by Corinne Wan,
TO build on the momentum it has garnered as one of the very few destinations to open to international tourism amid the pandemic the Maldives is upping the ante by launching a loyalty programme for repeat visitors, as well as a “3V Tourism initiative”.
It launched the Maldives Border Miles programme in December last year to encourage repeat visits by tourists. A joint initiative between Maldives Immigration, Ministry of Tourism, Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation and Maldives Airports Company Limited, it is similar to the loyalty programmes of airlines and hotels.
Tourists who enrol in the three-tiered loyalty programme – Aida (bronze tier), Anantara (silver tier) and Abaarana (gold tier) – earn points based on the number of visits and duration of stay. Additional points will be awarded for visits to celebrate special occasions like birthdays/wedding anniversary or border crossing.
Speaking at last week’s WiT Travel Roadshow Maldives’ Minister of Tourism, Dr Abdulla Mausoom, said that the opening of the islands to tourism amid the pandemic has proven the resilience of its tourism sector and its ability to bounce back, “especially for the Maldives that has a very high number of repeat tourists. They know the Maldives and they give confidence to others to visit.”
Meanwhile,‘3V’, which stands for “Visit, Vaccinate, and Vacation”, aims to offer travellers two doses of Covid-19 vaccines several weeks apart, boost long stays and promote the country as a safe destination during the pandemic. As part of this, it is mulling extending one-year visas to digital nomads who want to work in the Maldives.
“To be or not to be” – balancing risk with economic necessity
Dr Mausoom said
that the decision to open the islands for tourism amid the pandemic was a “to
be or not to be” question. And with President Ibrahim Solih deciding that the answer was “to be”, the
island nation opened its doors last July 15.
“We had little
choice because tourism is everything; when tourism stops, everything stops. So
we had to open up, a decision that was made with our trade partners. We don’t
have a big domestic economy, and domestic travel was not possible.”
With the decision made to open borders it had to balance risk with economic necessity, and its priority was to protect tourism workers and the local community with minimal inconvenience to tourists.
“By mid-July we engaged
with scientists who advised us on what to do and what not to do – the normal
formula for social distancing, wearing masks and sanitising. The Maldives also
has the geographical advantage (of being a collection of islands surrounded by ocean).”
Initially only private resorts were opened, but now boutique and small hotels in the outer islands are also operating – “over 95% of total beds are up and running.”
Total stakeholder engagement and collaboration critical to safe reopening
Dr Mausoom said
the single most important factor in opening safely was engaging everyone in the
decision-making process – from the community to the travel industry, health sector,
volunteer organisation, as well as international bodies like WHO and IATA.
Arrivals since opening have been encouraging. As of March 24 this year, the Maldives has received 269,504 tourists, down by almost 30% over the same period last year.
The top source
markets are India with 64,059 arrivals, followed by Russia (58,679 arrivals)
and Ukraine third (16,915 arrivals). Other top source markets include
Kazakhstan, Germany, Romania, Czech Republic, France, the US and Switzerland.
Markets that are recovering well are Central/Eastern Europe and South Asia region, both surpassing pre-Covid level, with above average growth of 102.2+% and 74.1+%.
which forms 40%, of the market share, is the ‘missing chunk’. Said Dr Mausoom, “We are hoping that we will get the Asian
market very quickly and that the numbers will rise to the 2019 level.”
The island nation is
targeting 1.5 million visitors this year and 10 million bed nights this year,
compared with the 1.7 million arrivals and 10.7 million bed nights in 2019.
On the advice he would give to island resorts in Asia, from Thailand to Indonesia, looking to reopen, he said, “Don’t lose the human touch … we need the human touch. That is the strength of Asian tourism. That will bring tourists back.”
Note: Watch the interview with Dr Abdulla Mausoom here.
• Featured image credit: TPopova/Getty Images