MMPRC releases billboard ‘mock-ups’ of new Maldives branding

The Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) has released a series of mock-up billboards displaying the country’s ‘Always Natural’ branding in the context of how it would appear to potential visitors.

The new logo and slogan, designed by Thailand-based global tourism consultancy QUO Keen to replace the 11 year-old slogan ‘The sunny side of life’, was unveiled last week by the MMPRC.

In an accompanying statement, the MMPRC said it had worked “in close collaboration with Minister of Tourism Arts and Culture, Dr Mariyam Zulfa, the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) and Maldives Association of Travel Agents (MATATO). “

“Each stakeholder provided invaluable advice, input and contribution to the new slogan and logo,” the statement read. After a “year-long consultation, research and design process, involving industry and government”, and consultation with “dozens of tourism and other industry stakeholders, as well as the general public”, the new branding was approved by Cabinet on Tuesday.

In March, the MMPRC announced a public competition, calling for submissions focusing on the “unique selling points” and the “emotional selling points” of the Maldives, “based on a fundamental truth”. Despite the many submissions and an extension of the deadline, the stakeholder committee eventually opted to tender for a professional consultancy.

The new branding, including the slogan and a fingerprint logo consisting of islands, corals, turtles, sharks and herons that transitions from blue to green, was met with mixed reviews this week with some people drawing comparisons to the logo of Washington-based environmental advocacy group, Ocean Conservancy.

Similarities with the new Maldives branding raised legal concerns

In response to the concerns, the MMPRC received legal advice from trademark lawyers Ananda Intellectual Property Limited (AIP), which noted that while there was a “very weak degree of graphic similarity between the two devices”, such graphic similarity “is in our opinion not such to create a risk confusion and there is no risk of legal objection due to such graphic similarity.”

“The size and composition of the device are very different from a trademark law point of view. The size and shape of the two devices are different. The [Maldives branding] is more detailed and in its composition. In particular the oval shape, the number of lines of fishes and the variety of fish species are very distinctive and different features and overall produces a strong graphic difference and impression between the marks. Last but not least, one device is hollow, one is not,” the legal advice read.

“We do not consider that the degree of similarity of the marks is such that the usage and protection strategy of a country brand such as [the Maldives branding] would conflict with the mark [of Ocean Conservancy].”

At the launch this week, State Minister for Tourism, Thoyyib Mohamed Waheed, explained that the new branding would broaden the Maldives’ brand away from just tourism, making it more relevant for attracting investment in industries such as energy and fisheries, as well as allowing cross-marketing opportunities on Maldivian exports such as tuna.

Download the full size billboards


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 a tourism leader in Asia-Pacific region

The Maldives was among the most popular destinations in the Asia/Pacific (APAC) region for the month of July, with a 27 percent increase in visitors.

Hong Kong followed closely with a 22 percent increase in visitors.

“Even during times of economic uncertainty, the Asia/Pacific region continues to perform strongly, reinforcing its image and position as a powerhouse of international travel and tourism,” said Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Strategic Intelligence Centre director, John Koldowski.

Asia Pacific (APAC) tourism destinations continue to see an upward trend in visitors annually. July 2011 saw a seven percent regional rise in arrivals compared to the same month in 2010.

Although Japan suffered a 36 percent drop in July arrivals, allegedly due to the earthquake and tsunami, Northeast Asia on the whole saw a six percent gain on July 2010. The Pacific, meanwhile, experienced a 3 percent drop in foreign arrivals in July 2011.

A Care Ratings Maldives report recently stated that Maldives tourism has made an impressive comeback since the 2009 global recession, and investment from China and India is expected to surpass precedents in coming years.

This year, the Maldives reached 700,000 arrivals by September. According to Tourism Ministry statistics, 19.9 percent of these arrivals were Chinese.

The increased activity within the APAC region could have a cultural impact at home. “Maldivian staff are more familiar with Western culture,” said Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO), Mohamed Maleeh Jamal. “Many speak Italian, French, German. So, the shift required to cater to more Asian guests and customers has lead many Maldivians working in the industry to familiarize themselves with Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages and cultural practices.”

Jamal pointed to the 2004 tsunami as the turning point for the Maldives’ tourism market.

“Before then, tourism was dominated by western European countries, and travel companies in China and the Middle East had limited access. Resorts were reaching occupancy levels regularly, and so expansion was not necessary,” said Jamal.

After the tsunami, however, interest from western Europe declined and the tourism sector was forced to work more closely with neighboring countries and their travel agencies. “The Maldives was also receiving complaints that the market wasn’t diverse enough,” said Jamal.

Jamal added that China is an important trading partner for the Maldives, and there was room to expand the business relationship.

But the Maldives has several advantages in the Chinese market. “All countries want to get tourists from China, and the Maldives has an advantage,” said Jamal. “It carries an image of paradise islands and tropical vacations, which is very appealing. In addition, the Maldives is becoming a celebrity hot spot. Given the celebrity worshiping culture that is increasingly common in China, the Maldives is very appealing.”

Jamal commented that Sri Lanka is trying hard to compete with the Maldives’ market.

Tourism is the largest contributor to Maldives’ GDP and foreign currency, accounting for 70 percent of the national GDP indirectly. Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) aims to draw 1 million tourists to the Maldives by the end of 2012.

PATA international visitor arrival figures suggest that improved economic stability is bolstering APAC’s tourism trend.

According to Care Ratings, Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTA) surged this year as China’s economy flourished and European economies made a slow comeback. Chinese tourists are projected to account for 15 percent of Maldives FTA by 2020.

But PATA studies note that the source market is shifting into northern Europe and Asia.

Koldowski pointed to a 50 percent increase in Russian arrivals so far this year, and a 14 percent jump in South Asian arrivals in July with 90,000 more visitors than the same month in 2010.

Southeast Asian arrivals to the region grew by 12 percent during the same time frame.


Tourism sails on with luxury in fragile setting

Maldives tourism has made an impressive comeback since the 2009 global recession, and investment from China and India is expected to surpass precedents in coming years, finds a report from Care Ratings Maldives.

Nonetheless, the Maldives occupies a precarious market, and government controls limit foreign investment, the ratings agency found.

In 2005 Asia surpassed America as a tourist destination, coming in second to Europe. According to Care Ratings, Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTA) surged this year as China’s economy flourished and European economies made a slow comeback. Chinese tourists are projected to account for 15 percent of Maldives FTA by 2020.

Plans are being made to expand capacity accordingly. The Maldives tourism sector will add 77 new resorts and increase bed capacity by 47 percent over the next three years, the report finds. Additional safari vessels are also expected to be added to the industry, which already boasts a fleet 150 strong.

By the end of 2011, the report projects the direct employments in tourism will have grown from 35,000 to 38,000. Fifty percent of these are likely to be expatriate hires.

Revenues are also expected to increase by 10 percent by the end of the year, claims the report.

Tourism is the largest contributor to Maldives national GDP and foreign currency, however the sector is restricted and vulnerable. The reports lists terrorism, global economic crisis, and limited land and human resources as obstacles to growth. It also points out that environment is a major factor of success.

“The tourism industry is capital-intensive in nature due to the high cost involved in leasing the land, developing the land and constructing a self-contained tourist resort,” states the report. Maldivian resorts frequently sell the appeal of the natural environments, but the Maldivian construction industry lacks the capacity to process raw materials.

Importing processed materials drives the average resort room construction cost up to US$30,000 to US$60,000, one of several factors which makes tourism in the Maldives a high-end market.

Human capital is mentioned as a complicating factor. Resort employment could account for one-tenth of the Maldivian population, 32 percent of which is unemployed. However, only half of resort employees are Maldivian.

Coincidentally, a recent study found that social stigma limited female Maldivian employment in the resort sector to 3 percent, a number far below the demographic’s potential.

Another challenge to growth is government oversight. “The industry now is very much regulated by the government of the Maldives,” states the report. “Tourism is now developed and managed according to country-wide policy based on a master plan.”

All Maldivian islands are government-owned, and resorts can only be leased for 25 to 50 years. Construction is limited by the “One Island One Resort” policy, which allows only one resort per island, and structures are limited to 20 percent of the land available.

Over the past three decades, the ministry has introduced three tourism master plans.

Although the report recognizes the complicating effect of government restrictions on developers and investors, it states attributes these plans with significant growth.

“The growth of the industry in the last couple of decades was mainly due to the efforts taken by the government to promote the tourism industry and the progress was largely on a planned path determined by the First Tourism Master Plan (1983-1992), the Second Tourism Master Plan (1996-2005) and the Third Tourism Master Plan (2007-2011).”

The Maldivian government also created the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), which promotes the Maldives as a brand in the world tourism arena.

Last week, MMPRC recognized the value of the Asian travel market by co-hosting a travel agents networking event with GMR. In a nod to the region’s booming business culture, MMPRC MD Simon Hawkins pointed out the advantages of hosting meetings at Maldives resorts.

MMPRC aims to draw 1 million tourists to the Maldives by the end of 2012.This year, the Maldives reached 700,000 arrivals by September.


Letter on New7Wonders and the Maldives

To Whom It May Concern,

New7Wonders welcomes the vibrant debate and enthusiastic discussion about the participation of the islands of the Maldives in the New7Wonders of Nature campaign, and considers this a reflection of the democratic discourse that is at the heart of Maldivian society as well as of the global New7Wonders movement.

The presence of the islands of the Maldives in the voted and selected group of 28 finalists is a source of great pride for many Maldivians and fans of the Maldives, and New7Wonders has received many messages confirming this in the past days. Each of the 28 Finalists have qualified from over 440 participants from over 220 countries – more countries than participate for the World Cup and for the Olympics.

In the case of the Maldives, as with any of the finalists involved in the global campaign, New7Wonders can confirm that it remains open to working with any appropriate entity or body that has a dynamic and enthusiastic vision to support the islands of the Maldives.

In news this week that benefits all finalists, the extraordinary positive opportunity provided by participating in the New7Wonders of Nature has been further confirmed by a third independent study from Korea. These studies are not commissioned by New7Wonders, are entirely independent and objective, and reveal the following headline facts:

  1. Study published by Pearson of London in April 2010: US$ 5 billion overall in economic, tourism and brand image values for the participants and winners in the man-made New 7 Wonders of the World campaign;
  2. Study published by Grant Thornton of South Africa in April 2011: US$ 1.012 billion each in economic and employment value for the first five years for being successful in the New7Wonders of Nature;
  3. New study published by JDI of South Korea in May 2011: up to US$ 1.837 billion each per annum in economic benefits for being successful in the New7Wonders of Nature.

Concerning the use of the name “Maldives”, New7Wonders considers any possible action against the use of the name unenforceable and an avoidable waste of public money. It is also a worrying indication for the rest of Maldives society and business that the corporatised MMPRC agency is trying to take ownership and control of the Maldives name that is shared by everyone. However, should this matter be pursued blindly despite its unfounded rationale, then New7Wonders will not hesitate to consider alternative names or designations for the islands of the Maldives ongoing participation in the campaign – perhaps even inviting public opinion to suggest ideas. The beautiful islands and splendid atolls of the Maldives are the true potential natural wonders, even under another name.

To forbid people from voting for the islands of the Maldives, as the MMPRC agency wants to do, is the same as Mubarak when he used to forbid voting for certain parties in Egypt – and as with Egypt it is the people’s choice that must count in the end. New7Wonders defends the right of the committed, positive and enthusiastic voters from the Maldives and the world, who have voted for the islands of the Maldives in the past, and towards those keen to vote for the islands of the Maldives in the future.

The MMPRC agency, which is by statute a money-making corporation, should not waste any more resources and time issuing defensive and self-justifying statements. New7Wonders now urges it to move on and focus its energies on its important mission of delivering the necessary increase in economic value for the Maldives for which the MMPRC agency has been created and for which it will be judged. New7Wonders will continue with its own mission, honouring the will of the worldwide fans, with the islands of the Maldives (if necessary re-named) as an ongoing worthy Finalist in the New7Wonders of Nature. Both these can and will happily coexist without affecting each other.

Eamonn Fitzgerald is the Head of Communication at New7Wonders

All letters are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write a letter, please submit it to [email protected]


New7Wonders “infringing sovereign rights of Maldives” by keeping country in competition, claims MMPRC

The Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) has issued a statement reaffirming the Maldivian government’s decision to withdraw from the New7Wonders competition.

The statement follows claims by the Geneva-based foundation’s head of communications, Eamonn Fitzgerald, that the Maldives was still in the competition “because the authority to withdraw a participant from the campaign is a decision for New7Wonders alone, not for any government agency.”

The government withdrew from the competition on May 18, after claiming that New7Wonders’ commercial entity, New Open World Corporation (NOWC), had solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars for the country “to compete meaningfully”.

“We no longer feel that continued participation is in the economic interests of the Maldives,” said State Minister for Tourism Thoyyib Mohamed, at the time.

The MMPRC today said that a second statement was necessary “to halt any further misrepresentation by the NOWC regarding the involvement of the Maldives in their competition.”

“After the many attempts by the MMPRC to negotiate and explain our financial situation requesting a reduction of the price to meaningfully compete and stay in the competition, we  are again perplexed to learn that the NOWC are considering taking a smaller sum of money from a third party in order to keep the Maldives in the competition,” the MMPRC stated.

Secretary General Maleeh Jamal of the Maldives Association of Travel and Tourism Operators (MATATO) said yesterday that the association had been in contact with New7Wonders and was considering working on the event in the government’s stead, claiming that the competition promised “enormous return on investment”, and that “US$500,000 for such an award would be quickly recovered.”

The MMPRC today stated that “the democratically elected Government of the Maldives is the only legitimate authority to act in the name of the Maldives and its people”, as “NOWC originally sought acceptance and involvement of the Maldives in the competition with a government signature and payment.

“The Cabinet (not the MMPRC) has made the final decision to withdraw from the competition due to their findings. We feel that the continued participation of the Maldives in the NOWC competition is a matter entirely up to the democratically elected government of the country. Any infringement of this sovereign right, including continued disregard for our position on the matter, will leave us with no alternative but to seek legal recourse.”

In a recent opinion column for Minivan News, Fitzgerald argued that the MMPRC’s “unfounded complaints regarding the campaign sponsorship options have to be seen in light [of the] extraordinarily positive numbers.”

Fitzgerald referred to two “independent studies” he claimed estimated the economic benefit to each of the seven wonders as “US$1.012 billion”, and the total benefit to previous winners as “US$5 billion”.

The MMPRC stated that it “does not agree with the business arguments as quoted in the article for To imply that you can guarantee a positive response of an advertising campaign or PR stunt that is yet to happen is wholly unethical.

“The NOWC-commissioned reports and estimates cannot guarantee and secure a positive outcome for the Maldives. There are so many variable factors as to why marketing activities are successes or failures ‐ but no two scenarios are identical and so generalisations and assumptions should not be made when spending huge sums of the country’s money.”

The MMPRC highlighted several articles in the government’s contract with NOWC, noting that “the obligation to pay is determined and decided by [the Government of the Maldives] abilities and resources and that NOWC will respect this.”

“In light of our recent economic riots and financial crisis which was broadcast to the world, we feel that NOWC have totally disregarded our situation.”

The MMPRC further claimed that “despite our emails and answer phone messages to Fitzgerald, New7Wonders have refused to respond to our communications. We have also noted that their office premises appear to be empty and their colleagues with whom we previously had regular communications are no longer available.”

Fitzgerald said New7Wonders was reviewing the MMPRC’s statement, and confirmed that “all MMPRC messages to New7Wonders have been duly received and filed by us. As New7Wonders accepted the resignation of the MMPRC on May 17, this agency is no longer New7Wonders’s counterpart in the Maldives, so we have no reason to respond to it.”

He added that New7Wonders would issue a statement regarding the continued participation of the Maldives in the campaign on Thursday May 26.


Comment: “No man is an island” – why the Maldives should participate in New7Wonders

“No man is an island.” That’s what the English poet John Donne said 500 years ago. He meant that people by nature belong together.

So, although we are all individuals, we are one. And even though islands may appear to be separate, they are all part of the same planet everyone shares: Earth. The New7Wonders of Nature campaign, with its goal of generating one billion votes worldwide to select seven icons of nature, represents a noble ideal in which modern communications technologies allow us to create a global community.

This is the background against which Wednesday’s statement by the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) has to be seen.

I have good news, however, for Maldivians and fans of the Maldives around the world: the Maldives are still in the New7Wonders of Nature campaign! That’s because the authority to withdraw a participant from the campaign is a decision for New7Wonders alone, not for any government agency. In this respect, New7Wonders adheres to the same principles as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), organisations that do not tolerate any government interference so as to ensure their independence.

So, with the Maldives still a finalist, the critical choice to be made by the key decision-makers in the Maldives is whether to support the campaign or not.

I think that it would be a good idea for all the leaders in the Maldives to be active participants in the campaign for the simple reason that it makes good business sense. After all, this is why so many countries, with their public and private sectors, are enthusiastically involved in this global event. And at a time of such economic difficulty for the Maldives, the return on investment by participating in the New7Wonders of Nature campaign could be enormously beneficial for the country.

Two independent studies support this assertion.

First, an analysis produced last year by Pearson (publisher of the Financial Times) valued the overall economic success in the first campaign to elect the man-made New 7 Wonders of the World as being more than US$5 billion for all the participants. Second, a report last month by the audit firm Grant Thornton in South Africa estimated the economic benefits alone at US$1.012 billion for each of the New7Wonders of Nature winners.

The unfounded complaints by the MMPRC regarding the campaign sponsorship options have to be seen in the light of these extraordinarily positive numbers.

Now, as a rule, New7Wonders does not comment on any reported sponsorship numbers, as it respects the confidentiality of such matters. Unlike the MMPRC, we honour contractual confidentiality. Nevertheless, New7Wonders can confirm that at no stage was the government of the Maldives invited to be a sponsor, nor was any government sponsorship money requested.

As well, leading companies in the Maldives have been, since 2009, invited to be sponsors of the campaign. For the record, New7Wonders has made many practical suggestions for how the sponsorships can be adapted in line with the specific requirements of the Maldives economy.

In a further attempt to delegitimise the New7Wonders campaign, UNESCO and the UN were brought into the debate. Well, as we make clear on our website, the New7Wonders of Nature campaign is not a UNESCO campaign. New7Wonders does not request nor seek the endorsement of UNESCO, nor vice-versa.

There is a very good reason for this: due to its specific remit of cataloguing and listing hundreds of world heritage locations, without being seen to favour some over others, according to its own statutes UNESCO does not have the authority to officially organise or endorse a popular initiative such as the New7Wonders of Nature campaign.

As regards the New7Wonders relationship with the UN, this is at headquarters level in New York. We have successfully cooperated with The UN Office of Partnerships in the past, and look forward to doing so again in the future, for example through such initiatives as making the New7Wonders Global Voting Platform available to promote the UN Millennium Goals.

By the way, when it comes to making comparisons between international organisations, we feel that New7Wonders offers a model that deserves more recognition, especially in times when people are worried about personal and state finances. The fact is that the New7Wonders campaigns are delivered to the world without any government subsidy. The extraordinary economic value that is created for the participating locations is done without the spending of any public money. What is more, when all the costs have been covered at the end of our two global voting campaigns, 50 percent of any surplus will be donated to the New7Wonders Foundation to help make the vision of Global Memory a reality.

It is not for me to say what is best for the Maldives; that is a decision for the people of the republic and their representatives. New7Wonders, however, continues to believe that the Maldives is a worthy participant in the New7Wonders of Nature, and that the potential economic, tourism and image benefits far outweigh the concerns that have been so blatantly misrepresented by the MMPRC.

New7Wonders offers Maldivians and fans of the Maldives around the world the benefits of being part of a global community. It would be a pity not to participate. As the poet said, we are all part of something that’s much bigger than ourselves.

Eamonn Fitzgerald is Head of Communication at New7Wonders.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]