Once a Journalist

Togo journalist

  • Once a priest, always a priest; once a mason, always a mason; but once a journalist, always and forever a journalist.” – Rudyard Kipling

Journalism Day today which reminded me of the earliest roots to Maldives Complete…my lifelong avocation in journalistic writing. I embarked on a life of “journalism” in elementary school penning a weekly newsletter for the youth programme at church called “Juice Man”. I then started and edited my high school’s first page in the local paper (the “Ramblin’ Clam” in the Ipswich Chronicle). My first “professional” journalism gig was as an overseas correspondent focusing on travel writing about the West African country of Togo. The Maldives Complete’s interactive database stems from my similarly long technology, but the now 2400+ article blog stems from this life of reporting intriguing stories about intriguing places.

Why Do I Tour in the First Place?

Tour 2023 map

This was my most difficult tour yet. In fact, research trips have gotten more and more challenging in recent years. Primarily driven by the scourge of “influencers”, but lots of other variables as well. With zero revenue for the Maldives Complete website, the cost of research is high in the best of times. If I am paying full rack rates (as well as lots of extra and expensive transfers) for the privilege of spending 24 hours running around to get content and promote the destination and resort, then the cost-benefit equation for all the work I do year-round tends to be questionable. Part of the motivation was the enthusiastic greetings and often special support and consideration given to my visit.

With American Labor Day weekend upon us, I reflected on tis labor of love enterprise and the changes from when I started Maldives Complete in 2009 and now 14 years later. It is a lens to how the industry has changed in 14 years:

  • Resort Organisation:
    • Before: Most resorts were local with limited marketing resources who welcomed any assistance.
    • Today: Most resorts are international with big corporate marketing departments in some remote country
  • Web
    • Before: When I started, the resort websites were very basic and there was a thirst for my content creation.
    • Today: Maldives content is commoditised with every guest cranking out material in Instagram and TripAdvisor posts.
  • Ministry of Tourism
    • Before: The MMPRC embraced the Maldives Complete site and helped me extensively to get materials. The destination was a bit of lesser-known niche sun-spot for Europeans.
    • Today: They don’t return emails now that they have been turned into a global bucket-list destination with the lifestyle porn abounding on social media.
  • Industry
    • Before: The tourism industry was relatively small and there was a close-knit community of people involved with it who all helped each other out.
    • Today: The sector is several times larger and mostly corporatised by remote bureaucrats.
  • Price Points
    • Before: Starting as a dive destination with basic accommodation, the Maldives resorts started going mostly into mid-market properties with a few luxury properties sprinkled amongst.
    • Today:  Now the majority are luxury (if you have a limited amount of real estate, get the most you can for each square metre) and many are super-luxury. As a result, even with industry rates, the costs of a visit are huge (not problem for operators who can just write it off, but a direct expense to me).
  • Transience
    • Before: Long-term players were prevalent…people who embraced the destination for extended periods allowing relationships to form.
    • Today: Short-stint secondments by corporate staff are more prevalent making supportive relationships harder to nurture.
  • Atoll Logistics
    • Before: I used to choose an atoll each year to fly to and then island hop around fairly easily.
    • Today: Having been to every major atoll, fashioning an itinerary of resorts involves longer, complicated, more expensive transfers to get to the far-flung outliers I have so far missed.

The question remains, “In the Digital Age, is there any need for in-person visits to the Maldives to research the website?” The question is no unlike the one circulating the post-COVID corporate executive suites about how important face-to-face time is and how much companies should encourage if not force staff to return to the workplace. I have always held (for over a decade) that remote working is not an “either-or” question, but a “how much” question dependent on the dynamics of the job(s) to be done. And similarly. Keeping Maldives Complete…well…”complete”, requires a non-zero amount of time on the ground at the destination.

The benefits boil down to three key areas (which are pretty similar for any remote working):

· Relationships – One of the top arguments for spending SOME time together in the remote working is relationship building. In my work environment, I always try to meet someone face-to-face even if most of our interaction will be remote. Establishing that initial introduction and rapport facilitates the teleconferencing interaction, but cannot be effectively achieved by it. In many cases, I end up with more material from the resort after the visit than during it. The reason is because having been there and gotten to know the (right) staff, they understand me better and are more responsive and effective in forwarding me useful material for the site.

· First-Hand – The terabytes of information are great for basic research, but there is just no substitute for seeing the whole property, in context of both the surroundings and the minute details often overlooked or not visible in the countless pictures. Especially as Maldives Complete’s blog often focusses on the unique and distinctive, those features can be hard to search for online when buried under a mountain of the same old pictures of palm trees and blue vistas.

· Serendipity – The final benefit to “getting over there” is the sheer serendipity that happens when you are in the thick of things. Bumping into people you know (in fact, I created a “Crossing Paths” tag in the blog to mark these occasions) or other interesting staff or guests who just happen to be around.

Actually, one of the books I brought and read on this trip is a travelog about the Maldives: “Gatecrashing Paradise” (stay tuned for post about it) which included a fine quote from travel writer Paul Theroux justifying the need for re-visiting in this digital age:

  • “If the Internet were everything it is cracked up to be, we would all stay at home and be brilliantly insightful. Yet with so much contractor information available, there is more reason to travel than ever before: to look closer, to dig deeper, to sort the authentic from the fake, to verify, to smell, to touch, to taste, to hear, and sometimes – importantly – suffer the effects of curiosity.”

I’ll keep pushing forward trying to see as much of the new Maldives as possible (I think I have seen all but a handful of the resorts that were around when I first started the website).

Practice Any Art

Vonnegut advice

Every Maldives Tour is probably the most stirring reminder of the year of why I invest so much time, effort and money into the Maldives Complete website. As it happens, en route this time I was catching up on a bit of reading which included a piece by Esquire magazine on a letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote to his students. He tells them to “practice any art…” and that is what I am doing with Maldives Complete. From blog writing, to coding, to all the other creative activities that go into the content of the site.

During my visit with Sun Siyam Iru Veli, their digital marketing manager described how they segmented the people the resort supports during their visits – celebrities, influencers, and content creators. While I have a bit of a profile in the niche arena of Maldives tourism, and the site influences research guests and operators, he said that my real value was content creation. I guess I never really thought of my role in such a clear manner, but it makes sense in light of my motivations which abide by Vonnegut’s wise advice.

Generative Hobbies

Maldives Complete generative hobbies

So why am I going full speed ahead into year 15? People continue to be surprised that I don’t make a penny out of Maldives Complete…it is one big, expensive hobby for all intents and purposes. That might sound dismissive, but Seth Godin thankfully has a more eloquent perspective on it:

  • “Some people say “hobby” like it’s a bad thing. In a race for more, it seems as though doing something you don’t get paid for, something that requires patience and skill–well, some people don’t get it…A generation or two ago, hobbies were things like paint by number or candlemaking, or perhaps a woodshop. That’s changing. Not simply because computers allow us to be far more professional, but because the very nature of the output is different. This might be the golden age for a new kind of hobby, one that’s about community, leadership and producing public goods, not private ones. Because it’s so much easier to connect and because ideas multiply, the generative hobby gives us a chance to make a contribution, even (especially) when we’re not at work. Sharing ideas, leading, connecting. Perhaps “generative contribution” is a better name for it.”

Other examples of such hobbies are Wikipedia and Github. in fact, I’ve often thought of Maldives Complete as an interactive Resortipedia for the Maldives. Even the blog posts are mostly constructed to be used as referenceable info as opposed to timely broadcasts.

The Paradise of Writing

Soneva Jani working

Why do I do it” remains the second most frequently asked question about Maldives Complete. When people, especially in industry, discover the site you can see their minds whirring looking for the hitch and trying to figure out where I get my return. As I have discussed numerous times, the site is one big expensive hobby whose many dividends are non-monetary. One I wanted to write about today was the dividend of ‘writing’ itself. And not surprisingly, some of the best articulation come from one of my favourite writers, Seth Godin:

  • “And a huge advantage of having a daily blog is that the software is always open, waiting for you to write something. Your story doesn’t have to be a book, it is simply your chance to make a difference.” – A Place to Write
  • “Even if no one but you reads it. The blog you write each day is the blog you need the most. It’s a compass and a mirror, a chance to put a stake in the ground and refine your thoughts.” – The most important blog post

Finally, I came across this inspired passage from Huit Denim’s company newsletter (thanks Steve) which reflected similar dividends from the process of writing (I especially like the “gym for your mind”).

Writing is thinking.
Writing is a gymnasium for ideas.
Write to learn how to make a good talk great.
Write to learn how to make the complex simple.
Write to learn how to convey a big idea in the fewest words.
Write to learn how to separate the important details of your argument from the noise.
Clear thinking is a genuine superpower.
And here is the best thing, with practice, you get better at it.
The keyboard is a gym for your mind.
Go often.

Write Every Day of Your Life

writing every day

  • Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens.”— Ray Bradbury

A dozen years of researching and writing about the Maldives here and still the second most common question I get is “Why do you do it?” I make no money (no ads, no sponsorship, no selling). In fact, the whole venture costs me more than several trips to the Maldives for fun with the hosting and other expenses of keeping the site maintained. It is an expensive hobby. But one that comes with more dividends than just digital escapism (from the often dank climes of the British Isles) and fan boy entertainment. I especially appreciate the comment by Bradbury of “see what happens” as the whole Maldives Complete odyssey has been packed with serendipity and the adventure of otherwise unlikely opportunities and interactions arising. And finally, The whole experience of exploring, delving and processing is one which exercises my curiosity, creativity and critical thinking:

  • We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.” – E. O. Wilson


Mind Full of Maldives

Maldives meditation

World Meditation Day today. And as usual, I will be meditating on thoughts of the Maldives. Until lockdown and travel restrictions, such ruminations might be the only way to transport myself back to this paradise.

In fact, the daily practice of working on and refining Maldives Complete is form of this “meditation” according to Maia Gambis’ “Why making art is the new meditation”:

  • Creating art is a type of meditation, an active training of the mind that increase awareness and emphasizes acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment and relaxation of body and mind… Creativity is its own language and enables humans to connect with one another — and themselves — on a non-verbal level.”

I would say that goes for virtually any creative act. You get so immersed that you look up and hours have flown by. Exploring pictures and stories, assembling them together digitally to portray glimpses of this mystical destination is my art form.

Dilbert meditatiob

Why I Write

Bruce Tour commuting

Eleven years and going strong. Still the second most frequently asked question I get is “Why do you do it?” (or you could say, “Why do I KEEP doing it?” It’s a big expense with no income. Well, George Orwell penned a piece “Why I Write” (thanks Isley) which highlighted a number of points which I think do apply to my 2000+ post (and going) writing…

  • Sheer egoismDesire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, wilful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.
  • Aesthetic enthusiasmPerception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.
  • Historical impulseDesire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

Why Do I Do It…Every Day

working on MC

“And whatever you spend in good, it will be repaid to you in full, and you shall not be wronged.” (Quran 2:272)

Most every anniversary of the website, I do another instalment of the “Why Do I Do It” (the second most frequently asked question I get) series. Once again, Seth Godin has captured another dimension to this expensive hobby which contributes to my daily drive to uncover the latest information and draft up hopefully helpful perspectives…

  • “Is there something you do every day that builds an asset for you? Every single day? Something that creates another bit of intellectual property that belongs to you? Something that makes an asset you own more valuable? Something that you learn? Every single day is a lot of days. It’s easy to look at the long run and lull yourself into skipping a day now and then. But the long run is made up of short runs.” – Seth Godin “The Daily

Maldives Complete is my daily dose of sunshine, my periodic prescription of paradise.

Sharing Daily…It’s Worth It

Seth Godin - maldives beach

Happy Birthday to Seth Godin. Seth is of my inspirations to the wide range of blogging that I do, the most prominent of which is Maldives Complete here. These days you can’t swing a palm frond without hitting a blogger (especially in the Maldives), but when I started in 2009, the whole medium was quite novel. Seth was one of the first to embrace and extoll the platform and provided lots of tip and insights both explicitly and through example of his own work.

  • This is post 7,000” – “The secret to writing a daily blog is to write every day. And to queue it up and blog it. There is no other secret…The discipline of sharing something daily is priceless. Sometimes there are typos. I hope that they’re rare and I try to fix them. Over time, the blog adds up. People remember a blog post a year after I wrote it. Or they begin a practice, take an action, make a connection, something that grows over time. The blog resonates with people in so many fields, it’s thrilling to see how it can provoke positive action. It’s true that I’d write this blog even if no one read it, but I want to thank you for reading it, for being here day after day. It’s more fun that way.”
  • Susdat” – “Writer’s block is a myth, a recent invention, a cultural malady. More important than the output, though, is the act itself. The act of doing it every day. When you commit to a practice, you will certainly have days when you don’t feel like it, when you believe it’s not your best work, when the muse deserts you. But, when you keep your commitment, the muse returns. When you keep your commitment, the work happens. It doesn’t matter if anyone reads it, buys it, sponsors it or shares it. It matters that you show up. Show up, sit down and type.”
  • Gaztelugatxe – “There’s an island off the coast of Spain that houses a church. The church has 230 steps to the top, and it’s said that it’s worth the climb. What a great expression. Gaztelugatxe can now mean, ‘it’s a lot of steps, but worth it.’ The opposite of fast and easy but worthless.”

The first two posts referenced above talk about ‘daily practice’ and while I may not post every day, I would say that I do something on Maldives Complete every day – respond to emails, update date, investigate leads, research pieces, etc.  His thoughts help to express the answer to the 2nd most frequently asked question that I get (the first being “What is the best resort”), and that is “Why do you do Maldives Complete?”.