Destination Indian Ocean

Indian Ocean

Imbued with incomparable natural beauty, Indian Ocean favourite, the Maldives, doesn’t need to work hard to attract visitors. Even so, the destination is focusing on innovation, while also diversifying its market offering.
By Emily Millett

Despite enjoying a long-established position on the aspirational travel bucket-list, the Maldives is by no means resting on its laurels, but rather working to attract even higher visitor numbers in the foreseeable future.

“The past decade has seen a very fast change in the Maldives,” said vice president – Boutique Resorts, Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts, Amit Majumder. “Not only did we see many of the major hospitality brands open resorts here, but arrivals into the destination also grew by a dizzying number – from just 683,000 in 2008, up to more than one million already this year. And all this with only minor expansion in the basic makeup of our airport. All major changes are still coming up.”

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Commenting on the key trends that are currently shaping the travel and tourism sector in the Indian Ocean was managing director, Maldives Marketing & PR Corporation, Thoyyib Mohamed, “[The first notable trend] is transformational travel, with visitors searching for authentic and local experiences. Secondly, the ‘travel to show’ trend is very popular among the younger consumer audiences, who choose to travel to more ‘Instagrammable’, picturesque destinations.”

Mohamed explained that the number of travellers in the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle during their holidays has also increased.

“This is followed by an increase in wellness tourism, medical tourism and travelling for sports events and experiences. Additional noteworthy trends include solo travel and multigenerational travel,” Mohamed added.

MOVING AWAY FROM TRAD MARKETS

Traditionally known as being a luxury destination, the Indian Ocean is now opening up to a diversified market, following the arrival of alternative and budget accommodation options.

“The trends we currently see in the Indian Ocean, especially for the Maldives, is a push towards opening up the destination to a wider market,” said Majumder. “The Maldives has been a hidden gem for the longest time, but with globalisation, it couldn’t stay a secret forever. I think the increased awareness of the Maldives as a holiday destination is good for the country, as well as for tourism. It doesn’t only open up the destination to other travel segments, such as local island and guesthouse tourism; it also provides more facilities for us to cater to the top luxury segment.”

Indeed, while the traditional luxury hotel portfolio continues to grow, more budget options are now coming online, as founder, PICK MALDIVES, Riaayath Abdul Majeed explained: “Over the past few years, we have seen the development of a lot of budget hotels on the inhabited islands in different parts of the country. As much as we see resort islands of different categories opening every year, another very interesting concept is the new ‘CROSSROADS’ project, located close to the capital, which opened recently. CROSSROADS is the first integrated lifestyle destination in the Maldives.”

Meanwhile, commenting on the region expanding from its traditional markets, general manager, Six Senses Laamu, Marteyne van Well told TTG: “The Indian Ocean destinations, and especially the Maldives, have been marketed as exclusive high-end honeymoon destinations. This has changed dramatically over the past decade. We have seen an increase of luxury properties; local tourism is rising; more airports are being built, thereby making it easier to access the more remote parts of the country, which is all leading to the traveller demographics shifting more rapidly. Maldives is more than a honeymoon destination. It has become a great spot for families and friends travelling together.

SUSTAINABLE EFFORTS

And while the markets are diversifying, across the board, the industry is uniting, thanks to a collective effort to operate in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way, as exemplified by Maldives’ president, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who recently announced a plan to phase out single-use plastics by 2030.

Mohamed of Maldives Marketing & PR Corporation said: “Many resorts in the Indian Ocean, particularly in the Maldives, are trying to adapt to more environmentally friendly and more sustainable methods. In this regard, many resorts have banned the use of single-use plastics and increased the use of solar panels for energy. In addition to reducing the carbon footprint of the resorts, they are also supporting the conservation of natural ecosystems, such as the coral reefs and other sea life.”

Running a sustainable tourism operation that has the least negative impact on the environment is a key focus at Six Senses Laamu, according to van Well, who said: “We believe most of our clientele choose Six Senses over some of the other wonderful resorts available because we offer them a chance to reconnect with the natural world around them.”

Looking back at a year of environmental and conservation initiatives, the resort started a nationwide campaign to protect the declining Maldivian seagrass meadows. Following the campaign, more than 830,000m² of seagrass meadows are now protected. In addition, marine education books were donated to local schools, 380 local students were taught how to snorkel and a Junior Marine Biologist programme was launched, all in a bid to build a new generation of marine stewards who take it upon themselves to protect their own environment.

“I believe sustainable tourism has been a rising trend all over the world, especially in the Indian Ocean,” said van Well. “The success of our business is dependent on the health of our surrounding environment. Guests come to the Maldives to see thriving coral reefs bustling with fish, lush seagrass meadows with feeding green sea turtles and winding mangrove forests that protect the white sand beaches from erosion. The preservation of these important ecosystems is crucial for the sustainability of our business and the entire Maldives.”

The hotel plans to continue incorporating ways for guests to be involved in conservation work and community outreach, with recently launched community outreach programmes and hands-on activities, such as beach and reef cleanings, working alongside the team of resident researchers.

As the Maldives looks to respond to the demands of today’s traveller, the destination is seeing itself open up to wider markets with a range of newly opened affordable accommodation options.