The Maldives stand at ATM 2023. (Atoll Times Photo)

Maldives and Middle Eastern tourists: Overview and what’s ahead

The main reason is that the Maldives has lost a portion of the market when other countries that had been closed for Covid opened up.

3 May 2023

By Ahmed Mizyal

Dubai, UAE – The number of tourists visiting Maldives from the Middle East have declined over the years. Various stakeholders in the tourism industry have been working hard to revive this market. One such initiative undertaken by Maldives is to participate in the Arabian Travel Market (ATM), the largest tourism fair in the Middle East, currently underway in Dubai.

Going by what exhibitors at the ATM have said, the reasons for the market decline are many. The main reason is that the Maldives has lost a portion of the market when other countries that had been closed for Covid opened up.

Hasan Falih, director of Naalis Travels & Tours, said the Middle East market has been declining since last year’s low season.

“Other destinations, such as Bali and Thailand, opened up at very competitive prices. For example, the Saudi market is the most important. The Saudis are going to these places more often than here,” he said.

“Guests are very price sensitive now. If this is to be rectified, we have to promote the country in some other way to the Middle East.”

Falih said there are ways to do this and there is a lot of optimism about the market.

‘Should maintain prices’

Ahmed Mauroof, assistant director of sales at Coco Collection, also said tourist arrivals from the Middle East market started declining as other competitive markets opened up.

While other markets opened at lower prices compared to the Maldives, he said the Maldives is still a very different tourist destination.

“However [even if competitors bring down the price], Maldives is a unique destination. It would be better to maintain prices as a destination. More resorts are also coming up. Airports are also completed and it will be better if the supply increases,” he said.

“If you look at the market in the Middle East separately, the Maldives already has new opportunities for tourists in the region. Flights from the Middle East are also increasing. Earlier, we used to have national carriers like Qatar, Emirates and Gulf Air. Now, Saudi’s budget airline is also starting. Wizz Air has begun too.”

According to official figures, Saudi Arabia brought the highest number of tourists from a single country. However, between January and March, the number of tourists arriving from the country dropped by 41% compared to the same period last year.

In contrast, there has been a significant increase in the number of tourists coming in from Kuwait.

Middle East Top 5 markets (January-March 2023):

  • Southee – 6,000

  • Kuwait – 3,308

  • UAE – 1,950

  • Egypt – 1,266

  • Qatar – 1,221

‘Expanding marketing; providing tourists with more options’

Another exhibitor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Middle Eastern tourists are increasingly visiting destinations in Eruope.

“Saudi travel agencies, for example, are now promoting European destinations. The flights are cheaper and the journey is short,” he said.

“They can spend two weeks at these destinations by paying that same amount they spend four nights in the Maldives.”

When asked what the solution is, he said that more than anything else, the Maldives should be expanding marketing activities.

“It’s not just about attending fairs. Even if we participate in familisation trips and fairs, we don’t get such big events. We need to increase marketing activities and attract tourists to the country,” he said.

Another point he made was that some resorts in the Maldives did not meet the requirements of Middle Eastern tourists.

“These people want rooms with a pool, floating breakfasts, sheesha and privacy,” he said.

“Privacy is not be available in some resorts. The rooms are much closer to each other.”

Muslim Hilmy, vice-chairman of Brennia Kottefaru Resort, said that Dubai and Maldives were among the first tourist destinations to open after Covid, but now that other countries are open, there are different ways and places for tourists.

In order to expand the Middle Eastern market, Hilmy also said marketing activities need to be carried out more vigorously. We also need to look for new markets, he said.

“The number of resorts and beds are on the rise. You have to market it at par. We also need to find new markets,” he said.

“For example, if you look at the Russian market, other destinations are also trying to attract Russian market. If you don’t give push to the Russian market, or you can’t do [enough] to market the country there, then there’s a fear of market decline. It’s been two months or three months since China opened up. But we still can’t get close to what the China market was before the pandemic in the country.”

Noting that the Maldives is a popular destination, he said tourists always come to the Maldives during the winter season. The markets available for the summer season are in the Middle East, China, India and East Asia.

“If the country is strongly advertised in these places, we will be able to keep the market from going down even during the summer season,” he said.

One of the most expensive markets: MMPRC

Managing Director of MMPRC Thoyyib Mohamed said the company is trying to promote the Maldives in more than 15 markets.

“Compared to other major top 10 destinations, the cost of marketing and promotion here is very high. That’s because in terms of cost, campaigns are expensive,” he said.

Here are some of MMPRC’s efforts to promote Maldives in this market:

  • Hosting road shows

  • Campaigns with large tour operators and airlines (e.g., Qatar Airways and Emirates)

  • Outdoor campaigns such as installing billboards

  • Social media campaigns in association with groups

“This is one market we need to concentrate on. However, this market is very different. Even if there are few people coming in, the return is enough for our industry in terms of finances,” Thoyyib said.

On the first day of the ATM fair, MMPRC also met with a Saudi team regarding the promotion of the Maldives.

“They also want to join hands with us for campaigns. There is a benefit [for them] with it as well. They also want to handle more Umra groups. Similar discussions were held today,” Thoyyib said.

“After the Saudi meeting, we understood something valuable. God willing, we will try to carry out more activities for the rest of the year.”

Budget constraints

MMPRC has always been concerned about the fact that they are allocated less than an adequate budget to promote the Maldives as a tourist destination. Thoyyib reiterated the same concern.

“The budget is not enough. However, we are trying to see if we can make do with what we have received. If more work is to be done, the current budget is not enough,” Thoyyib said.

“Especially in the last two years, for example, from participating in fairs like these, the cost of building this place [pavilion] has increased by about 10% at least. That’s why we have to spend a lot on these kinds of physical activities. No matter how costly the event is, we are always doing it as a service as this is the platform for the people of the industry.”