Senior tourism figures have welcomed unconfirmed reports that football superstar David Beckham is currently on vacation in the Maldives, claiming such a high profile figure creates significant publicity for the destination following well publicised unrest earlier this year.
UK-based newspaper “the Sun” reported that Beckham arrived in the Maldives earlier this week with his wife and children for a £250,000 (MVR 6.2 million) vacation at the One and Only Reethi Rah resort as part of an eleven day festive holiday.
“The hotel boasts 130 private villas, 12 beaches, 40 pools and its own SEAPLANE,” the newspaper reported. “The Beckhams’ suite is the priciest available, costing £8,600 (MVR 213,892) a night — or £6 (MVR 149) a minute. But they have booked three more, each costing £3,700 (MVR 92,015) a night, taking the room bill alone to £217,000 (MVR 5.3 million).”
When contacted by Minivan News this week, a spokesperson for One and Only Resorts told Minivan News that no guest under the name David Beckham was presently staying at the property, adding the company could not speculate on potential customers.
Very Very Important Persons
Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb Ghafoor also refused to confirm news reports of the Beckhams’ holiday plans, but claimed that if they were true, such a visit would have a very strong impact on the Maldives’ international reputation as a luxury destination.
Amidst ongoing work to outline a fourth official tourism master plan detailing industry developments over the next few years, Adheeb stressed that it was important to remember that the Maldives was already considered something of a “celebrity destination”.
Following February’s controversial transfer of power, the incoming government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan 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 has 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.
Tourism Minister Adheeb explained to Minivan News that along with the signing of high-profile marketing contracts to advertise the destination, the arrival of major sporting and entertainment figures was an important means of garnering the world’s attention.
Contemplating the wider potential for boosting the Maldives’ reputation for secluded exclusivity at its island resorts, the tourism minister claimed that his ministry has been working with exclusive tour operators that worked with high-profile clients by supplying information on the destination.
“We have been briefing them with information about how exclusive and private the Maldives is, it is also free of paparazi,” he said, adding that a large number of high-profile guests had travelled to the Maldives over the last few year; from actors and screen stars, to the world’s biggest sporting names. “We want them to know how unique is it here. The exclusivity we give is unique, it cannot be matched.”
Adheeb claimed that efforts were also presently being undertaken to try and bring big name and ultimately lucrative Very Very Important Persons (VVIPs) to the country through efforts such as establishing exclusive lounges and other related services at the country’s airports.
“Right now we are formulating policies to encourage more VVIPs to the Maldives. They can add a lot of value to a destination solely on the grounds that so many people follow them,” the tourism minister claimed.
Adheeb added that the Maldives government had not sent invites or packages to high-profile guests directly as part of this focus, mainly owing to present budget limitations. However, the minister stressed that efforts were being undertaken by his ministry to provide crucial information about the Maldives to exclusive travel groups.
“There is a lot of information out there on the Maldives. We have seen new reports this year about whether the Maldives is unsafe,” he said. “We want to let the world know how unique a destination it is. How safe it is. How can we then give mores exclusivity to VVIPs? We offer privacy, the islands are free of paparazzi, that’s how we have made the Maldives unique. It is a celebrity destination.”
Adbeeb did not comment on whether the government had made any direct approach to try and bring superstars such as David Beckham to holiday to the Maldives, but he added that authorities were always willing to accommodate the needs of high-profile guests wishing to come to the country.
Minivan News has been informed by confidential sources that the Maldives Police Service had worked to asses safety for a member of the Saudi royal family ahead of a visit to the country this month along with an entourage to stay at a private island residence.
Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Haneef was not responding to calls at the time of press.
From the perspective of the tourism industry, the general manager of one of Male’ Atolls larger resorts said that media coverage of David Beckham’s reported visit to the Maldives gave a very “positive message” to both key markets in the UK as well as the wider world.
“Here is someone who can go anywhere in the world, but has chosen to stay [in the Maldives]. It serves to highlight this is a premier place,” the manager said.
While the Maldives’ secluded tourism resort properties were sheltered from local political upheavals following February’s transfer of power, resulting media reports were perceived as having a negative impact on arrival numbers.
Considering this media coverage, the resort general manager said that coverage of a visit by someone as renowned globally as David Beckham “was a start” in shifting attention to the country’s potential strengths as a tourist getaway rather than on domestic strife.
“It is great publicity and helps brings attention for the right sort of reasons,” the GM added.
Similar sentiments were shared by Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim, who claimed that the combining the Beckham brand with the Maldives was a positive development needing to be built up by those marketing the destination.
“Beckham belongs to the world and not only to soccer (football). Anything to do with him is absolutely high value PR. We can only hope the marketing people will handle this important event for the best interest of Maldives tourism,” he told Minivan News.
Sim added that it was also vital to the industry to ensure that such a high-profile potential visit was not used to politicise recent troubles and challenges affecting the industry.
“Hijacking the event for political mileage would be destructive. There is more than one side to any story and the online media can be used by almost anybody, for what purpose. Interesting times.”
Since the industry’s foundation 40 years ago, the vast majority of tourists coming to the Maldives have stayed at its secluded island resorts that are classed as uninhabited. This distinction makes the resorts 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.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed has 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 is still pressing for early elections despite a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) concluding the transfer of power in February was constitutional.
Despite wider fears about the impact of political uncertainty, Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal claimed back in September that “the hard days” were over for the Maldives tourism industry following the release of the CNI’s findings.
In terms of visitor numbers for the year so far, arrivals were found to have risen 2.4 percent between January and November when compared to the same period in 2011.
Official figures from the Tourism Ministry indicated that as of November 2012, 866,310 tourists have arrived in the country over the last 11 months. By contrast, 845,732 arrivals were recorded visiting the Maldives between January and November in 2011.
Earlier this year, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) had set a target of attracting one million visitors to the country by the end of 2012.