MMPRC to further boost Chinese visitors with tourism roadshow

The Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) has today launched a three-city tour of China in an effort to further boost the number of Chinese tourists.

Taking in Chongqing, Chengdu, and Guangzhou over the next five days, twelve industry groups will also take part in the roadshow

“This road show is the perfect platform to establish a more extensive contact with the China travel trade,” read an MMPRC press release today.

“It is also an opportunity for the Chinese market to be educated on Maldives, its serene beauty and the delicate surroundings.”

After becoming the market leader in terms of visitors to the Maldives in 2011, Chinese visitors now represent nearly one third of all arrivals, totalling 331,000 in 2013.

“Maldives is now positioned to seize the market opportunity created by China’s increasing demand for luxury outbound travel. Hence, this is a great opportunity to promote the destination and to continue to strengthen the image of Maldives in the Chinese Market,” said the MMPRC.

The rapid growth in tourist arrivals has preceded a strengthening of diplomatic relations, with Xi Jinpeng becoming the first Chinese head of state to visit the Maldives last month.

Among a number of MoUs signed during the visit was an agreement to introduce mechanisms to deal with the issue of safety and security of Chinese tourists in the Maldives.

While a Chinese national died last month following a motorcycle accident in the capital Malé, the most common cause of injuries and fatalities among Chinese visitors are related to water sports.

Responding to anecdotal reports of Chinese visitors’ eating habits while visiting the Maldives, Jinpeng was said to have called upon his countrymen to “eat less instant noodles and more local seafood”.

The Maldives’ President Abdulla Yameen expressed his hope that Chinese arrivals would increase three-fold over the next four years.

“Hosting this road show will result in continuous boost in arrivals from China in the years to come,” said the MMPRC today.

The MMPRC conducted a similar event in China in 2012, while a similar event was carried out by the MMPRC in Australia last May in an attempt to break
into the relatively untouched Australian market.


MMPRC to host UK journalists in October

The Maldives Media and Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) will host a familiarisation tour for UK journalists between October 10 and 15.

“The main objective of this FAM trip coordinated by the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation in collaboration with McCluskey International (official PR representative Maldives in UK) is to allow journalists from a vast range of media to experience the Maldives tourism product and in line generate positive publicity to the destination,” read an MMPRC press release.

The corporation also announced earlier this month that it was launching a global advertising campaign with the BBC, running throughout September and October, which would target regional markets in Europe, Asia Pacific, South Asia, Middle East, America and North Africa.

Next month, UK journalists from four five magazines will be hosted in Four Seasons KudaHuraa, Anantarah Kihavah, and Traders Hotel in Malé.

Visitors from the UK to the Maldives currently account for 7.4 percent of market share, making it the third largest source market behind China and Germany.

During the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinpeng earlier this week, President Abdulla Yameen said that he hoped to increase Chinese tourists – who already make up 30 percent of all arrivals – three fold over the next four years.


Corruption allegations a political attempt at defamation, says Tourism Minister

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb has denounced corruption allegations publicised by local media as a “political attack” aimed to defame him.

A case filed at the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) last week alleged Adeeb abused his position of power to obtain MVR 77.1 million (US$5 million) from Maldives Ports Limited and US$1 million from Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC).

It is alleged that Adeeb subsequently loaned the funds to relatives and friends via state-owned tourism promotion company the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).

The complainant claimed the MMPRC had obtained Maldivian Rufiyaa from the MPL in the guise of buying dollars with a promise to reimburse the amount four months later. However, two repayment cheques dated May 10 and 15 bounced due to insufficient funds.

The US$1 million reimbursement dated check for MTDC also bounced, they added.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Adeeb did not deny involvement in the transfer but said such transactions were routine between state owned companies in order to avoid purchasing dollars on the black market.

“The problem here is that I am being singled out and targeted,” he said, suggesting the unfair “defamation attempt” was linked to his refusal to support certain individuals for the position of speaker of the 18th People’s Majlis.

“There is absolutely no room for anyone to say that I fled with the MMPRC’s coffers,” he continued.

The minister confirmed cheques had bounced, but said the MTDC’s US$1 million had been reimbursed, while MPL had been paid one- third of the owed amount in dollars. The remaining two thirds are due in June, he added.

The ACC and the auditor general have confirmed they are investigating the case.

Suspicious transactions

Leaked documents filed at the ACC include an MMPRC letter to MPL CEO Mahdi Imad on February 24, in which the company’s Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath asked the MPL for the rufiyaa equivalent of US$5 million. The amount was to be paid back in dollars in four months through dated checks.

“Reference is made to the meeting held between the Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb and Maldives Ports Limited CEO Mahdi Imad,” the letter said

“An agreement is to be drafted by MPL for this transaction whose purpose is to provide foreign currency support to MPL through other government companies,” it read.

The complainant, however, questioned the justification, claiming: “The MMPRC is run on state funds, and as the company does not earn in dollars, it is highly questionable that the MPL gave the company money to buy dollars,”

MPL had also transferred rufiyaa to MMPRC at a time when the company had failed to pay dividends to the government. The company had argued it did not have money in its accounts, the complainant said.

They further alleged the MMPRC Managing Director Abdulla Ziyath personally went to MPL with the company’s seal to collect the cheques, demonstrating “the act was a planned act, for personal gain by the leaders of MPL and MMPRC.”

“When one company’s MD personally goes to receive funds from another company, it is evident this act is committed in secrecy, behind the company’s employees’ backs.”

The accuser also questioned why a company set up for tourism promotion was engaging in dollar sales. They also said it was against procedures for the MPL to release the money without any security measures.

In response, Adeeb said that as Tourism Minister he had also helped the state’s primary wholesaler State Trading Organisation (STO) obtain dollars to import goods.

He further pointed out the transactions took place between the companies via board resolutions and official letters, not through documents he had signed. He claimed the MPL needed dollars to buy equipment such as barges.

MPL’s Mahdi Imad was not responding at the time of press and an MMPRC official said Abdulla Ziyath was on leave today.

Loans to relatives

The complainant said as soon as the MMPRC obtained the money, it was transferred in two installments to a company owned by Adeeb’s friend called Millennium Capital Management without any bank checks or security procedures.

The US$1 million obtained from MTDC was loaned to a company owned by Adeeb’s father called Montillion International Pvt Ltd. Adeeb used to own majority of the shares in the company, but on becoming tourism minister in 2012, transferred all of his shares to his father Abdul Ghafoor Adam.

The complainant does not appear to have submitted any supporting evidence for the transfer of funds from MMPRC to the two companies.

When asked if the MMPRC had indeed transferred the funds to companies owned by his friends and relatives, Adeeb did not deny the claim and said he does not hold any business interests and is not a board member of any company.

“If you look at a 360 degrees, the case is very clear,” he said claiming the media was very “judgmental.”

Adeeb has previously been accused of involvement with an infamous pair of Armenian brothers linked with drug trafficking, money laundering, raids on media outlets and other serious crimes in Kenya.

Photos of the Arturs in the company of Adeeb and Minister of Defense Mohamed Nazim Maldivian ministers emerged on social media in April 2013, apparently taken during the Piston Motor Racing Challenge held on Hulhumalé between January 25 and 26.

One photo showed Artur Sargsyan next to Adeeb and Nazim, while another has him apparently starting one of the motorcycle races at the event, which was organised by the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF). Another image showed Sargsyan at the red carpet opening for the Olympus Cinema.

Adeeb acknowledged meeting the brothers during the event, but said he had no personal links with them, saying the brothers had come to see him over a business dispute with members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

He had asked the brothers to leave “for the good of the country.”

However, letter from the Tourism Ministry to immigration authorities requesting a residency visa for Margaryan and Sargayan Artur – dated January 27 and signed by Adeeb – was subsequently leaked on social media.


Maldives wins WTA’s “World’s Leading Island Destination 2013”

The Maldives has been awarded the title of “World’s Leading Island Destination” at the 2013 World Travel Awards (WTA) Grand Finale hosted at the La Cigale Hotel in Doha, Qatar last week.

This is the third time the Maldives has won the prestigious travel award. The WTA is hailed as the “Oscars of the Travel Industry.”

The Maldives competed against Bali in Indonesia, Barbados, Cook Islands, Crete in Greece, Jamaica, the Madeira Islands, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Sicily in Italy, St. Lucia, and Zanzibar in Tanzania this year.

Maldivian resorts also scooped a number of awards in various categories with Hulhule Island Hotel winning the World’s Leading Airport Resort 2013, and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island winning the World’s Leading Water Villa Resort 2013.

Baros Maldives won recognition as the World’s Most Romantic Resort 2013 and World’s Leading Island Villas 2013.

The Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) said the awards highlight the “uniqueness” of Maldives and recognizes the Maldives as a world-class luxury destination.

On November 25, the Maldives reached one million tourist arrivals for the first time in a calendar year. Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb said the “victory had been made possible amidst boycott campaigns and other such obstacles.”

The political turmoil following the controversial transfer of power in February 2012 had caused growth in the tourism industry to stall, but growth is expected to pick up this year.

Maldivian pro-democracy activists previously made headlines around the world after hijacking the MMPRC’s official hashtag and slogan “Sunny Side of Life” in 2012 and the official hashtag of London’s World Travel Market in November this year to call attention to police brutality in the Maldives.

The Maldives dominated this year’s Indian Ocean World Travel Awards (WTA) event held in May, scooping a number of prizes including ‘Indian Ocean’s Leading Green Resort 2013′ and the ‘Indian Ocean’s Most Romantic Resort 2013′.

World Travel Awards celebrates its 20th Anniversary this year.


MMPRC targets Turkish tourism potential at regional travel fair

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) last week participated in the 2013 Eastern Mediterranean International Tourism and Travel Fair (EMITT) as part of attempts to boost the destination’s reputation in emerging markets like Turkey.

Some 27 representatives from the country’s tourism industry took part in the event, which ran from January 24 to January 27, according to the MMPRC.

Despite having attended the show on numerous occasions before, the promotion board stated that huge growth potential was anticipated in the number of tourists from Turkey coming to the country – particularly with Turkish Airlines recently commencing five weekly services between Istanbul and Male’.

Citing official Tourism Ministry figures, the MMPRC said that 5,416 visitors from Turkey arrived in the Maldives during 2012, a 19.2 percent when compared to the same period the previous year

In December 2012 alone, the official figures indicated 802 Turkish nationals had travelled to the country, a 188.5 percent boost over the same period in 2011. Despite this growth, Turkey was found to account for 0.6 percent of the country’s tourism market in 2012.


MMPRC extends deadline for MVR250,000 photography contest

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) has extended the deadline until June 25, 2013 for a competition asking Maldivian photographers to submit unique images to help promote the country as a tourist destination.

The deadline for the ‘Sunny Side in Frames’ photo competition was said to have been extended to allow more local artists time to submit photographs.

Entrants will be competing for one of three cash prizes; MVR20,000 for the third place image, MVR30,00 for the second place contestant and a MVR250,000 reward to be given to the overall winner.

Online registration for the competition can be found here.


June arrivals show 6.1 percent increase despite fall in traditional markets

The Maldives has recorded a 6.1 percent overall increase in tourist arrivals for June 2012 compared to the same period last year, according to figures from the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC).

The increase came despite continued drops in key markets across Europe, including the emerging Eastern European market.

The German market, which was one of the few large market segments to show a double figure increase over the last few months, declined 9.4 percent in June 2012, compared to the same period last year.

The decline in the longstanding staple UK market – the country’s largest prior to the sudden influx of Chinese visitors in 2010 – slowed slightly, recording a drop of 3 percent to 6146.

Russia, a lucrative and generally consistent emerging market for the Maldives, fell 12.3 percent in June 2012 compared to the previous year.

Italian arrivals continued to plummet, falling 32.8 percent.

Chinese arrivals continued to show strong growth in terms of volume, increasing to 17,809 in June 2012 – growth of 15.6 percent, on the back of strong charter performance. The MMPRC’s figures suggest that in terms of volume, Chinese arrivals are three times greater than the country’s second largest market.

The Middle East region continued to show strong growth, with arrivals increasing almost 110 percent to 2533. The vast majority of arrivals were from Saudi Arabia, which recorded a 152 percent increase in June 2012 on the same period last year.

Total arrivals for the first half of 2012 are up 2.3 percent on the same period in 2011 to 458,068, implying that the country still has a chance at breaking its target of one million visitors despite the ongoing political and economic turmoil.

Head of the MMPRC Mohamed Maleeh Jamal was not responding at time of press.


Tourism authority’s Twitter campaign “hijacked”, “travel-related farce”, world media reports

A social network strategy launched this week to promote the Maldives has been labelled a “travel-related farce” by media sources including Conde-Nast Traveller, while publications such as the Daily Telegraph newspaper report that the focus has been “hijacked” by anti-government protesters.

The scheme, launched on Thursday, was devised to have the country’s recently reintroduced “Sunny Side of Life” slogan become an online trend among Twitter users by playing up the destination as an unparalleled tourism paradise and honeymoon getaway.

However, global news reports soon emerged that “pro-democracy campaigners” were sabotaging the focus by using the “#SunnySideOfLife” hashtag to draw attention to alleged human rights abuses reportedly committed during the last few months by the government of President Mohamed Waheed.

“For example, the majority of the site’s users are using the term to post tweets such as ‘#SunnySideOfLife: Pristine white sandy beaches, crystal clear lagoons filled with blood of its citizens who are fighting for democracy’,” the Daily News of New York reported on Thursday.

Tourism authorities in the country have recently targeted the increased use of social media sites like Facebook to more effectively promote the destination.  The promotion plan was adopted on the back of fears that global headlines following the controversial transfer of power in February have had a detrimental impact on the destination’s reputation.

Industry view

Contacted by Minivan News about the implications the week’s global media coverage might have on future social media promotions in the country – as well the more encouraging developments of the “Sunny Side of Life” Twitter campaign – Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb said he was about to board a plane and unable to respond at the time of press.

Speaking before embarking on his flight, Adheeb added that the question of a future direction of social media to promote the destination was something that “required thought”, but he could not elaborate further at the time. Calls to Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal went unanswered.

However, on the official Visit Maldives Twitter Page, the focus remained on encouraging guests at properties such as Bandos Island Resort and Spa to make use of the Twitter to play up the Maldives’ reputation internationally.

MMPRC thanks @bandosmaldives guest and staff for having this event ‪#SunnySideOfLife‬,” read one of the more recent tweets posted on the Twitter site on Thursday (July 12).

Opposition allegations

In addressing the coverage of the Twitter promotion, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) claimed that it was presently between “a rock and a hard place” in terms of balancing the economic need for preserving tourism in the country, whilst asking tourists to boycott the destination to pressure the government for early elections this year.

President Waheed, who maintains that he was constitutionally sworn into office on February 7 following the resignation of his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed, said that the earliest elections can be held under the constitution is July 2013. Political bodies and organisations including the EU and Commonwealth have recommended that early elections be held this year to bring political stability back to the country.

The MDP alleges that the elected government of former President Mohamed Nasheed was removed from office on February 7 by a “coup d’etat” sponsored by mutinous sections of the police and military.  It claims the action was additionally financed by certain prominent local tourist tycoons, who control significant amounts of the nation’s wealth.

Earlier this month, former President Mohamed Nasheed told the UK-based Financial Times newspaper that he was calling for a blanket boycott of tourism in the country, earning criticism from a number of resort operators that employ a significant amount of local people alongside foreigners at their properties.

Though the opposition party claims to have no direct affiliation with the Twitter stunt, MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the focus indicated young people were adopting a “grass roots” approach to highlight concerns about the present government’s legitimacy.

“There would appear to be no needed for a boycott of tourism with Twitter campaigns like this,” he claimed. “Whose bright idea was this? We are seeing the Maldivian youth raising their voices about democracy.”

Ghafoor contended that with such a high-profile focus seemingly now raising the issue of alleged human rights abuses around the world – the concept of needing a tourism boycott, as previously advocated by Nasheed, was a “lot less relevant”.

He pointed to his own observation of some Chinese tourists this week, who during a visit to Male’, asked local people about the reason for successive days of protests. These protests have at times escalated to violent clashes between anti-government protesters and police.

These clashes have led to allegations and reports of attacks on members of the media both reportedly by police and anti-government protesters, while certain reporters were also criticised for reportedly involving themselves in protests.


Fellow MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy added that it was “inevitable” that by turning to popular services like Twitter to promote the destination, the government would open itself up to allegations about police brutality and reported human rights abuses.

“This is not an MDP thing, but people here know very well what is going on and the role of some resort owners in sponsoring this ‘coup’,” he claimed.

Fahmy claimed that despite former President Nasheed’s recent calls for a boycott, the MDP at present was “undecided” if the party would support a blanket boycott or calls to avoid  certain tourism properties in the country.

“We all know that some of the country’s richest people are behind the coup,” he said. “We need a focus that will help the Maldives bring about early elections.”

Despite the party’s claims, UK-based NGO Friends of the Maldives, which had previously been associated with a targeted travel advisory asking tourists steer clear of resorts owned by figures alleged to have a direct roll with brining the present government to power, warned against blanket action.

Friends of Maldives – established in the UK in 2003 during the autocratic rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to focus on human rights issues in the country –  raised concerns against seemingly penalising the entire tourist industry in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

“A boycott is a last resort and I don’t think it has reached that stage,” Friends of Maldives founder, David Hardingham told the paper. “It’s easy for people like us to tell tourists not to visit, but it is the people of the Maldives who will suffer – and they are the ones who must decide whether it’s worth it. Any campaign for a boycott needs to be a grass-roots one.”

However, Friends of Maldives said it continued to reject the legitimacy of the present government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, which the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) linked to Mohamed Nasheed has since alleged came to power in February through a “coup d’etat”.


As of the time of going to press, the official Visit Maldives Twitter service’s last tweet – posted 18 hours ago – read: “Did you know that ‪#Maldives‬ was mentioned in 2008 Jumper movie …‪#SunnySideofLife‬ …”


May arrivals drop 1.4 percent on 2011 figures

The Maldives recorded a 1.4 percent drop in arrivals in May, compared to the same period last year.

Overall arrivals for January to May 2012 were up 1.7 percent on the same period last year. However according to figures from the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), while South Asia was the second fastest growing market reporting 14 percent year-on-year growth in March in terms of visitor volume, the Maldives was the only destination to record a decline (five percent).

Figures released by the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) for May showed sharp dips across many emerging and traditional markets, including Central and Eastern Europe (-12.7 percent), Northern Europe (-15.8 percent), Southern Europe (-32 percent) and North East Asia (-1.1 percent).

Russia, a key emerging market for the Maldives, showed a decline of 17.4 percent in arrivals for May, while the country’s largest and formerly fastest-growing market, China, recorded an 8.5 percent increase.

Core traditional markets showed double-digit decreases in arrivals for May, particularly Italy (-39.1 percent), the UK (-16.5 percent) and Korea (-42.5 percent).

“Traditionally, tour operators experience a drop in bookings and travel during big soccer events, and with the UK also taking part in Euro 2012, chances are more people might be distracted from thinking about a summer break during this period. Also, the upcoming Olympic Games during July will also impact long haul travel,” the MMPRC stated.

Western Europe meanwhile showed signs of rapid recovery, led by exceptional growth in German arrivals (30.5 percent) to 9736 for the month – comfortably putting it in second place behind China in terms of volume.

In an accompanying statement, the MMPRC speculated that the reasons for the increase in arrivals “are the strong economic conditions in Germany together with the increase in frequency of flights between the two countries.”

The average occupancy rate at the country’s resorts fell from 80.7 to 66.2 percent for May, but this pattern was in line with 2011 as the country’s low season sets in. However, average occupancy rates for resorts in 2012 were down 5-6 percent on 2011 for February to April.

“MMPRC is in line with the set target of attracting 1 million tourists during 2012,” the corporation said. “A strategic digital and social media campaign is in place. Road shows and other strategic marketing activities are being planned for the year ahead. Maldives Marketing & PR Corporation has a policy to carry out joint promotions and marketing campaigns with airlines, tour operators and other stakeholders.”