India has become the number one source market for tourism in the Maldives. We speak to industry insiders to decipher the trend. By Riaan Jacob George
Looking back at the last two quarters, it is safe to say that the Maldives has emerged as the most popular international destination among Indian luxury travellers.
According to statistics released by the Maldives Ministry of Tourism, for the year 2020, India was the number one source market for the island nation with an 11.3 per cent share of the total pie, followed by Russia, the UK, and Italy. For some context, in 2019, India occupied second place with a 9.7 per cent share. We are barely halfway through 2021 and the numbers are encouraging once more, with India leading the pack of tourist arrivals with a whopping 23.4 per cent share of the tourist pie, translating to 69,730 arrivals between January and March 2021. The most obvious explanation for this is the fact that the Maldives opened its borders to Indians on July 15 last year, while most other tourist markets were shut. Its geographical proximity and direct connectivity translated into a surge of travel-starved, high-spending Indians. According to the tourism report, between January and March 2021, there were at least 1,272 flight movements between India and the island nation across three major Indian airlines—GoAir, Indigo and Air India.
FOCUSSED MARKETING AND SALES
“The Maldives was pushed to open its borders, given the lack of a domestic market to fuel its tourism. This proved to be a big boost to the economy. Not only is the geographical proximity to India a big plus, but the very isolation of the islands lends itself quite well to a socially distanced vacation,” explains Chandima Wickremasinghe, director of sales & marketing at Taj Exotica Resort & Spa and Taj Coral Reef Resort & Spa. While the Maldives properties of the Taj group enjoyed patronage from Indians before the pandemic as well, it was during this period that the group built further brand awareness of the two island resorts. “Not only have we been extra active on the digital space, but we have also been in touch with our loyalty member base and repeat guests, as well as campaigns from our sales partners and tour operator partners to drive sales and increase traction,” says Wickremasinghe.
Marriott Bonvoy, which has a bunch of properties across different segments in the Maldives, has turned its marketing push towards the Indian luxury traveller. “India has led our recovery phase for the Marriott Bonvoy portfolio of resorts. We developed email marketing campaigns targeting the Indian traveller, geo-targeted social posts, and also worked with prominent influencers to inspire travellers to head to the Maldives. While sales and marketing activities focussed on this subcontinent were always part of our strategy, in recent times we have amplified our efforts,” says Peter Foreman, senior director, sales and distribution—Singapore, Malaysia and Maldives, Marriott International. “Indian guests love the exclusivity that the Maldives offers. The one-island- one-resort concept makes it ideal for someone who wants to host a wedding in this new normal,” adds Foreman. The hotelier also points out that since the Marriott Bonvoy portfolio of resorts in the Maldives reopened in October 2020, the share from India has grown by 15 per cent till March 2021, with the average length of stay at 4.7 nights.
THE BOLLYWOOD ENDORSEMENT
Have Bollywood celebrities contributed to this trend? After all, many of them have escaped to the island nation of late. Wickremasinghe says that Taj Exotica Resort & Spa received a huge number of leads after Bollywood actor Taapsee Pannu visited the property. Similarly, Varun Dhawan was spotted at Soneva Fushi, while Tiger Shroff was busy Instagramming from InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau Resort and Tara Sutaria brought immense visibility to W Maldives. Similarly, collaborative campaigns with influencers and travel bloggers have led to a significant number of inquiries and leads for these resorts.
The way forward is interesting. The marketers in the Maldives will have to push hard to retain the buzz and ensure sustainable traffic and income flow as other destinations open up. What happens when the Maldives is no longer the only international luxury destination available to the Indian traveller?
It’s interesting to note that the Maldives tourism board wants to target segments other than luxury. In a recent conversation, Thoyyib Mohamed, managing director of Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), said, “While the luxury segment is definitely booming, we do want to focus on the affordable segment too, where we have an excellent offering across the country. Small islands and homestays offer more immersive cultural experiences to a different segment of traveller. Then there is the adventure traveller, who comes here to experience the diving culture on liveaboards.”
As hope looms on the horizon, thanks to the vaccines, a robust travel ecosystem is set to bounce back and India will hopefully be able to retain its top spot in the Maldives.