Covering approximately 20 per cent of the water on the Earth’s surface, the Indian Ocean is home to some of the most tropical and exotic destinations on the planet. Mario Hajiloizis discovers its charm.
Known as Ratnakara, ‘the mine of gems’ in ancient Sanskrit literature, the Indian Ocean’s countless islands, each providing their own distinctive charm and allure, continuously attract tourists from all corners of the globe.
Among the most popular archipelagos in the Indian Ocean is the Seychelles which has long been a favourite destination with travellers from the MENA region, particularly with tourists from the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. A four and a half hour flight from the UAE and with no visa requirements, guests from the region frequently visit to enjoy the crystal clear turquoise waters, luxury private villas, quality child-friendly and wellness facilities, and activities such as diving, fishing, snorkelling, island hopping, trekking, sailing and cruising.
“We have noticed that travellers are booking two months prior to take advantage of the special offers available in the market especially for the recent Eid holidays,” commented regional manager, Seychelles Tourism Office Middle East, Ahmed Fathallah to TTG.
“However, there are still last minute bookings experienced from this region. Aside from these, word of mouth is still the greatest tool to encourage travellers to explore Seychelles, particularly the resort where they stayed.”
Playing a big role in facilitating travel from the region to Seychelles and further afield across the Indian Ocean is the codeshare partnership between Air Seychelles and Etihad Airways. Currently operating non-stop double daily flights from Abu Dhabi to Mahé, the codeshare agreement covers 13 other MENA destinations on the UAE flagship carrier’s network including Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, allowing guests to connect easily onto services to the archipelago with Air Seychelles.
“In addition, Air Seychelles manages a fixed base operation in conjunction with Royal Jet, for VIP guests travelling to the islands on a private jet. On top of handling all aircraft types, we also take care of customs and immigration formalities, and provide VIP services such as airside transfers to our domestic charter flights to islands such as Praslin, Frégate and D’Arros,” CEO, Air Seychelles, Roy Kinnear told TTG.
A favourite luxury resort with MENA travellers visiting the islands is Banyan Tree Seychelles with its alcohol-free villas and private swimming pools, female butler service and three dining outlets offering halal alternatives, ensuring that any non-halal items are stored and prepared separately.
“Our Spa also appeals to travellers from MENA as it offers female-only spa facilities for complete privacy along with female therapists,” added director of sales and marketing, Banyan Tree Seychelles, Mourad Essafi to TTG.
With a presence in Seychelles, the Maldives, Mauritius and Madagascar, Constance Hotels & Resorts is well positioned to cater to travellers wanting a complete Indian Ocean experience, with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait representing its top markets. “All our properties, both from the Unique and Ultimate Collections, offer the utmost luxury with an emphasis on privacy,” remarked CEO, Constance Hotels & Resorts, Jean-Jacques Vallet to TTG.
Boasting similarly impressive credentials is InterContinental Mauritius Resort Balaclava Fort, which is witnessing a rise in guests‚ mainly families from Iran. “To make sure we answer their needs we have spacious rooms for the whole family,” outlined managing director, InterContinental Mauritius Resort Balaclava Fort, Michael Janssen to TTG. In addition, the resort’s five restaurants are all Halal Certified.
Dubai-based Jumeirah Group is also capitalising on the Indian Ocean’s popularity among MENA tourists with its Maldives-based Jumeirah Vittaveli which includes a number of villas and suites all with private pools. “Buffets and à la carte menus have all pork items clearly labelled for the convenience and comfort of our Muslim guests. Prayer mats are also provided, the in-villa Maxi-Bar will have all alcoholic items removed on request, and guest villas feature a Qibla pointing towards Makkah,” general manager, Jumeirah Vittaveli, Graham Kiy informed TTG. Arabic speakers are also available at the resort.
Due to easy accessibility, frequent flights, short travel distance, free visa service and the fact that it is a Muslim country, the Maldives is an extremely alluring destination for MENA markets. In order to capitalise on this, Visit Maldives has invested in a new marketing campaign, ‘Visit Maldives Year 2016’, which will bring forth 365 days of free holidays, festivals and trade events.
Well positioned across the archipelago is Coco Collection which operates a range of luxury boutique properties. “At Coco Bodu Hithi, the private nature of the villas and the spacious decks offering intimate dining options are quite popular among discerning MENA travellers,” director of marketing, Coco Collection, Shafa Shabeer stated to TTG. In terms of language, Arabic speaking staff ensure the smooth delivery of service, while prayer mats in the villas and access to the mosque at the resort can be facilitated.
Hideaway Beach Resort & Spa at Dhonakulhi, Maldives is similarly popular with guests from the UAE, the KSA and Kuwait, who enjoy the large villas, personal host service and privacy. “All of our beach front villas have a private beach and as our island is so large, they can be up to 15m apart ensuring that no other guests can ever see into the villa,” director of marketing and communication, Hideaway Beach Resort & Spa, Katherine Anthony told TTG.
Many tourists from the UAE and Saudi Arabia are choosing Kurumba Maldives as their Indian Ocean getaway, and with Arabic speaking staff, an Arabic website, Arabic TV channels, prayer arrows pointing towards Makkah and the recent upgrades made to the on-site mosque, it is patently clear how they can combine their holiday with familiar comforts.
Among the Maldives’ newest resort hideaways is the spacious Outrigger Konotta Maldives Resort which opened its doors and welcomed its first guests on August 1, 2015. The first guests, a Saudi family from Dubai, arrived after a 30-minute luxury speed boat transfer from Kaadedhdhoo Airport and were treated to a traditional Maldivian welcome ceremony with drums and dancing.
Luxury, privacy, space, personalised service, cultural requirements and so much more – the Indian Ocean’s seemingly countless islands have all the characteristics that MENA travellers appreciate.