

“The new Asian demand is very important, but the resorts that were designed to suit European travelers are trying to find a balance,” said Reethi Rah Sales Executive, Stephen Cordebas. “We don’t want European guests, especially those who come regularly, to feel like the whole package is changing to suit a new market.”


Government spending on tourism marketing comes under scrutiny

A tour operator has claimed that the government should not spend so much money marketing multi-million dollar resorts, particularly since it receives such limited revenue from the industry in return.

Ahmed Firaq, chairman of tour operator Inner Maldives, said the government should not be so much money on tourism advertisement marketing resorts as many had their own marketing campaigns.

Firaq told newspaper Miadhu that the “amount of money being spent on tourism advertising is the same money which could go into the development of social services”.

Government tourism advertising

State Minister of Tourism Thoyyib Mohamed Waheed said the government’s budget for tourism, including marketing, is planned each year in advance.

“The money [for marketing] comes from both stakeholders and the government,” Waheed said, mentioning that the industry adds to the budget if it is asked by the government.

“If there is not enough funding, we approach the industry,” he said.

Waheed said the “industry is quite cooperative” but added the government “does needs more help and support from it.”

Secretary General for the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) Mohamed Maleeh Jamal said after the 2004 Tsunami the marketing budget “drastically increased” to about US$9 million per year.

This number remained unchanged until the 2008 economic depression, when the budget decreased to its current amount of US$2.5 million, used mainly for destination marketing.

Sim Mohamed from Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) said the government has “very little money to play around with. When this government took over, [the country] was broke.”

Sim said marketing was essential in times of crisis, particularly following events such as the 2004 tsunami or the financial depression, as “you need to let people know you are still here.”

Jamal noted that MATATO’s main concern “is the total number of rooms is increasing and the [marketing] budget is down. If it is reduced further, in the long run we will be disadvantaged.”

Jamal estimated this year’s spend on tourism marketing across the Maldives to be around US$30 million. The industry, he said, was providing around US$20 million for specific product marketing.

He said in a time when the tourism industry is being “expanded north to south” the government should at least maintain the previous budget, if not increase it.

With the new tourism taxation bill being considered in parliament, (a bill that will phase out the ‘bed tax’ which currently stands at US$8 per night) the government will be getting an additional six percent in revenue from the tourism industry, “but they are still reducing the marketing budget,” Jamal claimed.

Marketing the Maldives as a tourist destination

Sim agreed that “the government should get out of [marketing] all together” and “business should be left to businesses.”

But he expressed his appreciation for the government’s efforts to help the industry, saying “we like what the government is trying to do.”

Sim believes “the government should regulate and set national and industry standards” and not focus so much on advertising.

“It is tour operators who sell the Maldives,” Sim said, and “they are doing a good job at it. We should keep them happy.”

He added that “the tourism industry is not about resorts alone, but also employment, transport and aviation.”

He also questioned on whether the government should be spending any money on marketing the Maldives as a tourist destination, saying “it sells itself.”

And although there are other similar products on the market, Sim says the Maldives offers “unique features” and not a lot of money is needed to market it as a travel destination.

However Jamal said competition in the region is a major concern. He noted that the Sri Lankan government has allocated US$50 million to tourism marketing this year, a significant amount compared to how much the Maldivian government is spending.

“We need to maintain occupancy,” Jamal said, adding that the Pacific islands, the Middle East and African countries like Mozambique were quickly becoming major competitors.

One of the main marketing strategies for the Maldives, according to Jamal, is “destination branding”. This brings another major concern for MATATO to the surface.

Jamal said tour operators “now say the Maldives is sinking”, and asked why travel agencies would send their customers to a “sinking” destination.

Other traditional marketing strategies for the Maldives have been road shows and travel fairs. Jamal says road shows in China, Eastern Europe and the Middle East have been cancelled for this year, and that the Maldives is attending eight fewer travel fairs than it did last year.

“We don’t see much [advertising] in magazines,” Jamal said, adding that existing advertising contracts with television channels BBC, National Geographic and CNN will expire this June “and there is not enough budget to renew them.”

“The success of the tourism industry in the Maldives depends on whether or not we maintain advertising,” he said.

On his return from Copenhagen President Mohamed Nasheed said the Maldives’ growing significance on the world stage as an icon of climate change – and the associated free publicity – was worth far more than the government could ever spend on paid advertising.

Tourism Revenue

One of Firaq’s complaints was that the government should be spending this money on development for social services and not on tourism advertising.

When asked about Firaq’s statement that the revenue from the tourism industry should be spent on developing social services and not on marketing, Waheed noted that the money “doesn’t come straight to the ministry, but it goes to the Treasury.”

The Treasury then decides how the money is allocated; some of it goes to social services and some goes back to the tourism industry.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair said “there is no direct relationship between tourism revenue and social service development.”

He added that the expenses of tourism marketing are jointly assumed by MATI, the Tourism Ministry and the Tourism Board.