Maldives Complete wishes you joy and happiness in the isle of paradise that can be found anytime family and friends get together.
Maldives Complete declares today, 30 July, “World Snorkeling Day”!
There is a “Day” for just about everything. Just in this blog, I have celebrated…
- Foods – Mushroom Day, Sake Day, Vegetarian Day, Coffee Day, Lobster Day
- Environment: Turtle Day, Arbor Day, Oceans Day, Earth Day
- Activity: Book Day, Poetry Day
- Work: Labor Day, Nursing Day
- People: Childrens Day, Fathers Day, Mothers Day, Ladies Day, Womens Day
- Heritage: Dhivehi Language Day, Mother Language Day
- Other: Guinness World Record Day, Groundhog Day, Valentines Day, Blonde Day, Red Nose Day, Olympic Day and of course Speak Like a Pirate Day.
And yet for the one thing in the Maldives where it stands heads and shoulders above all other destinations, there is no “Snorkeling Day”? June is SCUBA Month with its own special “Dive In Day” (11 June).
I have decided on today – July 30 – as it is the birth of the snorkel. On this day in 1932, Joseph L. Belcher patented “Belcher Breathing Apparatus”.
One detail I do need to clarify is the spelling. One L or two and I’m not talking lumps. The UK spelling is “snorkelling” and the American spelling is “snorkeling”. On this very blog, being an American relocated to England, I go back and forth between both so it is admittedly confusing.
However you spell it, today spell reef madness time so get on your fins, mask and snorkel to enjoy the underwater spectacle of the oceans.
London Fashion Week comes to a close today wrapping up a glimpse of the eye-catching styles in the season ahead. And here too at Maldives Complete, I’ve shared just a small sample of the beach beauties collected as a part of the Fashion Week research. Overall, I‘ve found nearly 200 photoshoot subjects over the past month with the help of the resorts themselves as well as my many website supporters (and more keeping coming in every day now).
I’m also a big database guy. Structured information allows for dissection and interrogation. So in addition to the Resort Room Type and Dive Site databases, I have now started a “Beauty” database with over 200 entries. Details on not just the names, provenance and resort of the highest profile and most dazzling photo shoot subjects, but also information about their Wikipedia, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles. It all makes for some intriguing analysis which I will be sharing in the coming months.
I also categorised the subjects by “profession”. Most were “Models” (obviously for photoshoots), but others we other celebrities…
- Model – 128
- Blogger – 39
- Actress – 28
- Athlete – 12
- Singer – 5
The professions a bit of an arbitrary distinction as oftentimes prominent Athletes become Models, Models become Actresses, Actresses become Bloggers, and so on. I have a few examples where the person has all five listed in their biography.
I was struck by the prominence of the “Fashion Blogger”. I had no idea there were so many out there. I had no idea they were so popular (judging by their social media numbers). You obviously need to have a little something to say to be a fashion blogger. But the two primary prerequisites seem to be (a) you need to be female (I did not come across a single male fashion blogger), and (b) you need to be attractive (I did not come across a singe fashion blogger where I thought, “well, her readers must be following her for her writing skills…”).
Knowing the resorts of the shoot and the names, my first step today was to add a picture to the standard Resort Profile of a featured photoshoot beauty (bottom right-hand corner). Of the 121 active resorts, I have at least one fashion shoot example for 73 of them.
A few highlight stats to mark the end of #LFW2015. The top of the league table is Gili Lankanfushi. Gili benefits from their hosting the Kingfisher Calendar shoots which brought a fair number of models to its beaches. But its popularity extends to all sorts including this week’s “Pirate Model”, La Carmina.
The UK led the country league table which is probably a function of the destination’s popularity among press. One of the major tabloids, The Daily Mail, runs a regular feature on celebrity holidays and regularly sends big names to various resorts in the Maldives.
The two models featured today showcase the top two resorts (Gili Lankanfushi and LUX Maldives) and the top two countries (UK and Russia) though in swapped orders (I couldn’t find examples of UK models at Gili and vice versa.
Resort League Table
- Gili Lankanfushi – 12
- LUX Maldives – 7
- Per Aquum NIYAMA – 6
- Velassaru – 6
- Anantara Veli – 6
- Taj Exotica – 5
- Huvafenfushi – 5
- Paradise Island 4
- Sun Siyam Irufushi – 4
- Four Seasons Kuda Huraa – 4
Country League Table
- United Kingdom – 22
- Russia – 16
- India – 14
- Australia – 14
- USA – 13
- South Africa – 12
- Ukraine -6
- South Korea – 5
- Italy – 5
- Denmark – 4
This week I crossed the 1000 dive site mark – 1077 to be precise. Thanks so much to the many dive centres and marine biologists who have helpful shared their knowledge and material with over the past weeks me to allow me to consolidate it into the interactive platform.
I’ve not just added material, but I’ve also enhanced a number of aspects of the interface as well. Especially if you are going to be packed with comprehensive information, you need to make it easy to navigate and access.
For example, the most common layout for dive site maps on the Internet is to number the dive sites, and then place the numbers on the map and then have a key off to the side saying which dive site is which number. If that wasn’t challenging enough to have to look up everything, the numbers aren’t laid out in any semblance of an order so you are having to hunt and peck to find the location of a specific dive site “Where’s Wally” style. The Maldives Complete maps have interactive labels, so a browser search will take you right to the dive site you are seeking amidst the constellation of choices in front of you on the atoll map.
Some of the V2 enhancements include…
- Marine Protected Areas – I’ve added all the Protected Marine Areas highlighting both their areas and dive site labels/links found in the MPAs.
- Profile Link – Version Link from Resort Profiles to Dive Site and to Dive Maps
- Drill Downs – I’ve added a number of more drill down sections in atolls where concentration of dive sites in certain areas make it too hard to distinguish them at the default zoom. In particular, there are “region” maps for…
A few more fun stats about the dive site population. First of all, here are the most common dive site “types”…
- Thila – 232
- Faru – 104
- Kandu – 92
- Giri – 67
- Reef 63
- Corner – 56
- Point – 32
- Channel – 17
- Rock – 17
- Garden – 13
- Wreck – 10
- Wall – 5
And just as there are more than one “High Street” in England, there are more than one “Kuda Giris” in the Maldives ocean. Sometimes a popular site name is found in multiple atolls, but sometimes a single atoll will have the exact same dive site name in two places (eg. “Kuda Thila” in the North Male atoll). So make sure you know which one you are going to!). The top favourite dive sites names are…
- Coral Garden – 9
- Kuda Giri – 8
- Kuda Thila – 7
- Bodu Thila – 6
- Shark Point – 5
- Aquarium – 5
- Bodu Giri – 5
My 6th Tour of the Maldives is coming up next week (stay tuned for details) and this trip should help me gather up even more material on dive sites across the Maldives, but especially in the two remote atolls I am visiting.
Announcing the Dive Sites database and *Complete* interactive guide.
When I first started Maldives Complete, it seemed like the only information available on the Maldives was for divers and honeymooners. As a result, I veered away from those topics and focused on less catered for subjects like families as well as unusual activities and offerings. I am obsessed with snorkelling and this has brought be closer to the diving domain. Increasingly, however, I am receiving more and more diving enquiries and am finding it hard and harder to find comprehensive diving information in structured, interactive resources.
The primary source for dive site information has been the hard-copy books which are extremely well done. But they add a fair bit of weight to the baggage and aren’t the easiest to navigate. As with the proliferating resorts, one of the biggest problems is being spoiled for choice. There are 100+ active resorts, but there are 10 times that number of dive sites (at least).
The main sources of research have been the following in particular (and the featured dive charts are kindly used with permission and the source is linked to in the profiles)…
- Sam Harwood and Rob Bryning’s “Complete Guide to Diving and Snorkeling the Maldives””
- Alexander von Mende’s “Diving in the Maldives: Huvadhoo – The Forgotten Atoll”
- Werner Lau’s top Diving in the Maldives
- Lonely Planet’s “Diving and Snorkeling Guide to the Maldives”
- Laamu Dive and Surf – https://laamudiveandsurf.wordpress.com/the-diving/
And after several months of research and coding (with big help from my ace assistants Emma Barnes and Grace Bolton), I have now scratched surface with a credible v.1 database with over 500 dive sites. Specifically, the new section includes…
- Number of Atolls covered – 18
- Number of Dive Sites – 552
- Number of Dive Charts – 243
Here is the number of dive sites included by Atoll…
- Baa 31
- Dhaalu 5
- Faafu 53
- Gaafu Alifu – Dhaalu 34
- Haa Alifu 33
- Laamu 14
- Lhaviyani 22
- Meemu 54
- Noonu 31
- North Ari 55
- North Male 89
- Raa 3
- Seenu 16
- South Ari 44
- South Male 45
- Thaa 1
- Vaavu 22
The exercise has also surfaced some other interested statistical tidbits about the Maldives dive sites (at least the sample set I have at hand)…
- Resort with Most Dive Sites Nearest: Filitheyo – 53. This stat is primarily down to the (a) great information from Werner Lau who operates out of Filitheyo, and (b) the fact that Filitheyo is the only resort in the entire Faafu atoll so it pretty much has the atoll to itself.
- Most Common Dive Site Name : “Kuda Giri” – 6. You will see that sometimes I parenthetically appended the atoll name to the dive site name. This was done to make the site name unique since multiple dive sites used the same name.
- Most Common First name: “Bodu” – 13.
- Common Type (eg. “Thila”, “Kandu”, “Corner”): “Thila” – 112.
- Longest Name: “Kanandhou Kaleyge Galha” – 23 letters.
Right now the profiles are quite basic. They include…
- Dive chart (where available)
- Nearest resort
- Alternative name(s)
- Features (eg. cave, wreck, creatures)
All of the material is far from perfect.
- Polish – Not all of the graphics are perfectly aligned/sized/etc. Some people look down their noses at Maldives Complete’s rough hewn design. It stands in stark contrast to the slick (and all too often useless) websites of many resorts. I’ve resisted exhortations to “polish” the site with a glossy look and feel. I have neither the money nor the graphics ability to do so really. Furthermore, I have bit of aesthetic preference for the simpler layout and style. I prefer to think of it as “artisinal”. J
- Precision – I toiled for a long time at the outset about the degree of granularity to have in the interactive map. Zoom in and you can’t get a sense of everything at an easy glance. Zoom out and you can’t get precision or a sense of the surrounding area. I think I got the balance right in the end, but if anything I ended up sacrificing precise placement of dive flags for ease of at-a-glance navigation. You can drill into very close-up looks at the dive areas and their topology using the British Admiralty map DeepZoom feature of the site.
- Completeness – Help me! My aspiration is *complete* and I am aware that I have rippled the surface of dive sites and information about them. If you would like me to add a dive site or materials about one already included, please contact me.
I may extend the profiles to more information if (a) there is demand from website visitors, and (b) there is help from local resources to supply the information.
Which brings me to the final points. I have a number of principles that guided the development of Maldives Complete, and those have led me to not just adding dive site information, but *how* I added it…
UNIQUE – First principle of Maldives Complete is to only add data and functionality you can’t get elsewhere. I follow Seth Godin’s marketing precept, ‘Don’t be the best one, be the only one.’ If someone else has the information or material, then best just to point to that rather than add a “me too” capability (and the profiles point directly the top dive resources on the web to help people find more detail about those dive sites at the web sites that focus in on them).
The interface for the material is a uniquely interactive map of every atoll. The other dive maps (eg. MondoMaldive, Maldives.at, Werner Lau) don’t cover ALL the atolls. They cover about a half dozen atolls. Maldives COMPLETE has 18 of the 22 main atolls (and I will be doing research to get dive site locations for the other 4 over the next few months).
Also, the existing dive site maps use a numbering key which means that you have to reference the name at the bottom which is all a bit cumbersome.
I’ve also based the catalogue on the British Admiralty Maps which provide comprehensive topological information and a range of depth measurements. All of the other maps are a simplified atoll layout just showing the islands. The maps also have the added advantage of being consistent with the longstanding Maldives Complete feature of the “Deep Zoom” map which allows people to examine certain areas with great clarity and detail.
UTILITY – For everything I add to the website I ask, “Is it useful?” As a result, I didn’t add a number of pieces to the Dive Site information that I could have. For example, I have passed on…
- Pictures – Some dive site guides have pictures taken from the sites. But frankly, they are all close-ups of various fish and features that could be anywhere.
- Depths – Frankly, the vast majority of the Maldives dive sites are all between 5-10 meters going down to around 20 meters. It didn’t seem worth the effort to catalogue the minor variations and few exceptions. Star rating
- Ratings – These vary but include overall quality of dive, sometimes a special rating for snorkeling, or sometimes a difficulty rating.
USER-SUPPORTED – The best part about Maldives Complete is the extensive support I get from fans around the world you appreciate it and help plug gaps in data and information. A good chunk of my “Best of the Maldives” features are nominated by readers and most of the few percent of pictures I am missed are supplied by guest. I am hoping that dive centres, marine biologists and supportive guests will help me build the catalogue especially with the addition of dive charts.
(I guess one could say that it’s all about yoU !)
Maldives Complete’s sexennial…6 years on and even more complete than ever. Well, a 0.1% more complete (from 98.4% last year to 98.5% this year). The challenge is the new resorts coming online. While I am able to track down missing material for some longer standing resorts, new resorts opening presents a whole new slate of things I need to find for a complete profile.
I am once again marking the milestone in true business review fashion with a look at a Harpers Index sampling of stats which tell its progress…
- Resort Numbers – Despite a surge of newly announced resorts, the number of active resorts has stayed stable with as many resorts going out of commission for refurb as came on line.
- Room Types – Big surge in .
- Best of the Maldives – Resort with most Best Of’s Published – One & Only Reethi Rah 30 (2013 = LUX Maldives 30). Resort with most Best Of’s Drafted – Soneva Fushi 69 (2013 = One & Only Reethi Rah 55).
- Visitors – The top search terms are specific names of resorts (“Kurumba” – especially “day trip to Kurumba” and “Amilla Fushi” top the list), but topical searches have once again risen to the top such as “bed decoration” and “best house reef in the Maldives”.
This year has not seen any particularly significant new features or addtions to the site. I have focused on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for once to make it easier for people to find the website. I get lots of emails of people saying “Thank goodness I finally found your website.” The money at stake for expensive Maldives holidays mean that lots of travel sites invest heavily to appear at the top of search results crowding out smaller sites like Maldives Complete with less money to spend on such techniques. I’ve cleaned up a few fundamentals like proper tagging and the like, but the biggest impact on ranking are inbound links. So if ay fans of the site out there want to help out, if they can arrange any links to MaldivesComplete.com, that would be the most gratefully received contribution. I’ve also cleaned up a few cosmetic details (cross-browser font compatibility especially on Mac browsers has been a headache).
As it happens, I have a number of exciting bigger developments in the works for 2015…
- Turtle Database collaboration with MarineSavers at Four Seasons.
- Dive Site Database
- Snorkel Safari Treasure Hunt (!)
Tour 5 At-a-Glance…
- 10 islands
- 3 atolls
- 5 new Resort Profile pix
- 74 new Room Type Profile pix
- 143 ‘Best of the Maldives” pieces
- 2 ideas for Maldives Complete website enhancements
- 19 Snorkel Spottings
- 34 pages of notes
- 5 dives
- 4 spa treatments
- 11 pina coladas
A few over-arching observations from my latest tour. The “super premiums” (5+ stars) just keep coming with new distinctions and new options for style and luxury. But you can still find fine value resorts that won’t break the bank (eg. Royal, Chaaya Island Dhonveli). The development of new atolls opens up new exciting new discoveries both on land and underwater. Some other observations include…
- Gaafu Alifu – Is Gaafu Alifu a rival to the South Ari Atoll’s crown for best diving and snorkeling? South Ari has the whale shark allure, but the dolphins of Gaafu Alifu are also thrilling and a lot more prevalent and predictable. We saw dolphins every day of our trip to Gaafu Alifu including a pod of dozens and a family of three who visited us during a dive (wow!).
- Chinese – The rise of the Chinese visitors to the Maldives is well documented, and some of stereotypes about them have made some prospective guests apprehensive about resorts popular with the Chinese.
- Everywhere – First of all, the prevalence of this group is not isolated to certain resorts, but is pretty extensive across the Maldives. The Chinese love this place. There are lots of affluent Chinese these days and the Maldives is a lot closer to China (6 hour plane trip) than to Europe. There was not a resort we visited where Chinese visitors were not prominent.
- Fine Behaviour – Given the stereotypes, I paid particular attention to their behaviour. And instead of confirmation bias, I found quite the opposite. The Chinese behaved identically to every other nationality. I’m sure people can point to instances of bad behaviour by Chinese, but I have witnessed bad behaviour in the Maldives by absolutely every nationality. There are acknowledged cultural weaknesses with their swimming (many Chinese don’t learn to swim), but resorts have adapted to that with better communication, education and safety approaches for these guests.
- Departure Tax – Maldives recently re-introduced a departure tax. Maldives veterans will remember a period back when you had to keep a certain amount of dollars cash on hand to pay this fee at the airport when you left. While there were rumours circulating they were re-introducing this system, they appear to have mostly incorporated it into flight charges in your plane ticket. When we left, there was no sign of any departure tax collection.
These trips are also a focusing lens which inspires ideas on how I can improve the website. I spend a lot of my time during the tours talking to fans of the site and hearing their feedback and questions. This year, I have come home with the following plans…
- House Reef Profiles – Maldives Complete has long been the only site with house reef information, but that was limited to a very crude grading. I have long been torn on how to provide a richer perspective. House reefs are quite diverse with a number of characteristics which affect their enjoyment. Also, a number of resorts have weak “house reefs”, but have some impressive coral in their “lagoons”. Mulling over the issue while snorkelling off Soneva Fushi I came upon the solution – a House Reef Profile. I am going to do a whole house reef profile page with information such as the following…
- Regeneration efforts (y/n)
- Drop Off Coral rating
- Lagoon Coral rating
- YouTube Link (lots of YouTube vids now thanks to GoPro)
- Snorkel Spottings (total number, most recent, and most prominent)
- Residents (critters renowned for regular appearances in predictable places)
- Distance to Drop Off (metres)
- Dive Center email address
- Marine Biologist email address
- Design Refresh – My niece Katrina, a design student at Cornell, had been urging me to update the look and feel of the site with a fresher and more modern layout. Enough people have felt that a bit of spiffing up would be a boost to its appeal and popularity. I had considered changes in this area but have always been hesitant for a couple of reasons…
- Skill – I’m not a professional web site designer and working up the expertise to make some of the changes would be a fair amount of effort.
- Difficulty – Most of the site is focused on utilitarian functionality which has some pretty sophisticated code behind it and moving that around it not super easy.
- Platform – I built the site back in my days at Microsoft and like a good corporate citizen, I used the portfolio of Microsoft tools. As has become pretty apparent, Microsoft ended up not faring so well in the online space and so many of those tools have obsolesced (eg. Community Server, DeepZoom, Silverlight) and been surpassed by superior tools (eg. WordPress, HTML5). Moving the complex functionality not to mention the extensive database of archived material is not a trivial task.
- Artisinal – Finally, I kind of like the simplistic look of the site. It has a sort of artisanal charm that sets it apart from the ubiquitous and uniform glossy travel sites.
Until next time (can’t wait)!
Tour #5 begins. I’ve set off on my 5th tour, our 13th trip to the Maldives overall. After this tour, we will have visited 55 resorts in total. The focus of this journey across paradise is the Gaafu Alifu (first time) as well as Baa atoll (we have toured here before but there are a number of new resorts as well as a couple we missed last time).
Gaafu Alifu, it turns out, is the world’s largest atoll. It has really come to life in recent years with a number of premium resort developments. It is known to have dive sites that rival the famous Ari atoll. It is also primarily accesses via a domestic flight (instead of a seaplane or speedboat). Some people are put off by seaplanes – they are very noisy and they are smaller which can make people ancy about flying more uneasy. Unfortunately, seeing the Maldives from above, with this mottled tapestry of blues and greens is one of the great thrills of any visit. If a more conventional flying machine makes this part of one’s journey a bit more enjoyable, then a domestic flight with a more ‘conventional’ aircraft might be just the thing. It is a full 48 seater turbo-prop. It flies a bit higher altitude than a seaplane, but you still a treated to a spectacular view of the Maldives seascape.
When I arrived, I spent my first day in Male catching up with a number of Maldivians who have been very helpful supporters of my work. I pitched up at the best “remote office” in the world at Traders Hotel with penthouse suite view, delicious food and drink, and a spa to freshen up before my meetings. I’ve yet to try the rooftop pool, though definitely on the Maldives bucket list.
I met with my longest standing industry supporter, Aminath Hudha who is working for a resort broker. She reports that business is strong across all areas (making her life very busy). I also met with people at the Ministry of Tourism who are enthusiastic about the site (so much so that they stayed quite late for our meeting on a Ramadan day when government offices shut at 2:00 pm).
Ramadan greetings, Maldives.
Environment Day today is a time for everyone to reflect on what they can do to help the environment. The good news is that help might be as simple as many folks’ favourite activity – posting pix on social media.
According to an NBC piece “Social Media Could Help Save Species on the Verge of Extinction”…
“While an untold number of butt selfies and pictures of food are posted on social networks daily, people are also snapping images of birds, flowers, and other creatures that can help researchers who keep a close eye on flora and fauna at the tipping point.”
The stream of data helps scientists map where the world's endangered species are and where they need to be conserved, said Stuart Pimm, a conservation ecologist at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and the lead author of a new paper on the decline of global biodiversity.
Maldives Complete’s Snorkel Spotter was always envisioned as a sort of social app for sharing snorkel experiences. Sort of a “FourSquare for Fish”. But I always speculated if it might be a tool for marine biologists. As it happens, an increasing number of environmentalists are using similar apps for conservation initiatives.
Florida in the USA is actually facing an invasion of a fish that are one of the more colourful sightings in the Maldives – lion fish. Unfortunatey, they are not native there are have no know predators meaning they are seriously throwing the marine ecosystem out of balance. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have developed a “Report Lionfish” app (or people without smartphones or tablets can report on their website).
So if you see something really unusual (meaning it might be a relatively rare species), do try to post it up on Snorkel Spotter with the time and house reef location and maybe it will help the resort’s marine biologist in their understanding of the marine life around them.
Resorts aren’t the only ones with refurb disruptions.
You might have noticed a few website difficulties in the past week. After half a decade with hoster Aquest Solutions, they have decided to close their doors. When the announcement came through to me the end of last month, my heart sunk. Aquest have been instrumental in building MaldiveComplete over the past decade. Their technical support has been excellent and they patiently helped when I too often got in over my head with some of my technical ambitions.
I started MaldivesComplete while at Microsoft and one of my motivations in the undertaking was to get my hands dirty with technology again. I started my career on the technical and development side, but in recent years moved more to sales and marketing. I missed working on the inards of computer systems to get them to do wacky and clever things and the new web technologies were too fascinating to not have a play with. I got a chance to work hands-on with a range of new things in the Microsoft stable such as Visual Studio, Silverlight, Community Server, ASP.net, DeepZoom, Bing maps, and Expression.
Unfortunately, Microsoft technology hasn’t risen to the same prominence on the Internet as it has on the desktop. And platform choices I made (eg. Silverlight, Community Server, DeepZoom) have not taken off making it a bit challenging to support at this point.
Fortunately, DotNetPark has comes to our rescue. They offer comprehensive applications hosting services with all of the technology platforms and expertise I needed. When I first found out about the impending migration, I did a fair amount of research first, and they were by far the most comprehensive and prompt in their assistance. Thanks to their professionalism and help, the whole site has more or less moved over just this week. You might have encountered a few error messages and even possible bounced email, but they should have been minimal.
Normal service is not yet fully resumed. We are still troubleshooting a bug which is keeping pictures from rendering in new posts (which I discovered on my first post on the new platform). Also, the Snorkel Spotter is not yet working properly). Hopefully, these will be sorted out very quickly.
As a result of all of the work invested in March on the migration, new posts and profile updates have been limited. Hopefully, once these final niggles will be sorted out this week normal service can resume.
Thank you for your patience.