Mid-market appeal amongst 2011 tourism challenges

As a growing number of Asian markets like India begin flocking to the Maldives for their holiday escapes, the country’s tourism minister believes the government’s goal of providing more middle-market beds to “compliment” premium resort properties will boost the industry in the long run.

As the country continues to look at potential revamps for how it markets itself in the tourism market, Dr Mariyam Zulfa, Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, told Minivan News that the Maldives risked being seen as a destination with “too many” premium beds.

However, Zulfa said that in looking to diversify towards more mid-market tourism, the issue of replacing the country’s current “Sunny Side of Life” ad slogan remained under industry consultation – including over whether it should be changed at all.

Zulfa’s comments were made as new findings published by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and the Nielsen Company found the Maldives was among several destinations like China, Indonesia and Bangladesh to be attracting increasing interest from Indian travellers.

“The diversification in destinations indicates a greater sense of adventurism and discovery that should be heartening for tourism as a whole, and a clear symptom of a confident Indian consumer mimicking their country’s confidence and prominence,” Neilson Company Executive Director Surekha Poddar stated in the report.

“The Indian traveller is set to become a prized possession as potential spending power and disposition to travel to new countries increases.”

Zulfa said that with income levels in nations like China and India growing in general on a daily basis, the Maldives was beginning to see “exponential growth” in the number of visitors from both of these markets.

“The government has introduced a mid-market policy focusing on three to four star resorts,” she said. “These are being introduced to complement the premium beds we have here.”

Although not willing to speculate if these tourism developments were directly related, Zulfa said that more middle market properties was seen as a move that would be cater to a changing customer demographic.

“Premium beds alone are not suitable for visitors from the South of Asia. We need to look at how to reach out to them,” she said. “These tourists have very different vacation habits to more established markets like Europe.”

Slogan talks

Zulfa claimed that opinion was currently divided on the direction to take on marketing the Maldives to travellers around the world, particularly the merits of changing “the sunny side of life” slogan – one that has been in service for eleven years.

“We will be having informal discussions whilst we will be at the Internationale Tourismus Börse (ITB) – a tourism trade show being held between March 9-13 in Berlin,” she said. “Right now, we have two levels of feedback, one of which is that it [still] works.”

Zulfa added that if a decision was taken to keep the slogan, it would perhaps need to be reintegrated or redesigned with a “more modern” aesthetic.

“There is another reasoning that suggests that although the wording is OK, it is too general,” she said. “The slogan is now 11 years old and perhaps to fill the premium beds we have, a new slogan may be needed to reinvigorate the market. This will be discussed during consultations at the ITB.”

Zulfa said that work was nonetheless continuing on a Maldivian marketing strategy despite uncertainty on the final product.

Mohamed ‘Sim’ Ibrahim, Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), said that MATI did not itself have an opinion on the final outcome of any possible slogan revamp. However, Ibrahim said that MATI hoped to see greater study and research into what the industry itself would prefer to see in terms of branding and marketing.

“We don’t think enough is being done, [in terms of studying the slogan issue],” he said. “We would like to see more cooperation from resorts, airlines, travel companies and other major stakeholders in the Maldives tourism industry.”

From the outset, 2011 is proving to be a year of change for Maldivian tourism, with the implementation of Tourism Goods and Services Tax (GST) on January 1 that placed an additional charge of 3.5 percent on a host of services supplied by the travel industry.

Mohamed said that although he believed that adoption of the GST among service operators had gone “smoothly”, MATI held “serious issues” with the tax related to payments and other technical issues.

The MATI secretary general said he was unable to provide more details about the concerns at present, but added that the association was looking to hold a meeting with resort chains over the issues.

Zulfa claimed that the implementation of the GST had so far gone well for the industry, with no major complaints received concerning the charges.

“Most operators in the tourism industry agree that the 3.5 percent GST is a very reasonable amount to pay,” she said.

“This is a way that more people can equitably benefit from tourism.”