Yesterday, I enjoyed my annual pseudo-escape to the Maldives at London’s 2023 World Travel Market. Their booth is replete with images of the destination’s linen white beaches and tapestry of ocean blues and manned by a platoon of the Maldives’ resort leaders touting its alluring charms to agents, operators and media. I was able to reconnect with long time friends and connections as well as make new ones. In particular, I sat down and learned much more about Brennia Kottafaru, The Standard Huruvalhi, Outrigger Konotta, Movenpick Kuredhivaru, Rahaa and Baglioni (none of which I had ever visited).
The highlight of the event was meeting a contender for “newcomer of the year”, a resort I hadn’t even heard of – Oaga. Or “Oaga – Art Resort” to be precise. And actually, planned to be a 5-property complex built from terraformed reclamation in a North Male lagoon. Oaga is one of the most inspired concept properties I have come across for a while – “Maldivian Artistry”. Not just engaging a Maldivian artist to add some colourful touches to the property, but imbuing the entire DNA of the property with a visual aesthetic. Even their show swag was a piece of art from one of their resident artists (I got the one below done by Rahvehinn). I normally have to visit a resort to identify its truly distinctive touches, but just a short chat with the Oaga folks (including two of their founding directors – see photo above and special 360 photo provided by the Visit Maldives hosts of the booth) came up with a dozen “Best of the Maldives” pieces I could write about. They soft open later this month so keep an eye open.
Another milestone in the return to normality is the resumption of the World Travel Market this week at London’s Exel Centre. A traditional opportunity for me to escape the increasing Blighty chill and immerse myself in all things Maldivian for a day.
Despite the broad-based enthusiasm for this big step of some face-to-face time with the opportunity for serendipity of connections and information sharing, the WTM was a more muted affair than previous years. The crowds were much smaller. This made the queues for coffee a lot shorter, but also made the event less advantageous for the participants. Next to the Indian Ocean (and I didn’t see Seychelles or Mauritius there), was the “Africa” section which had only a half dozen sub-Saharan countries.
The “Maldives” hosted by the Ministry of Tourism and its Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) arm made a huge effort to make a dominant presence. In addition to its usual pole position stand location at the entry to the “Indian Ocean and Asia” hall, it had filled the Exel centre with floor markers and video billboards (see photos below). With the lower attendance, I suspect that the WTM was selling floor space more cheaply which the Maldives took advantage of by doubling its stand footprint and removing the cost of its traditional two-level stand build.
I filled my day meeting long-standing friends, associates and supporters (like Pullman, Emerald and Ritz Carlton’s Scott Le Roi in the photo with me above), as well as made new acquaintances and introduced more industry folk to the website. I got a chance to learn about some of the newest resorts (eg. Cora Cora, Rita Carlton) as well as a some other players I hadn’t met previously (eg. Hummingbird Travel).
This year’s World Travel Market was like a trip back to where it all began. In more ways than one.
First, I bumped into to one of the charter members of the Maldives GM Hall of Fame (figure of speech) – Jason Kruse. After I had developed Maldives Complete as a way to play around with new web technology at Microsoft and to share my trove of Maldives resort information, it was our family trip to Jason’s resort (just before he arrived), Kurumba, that convinced me that I should invest a bit extra in this undertaking. Throughout our stay, various Maldivian staff came up to me and said, “Hey, you’re that Maldives Complete guy. We love your website.”
While I had made it a policy to never re-visit a resort I had already seen (primarily because I wanted to see as many resorts as possible), Jason convinced me to stop by Kurumba again during one of our first tours in 2011. He and his wife were so much fun and so helpful with information about the Maldives, that we subsequently made an exception to our steadfast rule and ended up visiting Kurumba every year as a part of our tours. It was a convenient final stop near the airport, but primarily a great chance to catch up with Jason and Victoria.
Sadly, those annual catch-ups have been interrupted a couple of years ago when Jason took on a resort manager role in Fiji closer to his home in Australia. But Jason is back! He has taken on the GM role at Amilla Fushi. And he was at WTM London to get word out about some of the changes being introduced there. Sounds like some classic Jason magic and I can’t wait to see what he does there.
If that long-time-no-see meeting wasn’t enough, my next meeting was even more nostalgic. Every year that I have been going to WTM, I always check out whether the country of Togo, West Africa has a stand. Togo was by first stint as a travel researcher and writer. I was stationed there as an overseas correspondent in 1980! My first experience in investigating and sharing an exotic destination with the world. Togo has always been a small country and has been hit with its own challenges (like most of Africa) since the fall of the Berlin Wall (when the two superpowers stopped caring about the continent as pawns on a geopolitical chessboard and unceremoniously and disruptively upped stakes leaving discord and conflict in their wake). They haven’t really had the resources to rebuild its tourism industry…until now. Strolling over to the “Africa” section, I came upon Togo’s first stand and had a chance to meet with their representatives (see below) from the same Tourism Ministry that hosted me to their own colourful and enchanting country four decades ago!
Maldives Complete made it to yet another World Travel Market at the Excel Centre in London this week. Maldives resorts, agents, cruises and promoters were there in force. With all the giant, illuminated backdrop tableaus, it was the closest thing to a day visit to the Maldives on a November day in London.
I got a chance to catch up with long-time friends and associates like Barefoot Resort Marketing Director Raffaella Colleoni and Grand Park Kodhipparu General Manager Raffaele Solferino (please, Raffles Resort, hire these two executives!) – see above.
I also got an opportunity to meet some of the folks behind some of the newer properties – eg. Emerald, Carpe Diem, Kuredhivaru, Hard Rock, SAii Lagoon, Rahaa. Emerald in particular has some incredibly attractive pricing and may be doing some extra special offers at its launch. And Hard Rock with SAii Lagoon is going to be a real game-changer opening up entirely new ways of holidaying in the Maldives and experiencing this paradise.
The other revelation to me was the deals for some pretty swish cruising. ScubaSpa is a live-aboard-cum-spa on a luxury cruiser and gourmet meals for the price of a good 4+ star resort. You can choose any number of days that you want to travel to tailor the timings (and costs) to your preferences. And Carpe Diem has a deal of $1200 for a week on their yacht including meals and 3 dives each day. We’ve often considered doing a cruise. We’ve seen so many of the Maldives resorts, we thought it would be a great way to explore some of the deserted islands, remote lagoons and sand bars in the middle of the ocean. We’ve sailed in the Mediterranean and there is an adventurous charm to anchoring in some remote place with no civilisation in sight.
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).
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.
The World Travel Market is my annual Maldives “meet-up” to take me out of the digital domain and spend some face time with resort folks. Surrounded by the towering graphics of the Maldives Marketing Public Relations and Marketing Corporation’s stand, it is a tangible and live escape from the onslaught of dreary British winter.
Resort Changes – The show is always useful for me to find out more about the newer properties both recently launched and upcoming. I got to meet with such fledglings as Atmosphere Kanifushi, Amari Havodda, Cinnamon, Canareef, Outrigger Konotta, Amilla Fushi and Hurawalhi. I also chatted with old friends. Some have moved to new properties (like Thanos Lionsatos from Dusit to Banyan Tree or Zafer Agacan from Ayada to Amari). Some shared with me their expansion plans for upcoming new developments (eg. Centara has 5! properties in the works).
Marketing Changes – The other trend I noticed among the marketeers converging on ExCel, was the surge in interest in “blogging” (ie. YouTuber vlogs, Instagram, lifestyle blogs). As I noted in my “beauty of the Maldives” research, the photogenic young women writing and snapping colourfully about food, fashion and flying around the world is surging in both numbers and readership. I even met one who had stopped by the Maldives stand (Alina Lisina of Trip Temptations).
Of course, the buzz around the booth was the recently declared “30 day state of emergency” which has spooked lots of prospective guests. All world travellers, especially to remote and exotic destinations, always need to be vigilant about all sorts of security and safety issues. But I feel quite strongly that this declaration does not indicate any substantive danger to any guests. It seems more akin to the “Patriot Act” the USA enacted as a way to exercise more security controls and checks (eg. like airport security).
While Maldives Complete is my virtual world outlet for experiencing a bit of paradise when sequestered in the damp and dank boroughs of Britain, but once a year I get to inject a bit of real-world Maldives into my life. That is the annual World Travel Market where the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation comes to town with its marquee stand.
I always visit to saw hello to a few MMPRC and resort friends. But this year brought the added bonus of a “meetup” with some of the TripAdvisor Maldives Forum digital comrades. Pictured above is the TA and Maldives veteran Katherine Anthony holding the two awards won by her resort Ayada – “Leading Resort in the Maldives” and “Leading Water Villa Resort in the Maldives” (big congrats “KatfromAyada” and Ayada).
Joining us were Christine Aldridge of No Shoes No News Travel and Amit Patel of Simply Maldives. We all went out for a post-show nosh-and-natter catching up on all things Maldivian. Going around the table for the resorts sharing our perspectives – between us we had visited over 130 resorts (with obviously a lot of overlap). We whipped round sharing our superlatives like which resorts surprised us the most (in a good way) – Gili Lankanfushi, Soneva Fushi, Bathala, KATH, Komandoo.
The big news of WTM was the Thumburi guest house island project. It looks like an inspired initiative to have your cake and eat it too for both guests and Maldives entrepreneurs. It provides an island and infrastructure to reduce the costs of development and required investment so smaller businesses can investi in Maldives tourism. It also provides scale, diversity and competition to provide high-quality, but value-priced properties for the middle market aspiring to enjoy Maldives paradise.
I got to connect with some new resorts – Embudhoo, Equator Village, Summer island, Sun Siyam Iru Fushi, Diamonds Athuruga and Thudufushi, Barefoot, Centara, and Ayada (obviously).
A little virtual sunshine in my week. Maybe not the palm trees and pina coladas, but I still got to bask in wonderful smiles and gregarious warmth endemic to the Maldives at least for a day.
This post has a new category tags to the blog for “WTM” as this is now the 4th instalment of Maldives presence here.
The Maldives coming to London is better than nothing (though never as good as London coming to the Maldives). The movers and shakers in the Maldives resort community have taken up residence at the Excel centre this week as a part of the World Travel Market.
Today, I had the chance to catch up with friends and supporters from across the industry including the tourism ministry, many resorts, tour operators, agencies, and other afficionadoes (like Adrian Neville). I caught up with Mohammed Elaf of the MTPB (see above) who focuses on their social marketing. I got to put another face to a TripAdvisor Maldives Forum stalwart, “Kanthony” of Conrad Rangali. I got to get some research on some of the new resorts coming on line like Velaa, Atmosphere Kanifushi and “Loama Resort Maldives at Maamigili”. I uncovered some great new “Best of the Maldives” pieces (eg. ‘island fit for an ancient king’, snow room, bamboo bicycle, turtle sanctuary, fly fishing).
The only thing missing was blinding sunshine, flour-soft sand, and an aquatic tapestry surrounding it all.
The World Travel Market 2012 concludes today with another packed stand at London’s Exel for the Maldives Tourism Ministry. Earlier in the week, I took some time to stop over and catch up with friends old (like Liz Panchang now with Quo Keen, see above left) and new (like Haydee Cruz of The Beach House and Iruveli, see above right…also photo credit to The Residence GM Thomas Barguil).
It’s always a great opportunity to meet some of the newer resorts who typically have a disproportionately high presence to get word out about their new properties. I was able to meet with Gangehi, The Residence, Jumeirah, The Beach House at Iruveli, Medhufushi, Bathala, Zithali, Constance Moofushi, Reethi Rah and Bandos.