Tourist arrivals in the Maldives continue to soar despite civil unrest unrest earlier this year. What opportunities and challenges does the island nation’s hotel industry face? The general manager of an all-villa resort voices his views in an exclusive executive interview.
One Island, One Resort
The Maldives is an island nation located in the Indian Ocean, lying Southwest of India and Sri Lanka.
The Maldives was largely off the tourism radar screen until the early 1970s, when it was discovered by Italian divers.
News of the country’s golden sands, palm-fringed beaches, and spectacular scuba-diving slowly spread, attracting a growing number of ecologically minded tourists from Europe. Resort hotels started opening one after another.
It wasn’t until around 2010 that Asian travelers discovered the islands, however, and Chinese tourists now account for the largest group of inbound travelers.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, Italy is the second largest contributor of tourists, followed by holiday-makers from the United Kingdom.
The Maldives have become a favoured travel destination for scuba-divers, snorkeling enthusiasts, and eco-tourists. A record 1.3 million tourists visited the country in 2017.
A quick guide to the Maldives follows …
Spread over an area of 90,000 square kilometers, the Maldives is the most geographically dispersed country in the world, consisting of 26 atolls and 1,192 islands, of which 192 are inhabited.
An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef that partially or completely encircles a lagoon.
Each one of the Maldivian atolls surrounds numerous islands, which are encircled by beautiful coral lagoons and reefs, where various types of marine life flourish.
Male is the nation’s capital. It’s is also the country’s largest city. One of the most densely populated cities on earth, Male is where most of the population lives and works, but few foreign tourists ever set foot there.
The Maldives is a one-hour flight to Sri Lanka, a five hour flight to Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore, and an eight hour flight to Hong Kong.
The Maldivian economy is focused on fishing, agriculture, and tourism, which accounts for 28% of the Gross National Product (GDP).
The tourism industry in the Maldives is built around the “one island, one resort” concept. Under this system, each island has only one hotel or resort, with the workforce living on the property.
Each island has its own house reef, where visitors can enjoy natural aquamarine life. Most properties offer a laid-back lifestyle, but a few offer a club-like atmosphere, with a full range of facilities and activities.
The Maldives has various kinds of accommodation, most of which is high end and of an exclusive nature.
Most of the resorts in the Maldives are located in the Ari Atoll and Kaafu Atoll, which are located near the airport. A few properties are situated in other areas of the archipelago.
There are several hotels in Male, the nation’s capital, but they cater mostly to business travelers.
Recreational activities revolve around water sports, with snorkeling and scuba-diving the most popular.
Other popular activities include banana-boating, water-skiing, jet-skiing, parasailing, windsurfing, wake-boarding, kite-surfing, sunset-fishing, dolphin-watching, island-hopping – the list goes on.
The Maldives is served by Velana International Airport, a.k.a. Male International Airport, which is located on Hulhule Island. There are also four domestic airports.
Seaplanes, domestic airlines, and speedboats transport travelers between the international airport and either one of the domestic airports or directly to the resort travelers are staying at.
Speedboats and dhoni transport visitors within the atoll in which their resort is located. Dhoni are a kind of traditional fishing vessel.
Most visitors never set foot on Male, which is not situated on the same island as the airport. This, however, is where the majority of the population resides.
Straddling the equator, the Maldives has a tropical climate, with just two seasons: wet and dry.
Highs average between 30 and 31 degrees Centigrade (86 to 87 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the year, with lows averaging between 25 and 26 degrees Centigrade (81 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit).
The skies overhead are usually sunny. Thunderstorm are rare.
Visitors to the Maldives do not require visas so long as they have valid passports with proof of onward travel and sufficient funds to fund their stay.
State of Emergency
In early 2018, political turmoil in the Maldives caused the government to declare a State of Emergency, which sent shock waves through the country’s travel and tourism industries.
Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) warned would-be vacationers that they “should exercise caution and avoid any protests of rallies”.
China, India, and the United States were among other countries advising their nationals to tread carefully while visiting the country.
Many jittery tourists did, in fact, cancel their travel plans to the tropical paradise. The fact remains, however, that most of the country’s resorts are located on outlying islands, which would not be affected by political dissent.
The state of emergency notwithstanding, the Maldivian Tourism Ministry reports that 33,506 tourists visited the country in the month that the emergency was declared. There was, in fact, an impressive 38% increase in the number of tourism arrivals over the same month the year before.
The state of emergency was lifted after 45 days.
Christoph Leonhard – General Manager of Amari Havodda Maldives. Christoph spoke with the Accidental Travel Writer about the opportunities and challenges facing the hospitality, travel, and tourism industries in the Maldives.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
Can you give me a brief overview of the hotel?
Opening in early 2016, the Amari Havodda Maldives is an ideal hideaway within the pristine nature of the Maldives. It has its own house reef and uninterrupted views of the ocean and underwater life.
Located in the pristine Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll approximately 400 kilometres south of the Male, the capital, the resort features 120 guest villas, ranging in size from 77 to 153 square metres, with over-water and beachfront options.
Who designed the property?
The property was designed by Singapore-based French designer Isabelle Miaja with the concept of “natural simplicity”, inspired by the beauty, art, and motifs of the Maldives.
Other property highlights include a Amari’s signature Amaya Food Gallery, inspired by the street food markets of Asia, as well as Breeze Spa, which offers a full range of water sport options and two bars.
Does the Onyx Hospitality Group have any other properties in the Maldives?
Amari Havodda Maldives is the only resort the Onyx Hospitality Group currently manages in this South Asian island country.
What is your target market? Can you give an approximate share of foreign vs domestic and the share of your most important foreign markets?
The Maldives was discovered in the 1970’s by Italian divers, and it has always been a very popular destination for European travelers in search of sun and unspoilt beaches. It wasn’t until around 2010 that the Maldives was put on the map for Asian travelers, with Chinese now making up the majority of tourist arrivals into the Maldives.
We can see the majority of our business coming from Europe with Germany taking the lead, followed by the UK, Italy, and France. About 40% of our business is hailing from the Asian continent, with China being number one, followed by South Korea and Japan.
What is the current state of the industry?
2018 seems to gotten off to a good start, compared to an overall rather weak year in 2017. While rates have come down slightly due to the opening of new resorts (making the Maldives even more attractive for travelers), occupancy has been on the rise.
What are your expectations for this year?
We are looking optimistically towards a strong year ahead. Even though the declaration of the State of Emergency earlier this year has raised some questions about safety in the Maldives, tour operators and guests alike, especially Europeans, realize that any potential political activities would be limited to Male, which is located on a completely separate island from the Velana International Airport.
Neither air traffic control nor any touristic means of transport or resort islands would be affected, and guests can (and do!) travel as usual to paradise.
Compared to last year, we are expecting an increase of occupancy by about 10% to 80% year-round while maintaining our attractive rates and offers.
Are there any interesting developments or challenges that the hotel industry is facing in the Maldives that you can tell me about?
As the Maldives continues to be a popular holiday destination, the government has announced plans to expand the recently rebranded Velana International Airport.
With the new international passenger terminal building, the passenger capacity will increase from 1 million to 7.3 million.
In addition, the runway capacity will also increase from current 12 aircraft to 36 aircraft movements per hour, and it will be able to serve some of the largest Airbus and Boeing passenger aircraft.
This will definitely help bring in more traffic and tourists to the country, boosting the tourism industry.
What are the biggest challenges facing the hotel industry in the Maldives?
One of the challenges that most hoteliers in the Maldives are facing is the shortage of professional and highly skilled human resources.
People are the most valuable asset for a hotel. With numerous new hotels and resorts opening every year, together with the existing operating ones, it is inevitable that the war for talent will continue to be vigorous.
Any comments on the Maldives’ potential as a travel destination?
With the expansion works ongoing at Velana International Airport, the Maldives will further expand its potential as travel destination.
More resorts are in the pipeline to open within the next few years, and capacity in terms of airlift will multiply.
Does the Maldives has a “unique selling proposition”?
While the increase in supply will guarantee guests competitive rates, the Maldives’ unique concept of “one island, one resort” will ensure that regardless of how many new resorts open, the guest experience will always be that of a holiday in paradise on a castaway island.
- Amari Havodda Maldives is a beach resort located on a private island in the Maldivian archipelago in the Indian Ocean. There are 120 villas, including 60 beach villas and 60 over-the-water villas. There are five food and beverage outlets, complimentary Wi-Fi, a health clinic, a spa, a swimming pool, a dive centre, all weather courts, and other facilities. The resort is surrounded by colourful marine life. It is a 55-minute domestic flight to Kaadedhdhoo Airport, followed by a 10 minute speedboat ride to the resort.
- Christoph Leonhard – General Manager of Amari Havodda Maldives. With more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Christoph started his career with the Onyx Hospitality Group in 2000 as Executive Assistant Manager at Amari Watergate Bangkok in Bangkok, Thailand. Christoph took on the role of General Manager at Amari Koh Samui in December 2009. He then transferred to the Amari Hua Hin in 2013, where he assumed the role of General Manager. Taking the helm of Amari Havodda Maldives in 2016, Christoph can tap into his extensive hospitality experience and deep understanding of the Amari brand.
- Maldives Association of Tourism Industry
- Maldives Tourism Promotion Board
- Ministry of Tourism, Republic of Maldives
The Maldives Faces Opportunities and Challenges (an Executive Interview) is the latest in an occasional series of Round Table Discussions and Executive Interviews with industry leaders in the global travel, tourism, and hotel sectors.
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