Maldives welcomed slightly under 1.5 million visitors in 2018, an increase of 6.8 per cent over last year. The Middle East only accounted for four per cent of these arrival numbers.
Meanwhile, total bed nights clocked in neared 9.5 million, as accommodation capacity increased by 8.7 per cent over 2017. Last year saw a 28 per cent increase in hotel beds and 17 per cent increase in guest houses, while average occupancy actually went up (albeit by one per cent) to 62.1 per cent. Needless to say, the archipelago of Maldives is not wanting in visitor numbers or bed capacity.
“The moment you step into Maldives, it is all about competition,” Stephane Laguette, newly appointed senior vice-president of sales and marketing for Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts, tells TTN in an exclusive interview. “There is a lot of good product out here, and new properties opening up at the same time too.”
Atmosphere Hotel & Resorts currently operates luxury all-inclusive resort OZEN in the South Malé Atoll, Atmosphere Kanifushi positioned as a premium all-inclusive entry-level five-star resort, OBLU by Atmosphere in the North Malé Atoll, which is a four-star superior resort, and OBLU SELECT at Sangeli, a four-star deluxe resort in the North-Western tip of Malé Atoll.
The group has plans to operate a fifth property – yet to be named but operating under the by Atmosphere brand – starting this September. “This hotel will be very Maldivian in spirit and will be located in the North Malé Atoll close to OBLU by Atmosphere. It will be all about overwater and beach bungalows.”
Perhaps lesser known is that the holding group of Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts also owns Jumeirah Vittaveli, a brand, no doubt, our region is more familiar with.
But Laguette has confident plans to change that by ensuring that the market is fully aware of Atmosphere’s product portfolio in two or three years’ time. “We as a brand have never really pushed ourselves in the Gulf countries but now we have firm plans in place to be part of the Maldives delegation at Arabian Travel market this year. We have already made two trips to the region and are actively working to pursue guests from the Gulf.
“We are aware that there are two markets in the Gulf - the locals and the expats, and their demands are quite different. The good thing about us is that we don’t do just five-stars and five-star plus but also four-star, so we can cater to everybody. We cannot ignore a market that is a four-hour flight journey.
“Also, we will open two hotels this year and next year, we have four hotels in the pipeline.”
Statistics from Ministry of Tourism of Maldives show that the summer months of May and June are the lowest in occupancy, and the Gulf markets will no doubt help fill this gap.
With three flights daily from Dubai, two flights from Doha, a couple from Abu Dhabi, two from Saudi Arabia and one from Oman, we enjoy unrivalled connectivity from the region,” he quips. “You can even swim from Oman to the Maldives, just as long as you go south with the current,” jokes the Frenchman.
Every product experience within the Atmosphere Hotels & Resorts portfolio strives to achieve five fundamentals, which are common throughout. Offering genuine value-for-money, best in class holiday experience, affordable and quality brands, with a complete and enchanting local experience – along with the Joy of Giving.
Tying in with the joy of giving is their unique all-inclusive concept, which is “not just about bed and breakfast – the spa is included, the excursions are included, you practically have access to everything in the resort," says Laguette.
“We offer all-inclusive in the truest sense of the term, but since the label is overused by hotels that don’t necessarily deliver on the promise, I do not like the term ‘all-inclusive’ – we would like to call our offering a ‘plan’ and we have a few distinct plans to differentiate our products from other so called ‘all-inclusive’ hotels out there.
“We have the Serenity Plan, Island Plan, Platinum Plus Plan – because we do not believe in one-size-fits-all.
“If someone does not have alcoholic beverages at all due to personal or religious reasons, we are willing to work on something for them, such as provide them with extra spa treatments. We are open to talks with travel agents and tour operators about this," he explains.
“At the end of the day, it will really depend on trust, as we do not require our guests to wear bracelets, we don’t ask for their room numbers when they order something – guests don’t have to sign anywhere to be served."
“We have an underwater restaurant, which is part of the plan and you don’t have to pay anything extra to dine in it. It is a la carte like most of our restaurants. In OZEN, rooms even have mini cellars for housing your bubbles and grape beverage, not mini bars. We have ice cream in our rooms."
“What’s unique is that nearly 80 per cent of our guests check out with a zero-dollar bill."
“We are changing the approach completely and offering something different from what is available in the Maldives. Even opening the mini bar in some of the other hotels out there comes with a price tag of $10, with us, it is all part of the plan,” he says with a smile.
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