“Cloudy side of life” protest pamphlet distributed at ITB trade show

Maldives anti-government campaigners have attempted to use this year’s ITB Berlin trade show to draw attention to allegations of police brutality and human rights abuses following the controversial transfer of power back in February 2012.

The Ministry of Tourism last year fell short of its stated aim of welcoming one million visitors to the country during 2012, citing difficulties resulting from media coverage of political turmoil following the change of government that brought President Dr Mohamed Waheed to office.

However, authorities in the country have since pledged to surpass the one million visitor goal in 2013, claiming late last year that the “hard days” were over for tourism in the country following 2012’s political turmoil.

Despite the government’s stance, as part of a so-called silent protest at this year’s ITB event, anti-government campaigners distributed leaflets entitled, ‘the cloudy side of life‘ – a play on the country’s official ‘Sunny Side of Life’ tourism slogan. The publication includes excerpts of reports from the Amnesty International NGO and select quotes from the UN high commissioner for human rights concerning alleged abuses.

“White sandy beaches, dancing palm trees and sparkling cocktails beckon the eager tourist to the Maldives: the emerald Isles in the warm blue Indian Ocean,” the leaflet reads.

“However, a few miles away from your secluded resort island, the same government, backed by the same resort-owners who wave over the honeymooners to the sunny side of life, with their other hand, imposes great injustices, brutality, and human rights abuses on us, the citizens.”

No identification of any organisation or political party in the Maldives affiliated with the leaflet is included on the publication, which accuses the current government of President Waheed of coming to power through a coup and being backed by resort owners advertising at the fair.

It concludes by requesting visitors “reconsider” a decision to visit the Maldives that will “directly fund” alleged human rights abuses and the present “illegal” government.

Last year, a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report welcomed by the US and the UN rejected accusations that the present government came to power illegally, despite claims from former President Nasheed that the report’s conclusions were flawed and failed to include key witness statements and evidence. These allegations were later backed by Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed, a one time SAARC Secretary General and Former Human Rights Minister under the current government who was dismissed from her post late last year.

ITB Berlin, which ran this year from March 6 until yesterday (March 10), is one of the world’s largest tourism shows and was attended by Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb, as well as a host of local tourism industry figures.

Adheeb was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press,while Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal was not in the country when contacted.

Industry confidence

Speaking back in January this year, Tourism Minister Adheeb said he was confident the industry could meet it goals of bringing one million visitors to the Maldives in 2013,  despite falling short of this mark by 40,000 people in 2012.

“There were a lot of hiccups last year with the political turmoil that the country experienced. It is important that we do not compare ourselves to other destinations like Sri Lanka or Seychelles, as our tourism market is very different. We have a high-value tourism market,” he said at the time.  “We will formulate a strategy to go forward this year.”

Following last year’s transfer of power, the incoming government of President Waheed sought to utilise public relations groups and advertising to try and offset the perceived impact of negative news headlines following the transfer of power.

This focus included agreeing a US$250,000 (MVR 3.8million) advertising deal to promote the country’s tourism industry on the BBC through sponsorship of its weather services, as well as signing a £93,000 per month (US$150,000) contract with public relations group Ruder Finn to try and improve the country’s image internationally.

Boycott calls

Former President Mohamed Nasheed last year called for a tourism boycott of the Maldives, as he continued to question the legitimacy of the government of President Waheeed – his former vice president.

However, these calls were soon dropped by Nasheed and supporters of the now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which is still pressing for early elections.

Despite wider fears about the impact of political uncertainty on holidaymakers, Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal claimed back in September 2012 that “the hard days” were over for the Maldives tourism industry following the release of the CNI’s findings.


Government confident of meeting 2012 tourism goals despite “political turmoil”

Maldives tourism authorities remain confident the country will meet its ambition to welcome one million visitors to the country during 2012 despite ongoing “political turmoil” in the Indian Ocean over the last year.

The country plans over the next 12 months to hold a number of celebrations to commemorate 40 years since its travel industry was founded.

Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb has told media in a press conference on Monday that should the Maldives achieve its aims of attracting one million visitors to the country during 2012, it could be effectively seen as being equivalent to welcoming two million arrivals due to the challenges of overcoming the “political turmoil” following February’s controversial transfer of power.

“We are closing in on that target with a lot of challenges. We are working with major obstacles due to the present crisis in the country,” Adheeb was quoted as saying.

The comments were made as former President Mohamed Nasheed, who alleges he was forced to resign from office on February 7 this year under “duress”, pleaded for tourists to “be more aware” of the political problems facing the Maldives.

“Tourists should be more aware of what is going on here. They may think they are remote from Male’ [the capital] but many of the staff are from here,” Nasheed told the UK-based Guardian newspaper this week.

The vast majority of tourists coming to the Maldives stay at its secluded island resorts that are classed as uninhabited, therefore making them exempt from local laws that outlaw the sale and consumption of alcohol and pork products, as well as openly practising any faith other than Sunni Islam. This resort model also keeps most tourists away from the partisan politics of the country, as well as the  unrest that occurred in the capital of Male’ and other islands earlier this year.

Nasheed had previously called for a tourism boycott of the Maldives, as both himself and his supporters continue to question the legitimacy of the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheeed Hassan, his former vice president.

However, these calls were soon dropped by Nasheed and supporters of the now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).  The party are still pressing for early elections this year, despite a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) concluding the transfer of power in February was constitutional.

Despite fears about the impact of political uncertainty, Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal claimed back in September “the hard days” were over for the Maldives tourism industry following the release of the CNI’s findings.

The MDP has itself accepted some of the recommendations of the CNI report relating to judicial reform and holding security officials accountable, despite maintaining “concerns” over how the report was compiled and the potential “comical” implications of its conclusions.

Accepting the challenges faced by the tourism industry, Adheeb claimed that the entire industry was united in seeking to boost the prospects for tourism in the Maldives.

“The industry is driven by itself. This industry is mature enough to continue without any government interference. The difference between the former government and us is we won’t micro manage the industry. We are facilitating the process within the contours of the laws and regulations,” he told local media.

Amidst these claims, the Maldives last Thursday (October 18) picked up a number of accolades at the World Travel Awards (WTA) in Singapore that Adheeb claimed highlighted the strength of the country compared to other Indian Ocean destinations.

“This shows that Maldives is a stronger tourist destination than other Indian Ocean island nations such as Seychelles, Mauritius or Madagascar,” he was quoted as telling Sun Online.

The accolades picked up by the Maldives at this year’s WTA included awards for being the leading destination in the Indian Ocean for cruise and honeymoon holidays.  Also honoured was Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) – presently at the centre of legal and political wrangling – which took the prize for leading regional airport.

Over half way

As the Maldives also commences a number of events to celebrate 40 years since the inception of the country’s tourism, official figures from August showed the Maldives was over half way to meeting its million visitor aims for 2012.

Arrivals to the Maldives between January and August 2012 totalled 614,802 people – an increase of 2.9 percent compared to the same period during 2011, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture figures showed.

Deputy Minister Maleeh was unable to respond to Minivan News about Adheeb’s comments and the challenges facing the wider tourism industry at the time of press.


Maldives over half-way towards one million visitor goal following August arrival growth

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, official figures provided by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture have shown.

With Maldives travel authorities aiming to welcome a million visitors to the country by the end of the year, the figures highlight a 3.8 percent increase in arrivals for August 2012 when compared to the same period the previous year.  A total of 79,768 international arrivals were recorded coming to the country last month.

Although unavailable for comment today, Deputy Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture Mohamed Maleeh Jamal told Minivan News earlier this month that the country’s travel industry was on target to meet its goal of attracting one million annual visitors – claiming the “the hard days” were over for Maldives tourism.

Maleeh claimed at the time that the industry remained on track to attract one million visitors, despite facing challenges such as the impact of ongoing financial uncertainty on some core European tourism markets like the UK and Italy.

According to the Tourism Ministry figures, for the first eight months of 2012, Europe continued to dominate visitor numbers to the Maldives, accounting for 55.7 percent of all arrivals – down 2.9 percent when compared to 2011.

During August, total European arrivals on a year-on-year basis fell by 9.6 percent to 35,488 visitors.

In Central and Eastern Europe, which includes markets like Russia, Poland and Bulgaria, visitors during August fell 7.7 percent compared to the same period in 2011.

In Northern Europe, which incorporates markets including the UK, Sweden and Ireland, arrivals dropped 14.3 percent to 8,202 last month, according to the official statistics.

Southern Europe also recorded a drop in arrivals with 7,710 visitors from markets such as Greece, Italy and Spain coming to the Maldives – a fall of 24.1 percent compared to the same period last year.

Arrivals were up by 5.6 percent from the Western Europe region on the back of growth in markets such as Germany, France and Austria, with 12,434 visitors entering the country during August 2012.

Europe’s smallest tourism market for the Maldives, Eastern Mediterranean Europe, saw 617 arrivals visitors coming from countries like Turkey and Israel, a fall of 7.9 percent.

The Asian impact

Asia was responsible for 38.5 percent of arrivals in the Maldives between January and August 2012, an increase of 9.1 percent over the same time last year.

Despite the overall decline in European visitors during August 2012 when compared to the same period last year, arrivals from the Asia Pacific market were up 12.6 percent to 38,898. The increase was reflected in increased visitors from key markets throughout the region.

North East Asia, which represents the bulk of the region’s travel market for the Maldives – with countries like China, Japan and Korea – saw arrivals increase by 9.4 percent to 31,020 people.

In South East Asia, visitors to the Maldives rose 45.1 percent during August 2012 to 2,809 from markets such as Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.

South Asia meanwhile posted a 19.6 percent rise in visitors, with 3,623 arrivals from markets including India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh being recorded for the month on a year-on-year basis. Arrivals from Oceania markets like Australia and New Zealand were up 18.1 percent to 1,446 people.

According to the same findings, arrivals from Africa reached 524, an increase of 24.5 percent, while visitors from the Americas rose 19.9 percent to 2,146. Arrivals from the Middle East during August rose 3.4 percent to 2,712 people.

Occupancy rates

Despite the growth in arrivals, the total occupancy rate for resorts, hotels, guest houses and safari boats during the first eight months of the year was down 1.2 percentage points in total to 70.8 percent. On a year-on-year basis, total average occupancy for August 2012 fell one percentage point to 68 percent.

According to Tourism Ministry statistics, the average resort occupancy between January and August this year fell 2.3 percentage points to 77 percent compared to the same period in 2011. During August alone, average occupancy fell 0.8 percentage points to 74.9 percent.

At the country’s hotels, average occupancy for the first eight months of the year was down 8.8 percentage points to 30.3 percent. In August, average hotel occupancy was down 6.1 percentage points to 25.8 percent over the same time frame last year.

Guest house occupancy for the first eight months of 2012, rose 0.8 percentage points to 16.3 percent. The same level of growth was also recorded in terms of average guest house occupancy for August 2012, which rose 0.8 percentage points to 16.3 percent.

Safari vessel occupancy meanwhile increased 4.1 percentage points between January to August 2012, totalling an average of 28.4 percent. However, average occupancy during August had fallen two percentage points to 19.1 percent.


Mega Maldives expands fleet with Boeing 757

Mega Maldives has announced an expansion of its fleet with the acquisition of a Boeing 757-200ER aircraft to aid the possible operation of services to a wider number of destinations from the country.

According to the company, which presently operates two 767 jets, the new aircraft is set to come into service this month to support the groups’ existing services from Male’ to Hong Kong, Chongqing and Chengdu.

In April, Mega Maldives joined forces with the Maldives government and the wider tourism industry to conduct a travel roadshow to promote the destination on a whistle-stop tour of five Chinese cities in one week.

The tour was part of attempts to counter the negative impacts of international news coverage concerning the destination after February’s controversial transfer and help the industry meet its aims of attracting a record 1 million visitors to the Maldives during 2012.

MEGA Maldives Airlines CEO George Weinmann claimed that as well as bolstering the group’s ability to provide existing services, the aircraft could also form part of plans to expand to new markets.

“The 757 will allow us to serve markets with more frequency and to open up smaller markets with non-stop direct service,” he said. “The aircraft’s long range capability – which can reach as far as Beijing, China; Perth, Australia; and Johannesburg, South Africa make it a very flexible choice as well.”

The company said it remained committed to expanding mew routes “to widen” the aviation and tourism industries in the Maldives.


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 ‪#SunnySideOfLife‬pic.twitter.com/STXG3A0N,” 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 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt048909 …”


Tourism Ministry lauds global PR efforts as opposition proposes promo spending cuts

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has claimed marketing plans designed to boost consumer confidence in the Maldives have had a positive impact over the last three months, as parliament prepares to debate a proposal on cutting state promotional spending.

Maleeh said that the nature of global media coverage about the Maldives had been “much better” over the last three months, following a decision to hire several marketing firms to promote the country following February’s controversial  transfer of power.

Among these firms is the high-profile multinational PR group Ruder Finn, which has been employed to “instil confidence in the tourism industry of the Maldives [and] gain understanding and public acknowledgement of the Maldives in the international community”.

Ruder Finn, which was appointed back in April under a three month contract reported in some media to amount to US$150,000 a month, has come under some criticism from at least one opposition MP, who has forwarded a proposal to parliament on rejecting further state spending on the contract.

MP Ibrahim Rasheed hit out at the cost of the Ruder Finn contract as being unsustainable considering the current economic situation in the Maldives.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Deputy Tourism Minister Maleeh said he was aware of the parliamentary resolution forwarded by the MDP MP for Maafannu-South, stressing concern at the potential impact it could have on the national economy.

“I’ve heard of the motion. Certainly from time to time MPs in the People’s Majlis will submit not-so-important motions,” he said.

The country has experienced ongoing political tensions amidst allegations by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) that the elected government of former President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted back in February under a “coup d’etat” supported by opposition politicians, mutinous sections of the police and military and certain business leaders.

Within the current partisan atmosphere, Maleeh called on politicians, regardless of their politics, to avoid actions that would sabotage the tourism industry and the wider national economy.

“I am concerned that a major source of revenue such as tourism is being put at risk. I condemn such acts,” he said, referring to MP Rasheed’s motion to cancel state funding to hire Ruder Finn. “Without tourism the economy would be in a grave state. It is the biggest contributor to our national economy for the last 40 years. Politicians should leave the economy aside.”

According to Maleeh, during the last three years, the former government “slashed” the budget set aside for the promotion of tourism.

He added, that with President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan now in office, the new government was doing “all it could”, along with working in collaboration with the private sector, to boost promotional efforts and undo the impacts of international headlines concerning February’s transfer of power.

However, Maleeh stressed that Ruder Finn was just one of a number of promotional contracts that had been signed by the government to try and improve damage to consumer confidence in the country’s tourism industry.

“We have several international contracts with agencies that are carrying out specific focuses for us,” he said.

Earlier this month, the tourism industry announced it had signed a contract to advertise the Maldives under its recently reinstated “Sunny Side of Life” branding on the BBC weather service both through its online and World Service.

When contacted by Minivan News today about the present nature of its contract with the Maldives government, as well as the company’s aims for its work in the country, Ruder Finn’s Ethics Officer Emmanuel Tchividjian said he had “no comment”.

The contract, said to cost US$150,000 a month for the three month-long campaign, was the result of a collaboration with the private sector that tourism authorities have said they hope to continue over the next few months as they secure more funding.

In addressing the impact of the industry’s recent promotional spending Maleeh added that the “results were hard to measure”, but added that there had been a positive impact during the last financial quarter on media coverage of the country.

“Marketing is a long-term strategy. It therefore can take time to get clear results,” he said. “However, with marketing contracts such as these, the main agenda is to protect tourism.”

Amidst “quite aggressive” marketing strategies being employed by neighbouring destinations such as Sri Lanka, Maleeh stressed that improved budgets would allow the country to compete more evenly. To this end, he expressed commitment to secure further private sector support such as the country’s resort industry to aid future marketing efforts.

With the Ruder Finn contract expected to expire next month, Maleeh stressed that no decision had yet been taken on whether to continue using the group in the future.

“That decision would depend of a review of the agreement when the contract was over,” he said, stressing that any decision would be based on the perceived impacts of its current work on the global perceptions of the Maldives.

MP Rasheed today told Minivan News that he had sought to forward a proposal to parliament that calls for a cessation of state funds to be spent on the Ruder Finn contract over concerns that money was being diverted from other areas such as public health.

With a hearing now scheduled for next Monday (July 2), Ibrahim Rasheed said he was confident that the proposal would be able to garner sufficient support in the Majlis chamber.

“We don’t have a budget for sewerage programmes or to fund healthcare,” he said. It is the government who are telling us the don’t have the money for these things.

When questioned by Minivan News as to whether the potential economic benefits of PR efforts from a group like Ruder Finn would not provide a greater economic boost than the amount being paid, Rasheed remained sceptical.

“My argument remains that there are not enough funds for this. [The government] should not be spending that amount on their image,” he argued.


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 reverts to ‘Sunny side of life’ branding, targets one million tourist arrivals for 2012

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) has appointed staff to target specific markets for the tourism industry, in a bid to reach one million tourist arrivals in 2012.

The markets to be targeted included Italy and Japan (Ibrahim Asim), Germany and Switzerland (Fathimath Afra), UK, China and Korea (Fathimath Raheel), Russia and France (Najumulla Shareef), Spain (Fathimath Arushee), India (Aishath Rimna) and the Middle East (Mariyam Rasheed).

In a press conference on Monday, newly-appointed Deputy Minister of Tourism Mohamed Maleeh Jamaal – previously Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Travel and Tour Operators (MATATO) – said the corporation intends to launch several campaigns and PR activities in major tourist arrival markets to the country.

“We have about 102 resorts and around 26,000 beds. If each resort sets a target of bringing three more tourists to each bed, or 77 more tourists than the number that booked the resorts last year, we would easily reach the target,” Jamaal said.

He said the corporation plans to conduct joint promotion campaigns along with the tour operators and resorts, and had segmented itself to target each market.

The MMPRC revealed that it had been given a budget of Rf 70 million (US$4.5 million) to conduct marketing activities for the year.

Jamaal said that the budget for last year had been US$2.3 million, and with that budget they the country had seen the tourist arrivals of around 900,000.

“So this year, with this budget, we are confident that we can reach the target,” Jamaal said.

Jamaal expressed disappointment over the UK-based NGO Friends of Maldives (FOM)’s travel advisory, asking that potential tourists consider the idea of being a “responsible traveller” by avoiding specific resorts owned by people allegedly involved “in the subversion of democracy, and human rights abuses in the Maldives”.

“We are disappointed because, the tourism industry contributes 70 percent of every hundred rufiya every citizen of this country earns, which means from every hundred rufiya, 70 rufiyaa comes from the tourism sector. So every impact on the country’s tourism sector impacts the general living of the people,” Jamaal said.

“I think those who conducts these activities really envy the [success of] the industry. This is very sad. But we have the plans, and the capacity to overcome such negative campaigns, and therefore we will face every challenge and we will overcome that as well,” he claimed.

Regarding a reported recommendation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that the Maldives increase the bed tax levied on the tourism industry because of the state of the economy, and a comment made during a meeting of parliament’s public finances committee about the decline of the Chinese tourism market, Jamaal said that the tourism ministry did not forecast that the decline would continue.

“The Chinese market is improving. Our [predictions] do not show that the Chinese market will decline to the extent the IMF has said, and we had a positive growth in the last three months. This gives evidence to it,” he said.

Chinese tourist arrivals dropped by 34.8 percent to 12,237 in February compared to the same point last year, according to Asian travel trade newspaper TTG.  Around 6,500 fewer tourists arrived from China last month, largely due to the cancellation of charter flights, which are expected to resume in April.

Asked about the impact  media coverage of the political instability was having on the Maldives’ reputation as a safe and stable tourism destination, Jamaal acknowledged that certain international media coverage had negatively affected tourism.

However Jamaal said he believed the situation would not significantly impact tourist interest in the Maldives as a holiday destination.

“Our efforts to counter the bad image given out by the international media will help us recover the decline,” he said.

“In order to consolidate the Chinese market, a senior delegation consisting of key government officials and members of the MMPRC, in partnerships with Mega Maldives Airlines, had decided to go to four major cities in China to meet the authorities, tour operators and journalists.

“We will build awareness in China about what has happened in the Maldives, and I am sure that after that the Chinese market will improve further,” Jamaal added.

“However, we do not believe that the Maldives will be significantly affected by these negative headlines as the destination remains popular in our major source markets like Europe. Despite the economic slowdown that has taken place across the EU, we have seen positive growth.”

Reverting back to Sunny Side of Maldives

Jamaal announced that the country would be reverting back to its former branding ‘Maldives: the sunny side of life’, instead of the ‘Always Natural’ branding introduced under Nasheed’s government.

Jamaal told Minivan News that the decision to revert back to the Sunny Side of Life branding was based on “a number of questions and research the industry had about adopting a new corporate identity for Maldives tourism.”

“At the time of the rebranding we had to ask ourselves certain questions; such as do we have the budget to support a new brand identity? Was it the best time to introduce a new message?” he said. “The Maldives like many nations around the world is facing an economic crisis.”

Jamaal claimed that relying on a strong and established brand was the best direction at present for tourism marketing, but suggested it would be “enhanced” into subcategories such as “Maldives: the Spiritual Side of Life” to promote spa operations.

“This year instead of more generic messages, we will have specific focuses on certain sectors to mirror the efforts of the country’s tourism industry,” Jamaal said.

MMPRC was established during the time of former president Mohamed Nasheed to spearhead the country’s public relations and marketing strategy, replacing the former Maldives Tourism Promotion Board (MTPB).


Maldives considering reverting to “sunny side of life” branding

The Tourism Ministry has begun discussing whether to change the  recently branded ‘Maldives-Always Natural‘ slogan back to the previously slogan, ‘The sunny side of life’.

The Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) re-branded the 11 year-old slogan with a US$100,000 design by Thailand-based global tourism consultancy QUO Keen in October 2011, which was met with mixed reviews from the industry and the public.

Toursim Minister Ahmed Adheeb has commenced discussions with industry representatives to decide on the change, according to local news paper Haveeru.

“Even yesterday we had discussions with various persons in the industry. Most were of the view to change it (the slogan and logo). That is why we are going to discuss this further today,” Adheeb was quoted as saying.

The idea of moving back to the old brand has been put forward as it had been used for a long time and had become familiar: “It would be easier to promote a slogan and logo familiar to a lot of people. That is the why we are determining the view of relevant people from the industry,” Adheeb said.

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 criticisms with some people drawing comparisons to the logo of Washington-based environmental advocacy group, Ocean Conservancy.

Speaking to Minivan News, Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) Maleeh Jamal welcomed the talks on the reinstatement of old logo.

“We believe it is best for the destination to reinstate the sunny side of life logo,” Jamal observed.

He said that while the organisation was never against the rebranding, they had concerns over  whether it was the right time to rebrand,  whether enough research was done, or whether the ample budget required for a worldwide rebranding campaign was available. “These basic questions were not answered,” Jamal claimed.

“We noticed that the whole process was not carried out very well. Then we found out that the tourism marketing budget for this year was extremely small for running a new rebranding campaign worldwide,” he continued,“so I hope the change will happen because we need to restore the demand and maintain the occupancy and existing level of arrivals.”

Meanwhile, Simon Hawkins, who headed the 16 month rebranding process as the former Managing Director at the MMPRC, dismissed the move as “a rejection that spits on a democratic, multi-party decision” by committee compromising high stakeholders, including MATATO and Maldives Association of Tourism Industries (MATI).

“We followed a 16 month inclusive process with a cross section of all stake holders, including MATATO and MATI, and we also took the general public view also taken into consideration,” Hawkins observed.

“The reason it took over a year and half to rebrand was because the [former] President want the process to be democratic,” Hawkins added. “But today we are seeing the decisions changed.”

When asked whether the reinstatement of the old logo affect the toursim industry, Hawkins responded: “Slogans do not break or make an industry. This is a highly image sensitive business. Imagine a hotel where the room has not been changed for 12 years. I agree, ‘sunny side of life’ did well in its day. But we needed to change it for today’s market.”