World Travel Market 2017

WTM 2017 1

April is when the whale sharks pass through South Ari, and November is when the Maldives resorts pass through London, UK. The World Travel Market is my chance to wallow in a bit of Maldives vibe for a day. Well, at least posters and marketing paraphernalia. But most importantly fellow comrades in the Maldives appreciation.

I get a chance to catch up with long standing friends (like Scott Le Roi of Amilla Fushi below) as well as meet new faces on the Laccadive scene (like Alexa Ponichetti of Baglioni below). We catch up a bit on the latest developments and ideas, meet new members of their staff, etc. Most importantly for me, it is a chance to get some new acquaintances and material on upcoming openings. The pending arrivals I learned more about included Baglioni, Emerald, Aarah, Amaya, Carpe Diem, and Robinson Club Noonu. Not to mention some intriguing developments in existing properties (like Huvafenfushi’s complete refresh).

The Sunny Side of London…at least for a day.

WTM 2017 2

Maldives Methadone

Resort Destinations Like the Maldives

One of the more frequently asked questions on the Maldives TripAdvisor Forum is whether there is another other place on Earth similar to the Maldives. People bitten by the Laccadive bug which is known to inflict a lifelong addiction (case in point) seeking to get hooked up with a fix.

Usually the query is inspired by a stretched budget and the enquirer is seeking a generic, store-brand knock-off of the Maldives to satisfy their craving (in the Maldives Forum Search put in “like the Maldives” – here’s the longest thread). Thailand, Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji, BVI, Turks & Caicos, Australia are frequently proposed, but a little research shows that nearly all resorts there are all on quite big islands and relatively close together. Aside from the basic similarities of sun and sand, not nearly the “plot of sand in the middle of the ocean” experience of the Maldives. World-travelling friends who introduced us to the Maldives have sent us postcards saying “[Tropical Island X] is wonderful…but it isn’t the Maldives.”. We ourselves have joined this island hunt with our trip to Indonesia which was superb…but it wasn’t the Maldives.

Over recent months I have been digging a bit deeper to come up with the closest facsimiles for those who need an alternative dose whether it be for a change of destination, somewhere less far to travel (the Maldives is quite an expedition for those on the other side of the world in the Americas), or even to save a bit of money. Despite the lattermost inspiration, nearly all the resorts I uncovered came in at just under $500 for entry level BB per person which is not too far off typical Maldives prices for nice 4+ star or a modest 5 star property. The closer the alternative destination property was to Maldives characteristics, the close the racks rate were to those in the Maldives.

There are obviously thousands of tropical island resorts in the world. For my most prominent filters, I excluded the following deal-breakers which keep a property from really having the Maldives vibe:

  • Big Islands – Must be small enough to walk around in the time it takes to drink a bottle of beer and no elevation.
  • Mediterranean – Weather and sea life too limited.
  • Private Islands – Financially inaccessible (for most) properties that rent for tens of thousands for the whole place such as Richard Branson’s Necker Island in the Caribbean, David Copperfield’s Musha Cay in the Bahamas, or Noa Noa in the Philippines.
  • Local Islands – The islands have to be dedicated resort islands (ie. no local residents), but can have multiple properties like Malaysia’s Mabul Island (and how the old Kuramathi, Maldives set up used to be).
  • Remote Undeveloped Islands – Great bolt holes for liveaboards and cruise vessels, but that is an entirely different proposition to a resort and not everybody’s cuppa tea.
  • Middle of the Ocean – Must be surrounded by 90% water with limited proximity, development, or high elevation islands on the horizon to preserve that “middle of the ocean” feel. This was the hardest aspect to adhere to and I bent consideration with a few selections below (eg. Akaiami Paradise Lodge, Le Taha’a Island, and Song Saa)

The top destinations with the most qualifying (and nearly qualifying) candidates are the following:

  • Belize – Seems the closest as an overall destination – lots of islands, many small, coral and diving. I’ve included in a couple in the catalogue below, but I came across a good deal of others in my research. Also, seems to be considerably lower cost (though also lower standard) than many Maldives properties.
  • Malaysia – Also, a good number of properties I came across and included a couple below.
  • French Polynesia – Known most widely for the biggest island Tahiti, but it does have quite an array of smaller gems (again, a couple examples included in the list below).

Below is a list of the most prominent examples of Maldives mould alternatives. This piece will be a living post so if and as people recommend or I otherwise discover other resorts that meet the criteria, I will add them to the post and map.

Price indicated are approximate rates per person bed and breakfast based on queries to the resort website.

  1. Mabul, Borneo, Malaysia ($426pp)
    Mabul Borneo resort
      
  2. Lankayan Island, Borneo, Malaysia ($183)
    Lankayan Borneo resort
      
  3. Coco Plum Island Resort, Belize ($456pp)
    Coco Plum Island Belize resort
      
  4. Royal Palm Island, Belize ($120pp)
    Royal Plum Island Belize resort
      
  5. Anantara Medjumbe Island, Mozambique ($390pp)
    Anantara Mediumbe Island Mozambique resort
       
  6. Denis Island, Seychelles ($600pp) – thanks Moira
    Maldives like - Denis Island Seychelle
      
  7. Akaiami Paradise Lodge Aitutaki, Cook Islands, New Zealand ($480pp)
    Akaiami Paradise Lodge Aitutaki Cook Islands New Zealand resort
      
  8. Song Saa, Cambodia ($484pp)
    Song Saa Cambodia resort
      
  9. Lady Elliott Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia ($145pp)
    Lady Elliott Island Great Barrier Reef Australia
      
  10. Le Taha’a Island Resort, Tahiti ($517pp)
    Le Tahaa Island Resort Tahiti
      
  11. Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort and Spa, Tahiti ($190pp)
    Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort and Spa Tahiti resort

Maldives vs. Indonesia Snorkeling (Komodo)

Komodo Resort house reef

With the rising costs and declining reefs of the Maldives, one of the increasingly frequent FAQs is “Is there anywhere else like the Maldives”.  In particular, given the Maldives’ distinctive snorkeling, “Are there any places which rival the Maldives’ world-leading snorkeling experience.”

One of the more commonly cited possibilities for tropical resorts with tranquil isolation as well great snorkeling and diving is Indonesia.  We recently took a trip to Bali for a friend’s wedding and thought I would add on a week to visit Komodo, Indonesia and check out the snorkeling scene.

We stayed at a lovely 4 star (equivalent) resort in Komodo national park – Komodo Resort and Dive Centre.  The pictures and reports indicated that I might have stumbled upon something to rival the Maldives’ snorkeling supremacy. The resort was in the highly rated Komodo Natonal Park which is a protected marine area as well as a national park on land. Roving police come to your dive and snorkelling boats to check that you have a requisite permit for being there (you purchase these on arrival).

The two destinations had some arbitrary subjective differences…

  • Maldives flat, Indonesia elevated
  • Maldives small, Indonesia larger
  • Maldives blue, Indonesia green

But below are some of my observed comparisons. Admittedly, my impressions are a bit superficial given that I only spent a week there. Still, I did do extensive research to prepare for the trip, the location is reputed to be one of the best in the country (so should show the destination in some of the best light), I spoke extensively to staff, residents and other guests there to compare notes and ferret out more perspectives, and I have the experience of snorkelling all over the world (eg. Caribbean, Mediterranean, Red Sea, Indian Ocean).

Not as good as the Maldives…

  • Fewer big fish:   The big 5 (shark, turtle, ray, moray, octopus) of the Snorkel Safari are much rarer in Indonesia.  They can be seen, but everyone talks about going on special excursions to special sites to see them.  During our entire stay and several outings, we didn’t see a single one.  And we were in one of the reputed top dive/snorkel areas of the region.  Curiously, the “smaller” fish (eg.  sweet lips, bat fish, parrot fish) mostly seemed significantly larger than their Maldivian cousins .
  • More current – There is no sheltered atoll topology.  Instead, the islands rise out of relative deep water much like the Greek Isles.  Furthermore, Indonesia lies smack between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.  As a result, there are lots of currents as the water shifts back and forth squeezing through the archipelagos of the islands.  Our house reef snorkel had the strongest current I have ever snorkeled in.  Fortunately, resort took us in a dingy to one end of the house reef and we drifted back to the exit jetty. Our snorkel excursion was also a “drift snorkel” where a dinghy took us to a drop off and then picked us up again for another go around.
  • Colder water – Good for corals, but less comfortable for leisurely t-shirt/rash-guard snorkeling.
  • Infrastructure – In general, the Indonesian tourism infrastructure felt about 20 years behind the Maldives.  That might sound appealing to those old-timers who yearn for the simplicity of the good old days, but it did mean little inconveniences like weak Internet (slow in general, down most of the time we were there on public network and wifi), limited food choices and limited activities (though all those things might be plusses to some).  Payment infrastructure was particularly inconvenient and awkward (eg. difficulties getting online payment system to work, no Amex accepted, 50 Euro surcharge for using Paypal).

Better than the Maldives…

  • Corals – The key plus to the house reef was the coral.  Especially compared to the currently stressed (eg.  climate change, El Nino, COTS) reefs of the Maldives.  Great diversity, colour and health of hard and soft corals.  Especially, soft corals.  Greater quantity and diversity of soft corals than I have seen anywhere in the Maldives.
  • Cost – The big win in Indonesia is the cost. I would roughly estimate that like-for-like, Indonesia is at least half the price of a comparable property and activity in the Maldives.

Maldives v Indonesia

Komodo Resort house reef 2

A Resort by Any Other Name

Australia v Austria

One of the most respectful and appreciated salutations is to greet someone by their name. That’s why brain farts when you can’t recall someone’s name are so excruciating. It’s also why the resorts, especially the higher-end ones, put a great deal of effort into learning your name.

We were touched by the gift the W Retreat presented us with on arriving at our room which was a photo they took of us by their lounge at the seaplane terminal. As the week went on we noticed that *all* the staff was greeting us by name. We then realised that the photo served an extra purpose of getting notice out of who we were so the staff could recognize us and greet us personally.

Unfortunately, getting the names right of the resorts themselves is getting increasingly challenging. I’ve regularly encountered people mistaking two resorts they have *heard* of. First of all, the resorts change their names regularly with rebranding, relaunching and refurb. That is why I added the “Alias” page to the website which has the “Previously Known As” as well as the “Island Name” (which is itself the ultimate “Previously Known As”, as in before the resort was on it). Another development leading to confusion is the growing tendency of corporate Marcom tools to lead strongly with the corporate brand. So the hotelier group name is featured most prominently. As a result, people ask about going to “Anantara” or “Cinnamon” and I have to clarify “which one?”

Here’s the Maldives Complete list of diphthongic doppelgangers to help you keep them straight…

  • SOUNDALIKES
    • Kandooma, Kandima
    • Amari and Amaya
    • Baros and Bandos
    • Hulhule and Hulhumale (UI Inn)
    • Kooddoo and Kudadoo
    • Maafushi and Maayafushi
    • Raalhuveli and Ranvel
  • SECOND NAMES
    • Finolhu, Finolhu Villas
    • Coco’s (eg. Coco Bodu Hithi) and Cocoa Island
    • Reethi Beach and Reethi Rah (with Reethi Faru coming soon, don’t just say “Reethi”)
    • Vakkaru and Vaakarufalhi
    • Maafushi and Maafushivaru
    • Velaa and Velavaru
  • ISLAND NAMES
    • Amilla Fushi on Finolhas island vs. Finolhu resort
    • Six Senses Laamu on Olhuveli island vs. Olhuveli resort

Googling Honeymoon

Googling Maldives

The Maldives continues to remain the world capital of “Honeymoons” even in the digital age. “Honeymoon” is the most frequently Googled keyword in association with the word “Maldives” in the phrase “What is the cost of [x] in [y]?” Other top products from around Asia are shown above and the link on the graphic takes you to the Business Insider article which covered the whole world.

Haven’t Seen Yet – Part X

Seven years…and yet, I still come across so many things I haven’t seen yet in the Maldives. With 22 sleeps to Christmas, here is a Santa List for every resort…

1. EXTREME WATERMELON CARVING – Despite some pretty amazing renditions, I still don’t feel we have hit peak watermelon in the Maldives. [ABOVE]

2. SPA SALT BED – Came upon one of these during our visit to Urbino, Italy. Massage treatment is done on a bed of salt. Allegedly, especially good for skin and respiratory ailments.
Not Seen - Salt spa bed

3. RECOVERY RETREATS – Spas have traditionally been loathe to treat cancer patients because there has been thinking that the ‘treatments’ could actually facilitate the spread of the illness. As it turns out, no clinical evidence exists to support this notion. On the contrary, many doctors are recommending spa treatments to help patients cope with the stress and discomfort of their chemo and other medical treatments. And I know from personal friends facing “big C” challenge, that there is nothing like staring your mortality in the face to inspire some carpe diem and move your bucket list items (like visiting paradise) higher in your personal priorities.
Not Seen - spa

4. LIVING PHOTOGRAPHS – “Cinemagraphs”, which many have referred to as “living photographs”, are a new way to show image and video in one. The new technique – in which one element of the image moves continuously, much like a video, while the rest of the image remains static – is making waves in advertisements and social media because it allows people to connect longer with what they are looking at”.

5. BUTTER COFFEE – The latest craze in coffee decadence with a health-benefit twist. Supposedly a good ‘treatment’ for sleep deprivation (for those long-haul red-eye flights to the Maldives.
Not Seen - butter coffee

6. SUGAR-FREE COCKTAILS – A delights for weight watchers and diabetics, but also the trendy thing in “Healthy Hedonism”.
Not Seen - health headonism

7. SHARK FIN ICE – “Shark Fin Soup”…bad! But “Shark Fin Ice”…brilliant.
Not Seen - Shark Ice

8. SLIDING-SEAT ROWING CATAMARAN – I’ve previous reflected on the fun of having a scull in the Maldives. Even an ocean-going skiff (like they now have at Hulhumale and Gaafu Dhaalu). This ocean going rowing cat seems like an even more stable, low maintenance option for a similar outing.
Not Seen - catamaran

9. PEEK THROUGH SUP – What SUP?? Why isn’t this in the Maldives? Every resort now has the trendy paddleboard. Great activity for the calm atoll waters. But with the added bonus of facilitated portal into the aquatic wonderland below.
Not Seen - see through SUP

10. SEE-THROUGH SUP – Actually, now that we are talking about it…
Not Seen - See Through SUP 2

11. INFLATABLE BOAT PLANE – Yep. For a bit higher vista (admittedly, it would likely be difficult to get a two-person version so a trained resort staff member could pilot it).

12. SELF –PROPELLED AQUANAUT SUIT – Another Hammacher-Schlemmer gem…
Not Seen - aquanaut suit

13. MERMAID TOWEL – Anything mermaid deserves a place on the shelves of the resort gift shops.
Not Seen - mermaid towel

14. MERMAID BLANKETS – Maybe a bit warm for the toasty temps of the Maldives, but still an irresistible item for a Maldive gift shop.
Not Seen - mermaid blanket

15. RECYCLED BAG SHOES – Actually made from plastic bag refuse from the Maldives, some gift shop should have these in stock.
Not Seen - recycled baf shoes

16. DRONE FISHING – For the aspiring fishermen with less stable sea legs.

17. ‘JAWS’ CINEMATIC COURAGE CHALLENGE – Lots of resorts have cozy outdoor cinemas on the beach now. How about moving those ‘seats’ a bit further out into the lagoon?? Sort of an extra “immersive” dimension to the cinematic experience. And if a wrasse comes up to nibble on your sunburnt toes, then this
Not Seen - Jaws challenge

18. SHARK CHAIR – This needs to at least be in some Kids Club.
Not Seen - shark chair

19. SHARK PUMPS – And when you aren’t putting your feet up…
Not Seen - shark shoes

20. ALL GLASS FLOOR VILLA – There are some pretty big glass floors in the Maldives, but I don’t think we have reach peak floor yet either.
Not Seen - glass floor

21. UNDERWATER LOUNGE – In all fairness, the “underwater lounges” in the Maldives are really lounges that are just under water. They are not lounges that are *UNDER* water.  Smile

22. CONVERTIBLE OUTDOOR SLEEPING – The dazzling skies, clear of light and air pollution, are one of the natural treats of the Maldives. Our family loves to sit on the beach after a resort dinner ad just stare up at all the stars. The downside is getting yourself up of the ground as you drift away more and more in your relaxed state. A villa lounger can be an improvement, especially if you grab a large beach towel to cuddle under in the cool night sea air. But this solution seems the most alluring of all. (thanks Paola)
Not Seen - convertible bedroom

World Travel Market 2016

WTM 2016 Maldives

Yesterday I got to take my annual train trip to the Maldives. Well, the Maldives booth at the World Travel Market (WTM) London. The ExCel centre event is a chance to both catch up with a range of Tourism Ministry and resort staff as well as to meet new faces on the scene. Above is Maldives veteran Kat Anthony (above centre) of imminently opening Milaidhoo resort who I have known for years.  In fact, she has been such a long time resource for Maldives Complete, that I have added a “Kat Anthony” tag to the blog.  She is flanked by a new acquaintance, Amila Handundwala (above left), of another new resort, St. Regis Vommuli.

It was great to learn about some of the newer resorts – St. Regis Vommuli, Milaidhoo, Furaveri, Cocoon, Dhigufaru, Malahine Kuda Bandos, Kandima, Ozen, Outrigger Konotta. The hot atoll appears to be Dhaalu with a murmured 12 new resorts scheduled for development (including several from the NIYAMA family).

Lots of colourful material to add to the profiles over the next few days and some great “Best of the Maldives” material ferreted out. Stay tuned for even more exciting developments from paradise.

Best of the Maldives: Maldivian Female DJ – Angie

Amilla Fushi - Angie DJ

Another way to get the evening rockin’ is a bit of lively (or soothing) music. Many of the resorts will offer DJs who can provide a personal touch to the playlist. They often read the crowd and adapt the music they play based on how people are responding and the vibe. One of the top DJs in the Maldives is Aminath Fazleena Abbas. While some resorts jet in DJs from around the world, “Angie” (as she has been classed since a young age) hails from her hometown of Male. She might just be the top female DJ in the Maldives (DJing has been a bit of a male dominated domain as only 2 of DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJ acts are women. And curiously, both acts are duos). Maldives Complete caught up with Angie for an exclusive interview into the world of bopping in paradise….

1. How did you get interested in DJing?
I have always had interest in music and dancing, during my studies abroad i used to watch a lot of DJs perform and get fascinated by how they controlled the crowd through music. The thought crossed my mind through observation i would say.

2. What was your first gig?
My first gig was held in Kuda Bandos island for a crowd of around 200 people.

3. Where was your first resort gig?
Dusit Thani Resort for New year 2013

4. What was your biggest gig?
‘Cupid’ event held in Buba Restaurant and beach club Sri Lanka for a crowd of 2500.

5. What advice would you give to other Maldivians interested in DJing?
If you have passion for DJing, Learn, Practice and work towards it.. With effort you can yield big results in any walk of life.

6. What’s the hardest part about a DJ gig?
Interruptions during performance and trying to please crowd of various tastes.

7. Which big name DJs do you admire?
Chemical brothers, Nina kraviz, four tet..

8. What other resorts have you performed at?
Velaa, Taj Exotica, Anantara Digu, Anantara Naladu, Amilla Fushi, Como Maalifushi, One and only Reethi Rah, Soneva Fushi, Sun Island, Cinnamon Dhonveli , Fihalhohi , Cinammon Hakuraa

8. Do the resorts differ in terms of what sort of music/performance they are looking for?
There is just a handful of resort where i could play genres i want. Usually resort either prefers commercial dance music or chill-out, deep house genres. I have noticed that most high end resorts prefer the latter.

9. What is your personal favourite dance song?
Challenging question as there are too many songs i love.. These are few I am into these days:

  • Daniel Portman – The reason
  • Peniciline – Alberto Feria alvaro
  • Droplex – Dance

10. What is your go-to song to get people dancing?
Deorro, TJR, Bassjackers

11. What are your 3 most requested songs?
Commercial dance music artists like Pitbull, Rhanna, Nicki Minaj

12. What are your 3 favourite romantic songs (for those honeymooners)?

  • Disclosure by Latch
  • Praise You by Fatboy Slim (Maribou remix)
  • Stolen Dance by Milky Chance.

13. What are your 3 favourite “chill out” songs (reflecting the soothing vibe of the Maldives)?

  • Bungalow by Boy Tedson
  • 65 percent by Kaya Project
  • Stuck in a dream by Soulavenue

Amilla Fushi - Angie DJ 2

Most Clearest Waters

Maldives clearest waters

The Weather Channel has come up with a list of the “The 50 clearest waters in the world”. Maldives comes in at a sparkling #5. But of the selections that pipped it, the Maldives is the largest area…

  1. Cook Islands
  2. Cocos Island
  3. Curacao
  4. Five Flow Lake (China)

Cook Islands is 91 square miles while Maldives is 115 square miles. So, you could say that the Maldives has the most ‘most clear’ water in the world.

I always thought that it was down to (a) reefs sheltering the inner atoll reducing sediment being stirred up from big currents and waves, and (b) coral reefs serving as a natural marine water filtration system.  But I came across this post, “Why Crystal Clear Water in the Maldives“, which gave 3 different reasons – (a) geographic location in the ocean (dark water dragged out from deep), (b) plankton giving the water a different hue, and (c) warm water providing higher density.

So I conferred with one of my favourite Maldives marine biologists, Verena Wiesbauer for her thoughts on this claim.  While I thought that the corals contributed to the clarity (as water filters), it turns out it’s more like the other way around (the clarity contributes to the corals)…

Corals don’t like too many nutrients in the sea; they need only the sunlight to survive.  Whenever there’s a high occurrence of plankton, the water becomes milky. But that happens too when sediment gets stirred up by ocean currents.

I’ve added a new tag to the blog for “Best in the World” for posts (like this one) about the Maldives destination global superlatives.

‘Tis the Season

Maldives season graphic 1

Whale Shark season, Manta season, Whale Shark season, Manta season…

When (and where) to see Whale Sharks and Mantas are right up there in the Top 10 List of Frequently Asked Questions about the Maldives. A number of answers abound on the web especially in the TripAdvisor Maldives Forum, but none so illustrative as Moosa Fulhu’s 3 slides posted on the “Marine Biology in the Maldives” Facebook page.

May all your seasons bring tidings of majestic pelagics.

Maldives season graphic 2