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Travel Trends for Maldives in 2012

After the success of last year’s ‘2011 travel trends for Maldives’ article that received positive feedback and appreciation from industry peers and various stakeholders – it is my pleasure to write something about ‘twenty-twelve’… even though admittedly I do find the task a little daunting.

Like last year, I spent much of this year in research – reading magazines, traditional newspaper publications, talking to colleagues over the phone on their feedback from the industry, attending a few travel trends seminars at the World Travel Market last November, and most of all… reading online.

It is always a good feeling knowing the answers and seeing the majority of predictions made last year turn out to be true.

2012 is set to be an exciting year with many various major events happening around the globe such as the Summer Olympics in London, World Expo in Korea, the centennial of the Titanic sinking, the elections in the United States, Russia, India, and France – all of which could have an impact on travel and tourism.

Inbound travel into Maldives in 2011 was impressive – with an estimated figure of over 900,000 tourists arriving last year. Mainly Asia Pacific dominated the market with over 40% growth coming from this market compared to 2010. Europe was estimated at 7% growth, Africa 14%, the Americas 26%, and the Middle East 25% growth compared to 2010.

2012 will be the landmark year in Maldivian tourism – not because it will be the 40th anniversary of the Maldives tourism industry, but because it is the year Maldives will hit seven figures in tourist arrivals… finally achieving the big ONE MILLION.

This year Russian and CIS countries are expected to make a rebound – with figures set to increase rapidly with the opening of more charter flights and connections. China will remain the dominant market and the fastest growing market with a forecasted growth of 25-40% expected. From Western Europe we will see Germany and Belgium continuing to grow given the robustness of their economies.

From Asia, Japan and Korea might start to show a slow recovery given the decline in arrivals in 2011/2010… the same goes for Italy, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Greece given the economic climate in these countries. There is less promise of growth in long haul travel unless something dramatically happens to speed up the world economic recovery or the strengthening of the Euro.

KPMG, one of the largest business and financial advisors in the world, advises tour operators to ensure that they are looking closely at the underlying economic cycle, changing customer demographics, current business plans and seasonality of cash flow to make sure that they have the full picture of risk in their business. KPMG warns 2012 could be a make or break year for tour operators. The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) believes that travel agents are set to bounce back in 2012 – given the completely erratic nature of recent years: from the snow storms to volcanic ash, to worldwide civil unrest… customers are definitely more in tune for the need for travel agents.

If there is something to be on the lookout for in 2012 it will be ‘M-commerce’, and the rapid advancements in travel technology. The expansion and boom of Apple’s iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads, Google’s Android operating system, and Microsoft’s new Windows Phone marketplace opens up a whole new world. Mobile travel apps ranging from city guides to fully fledged instant booking systems are now available 24/7 inside the pockets of consumers.

Consumers booking online will be another top trend. Maldives hotels will heavily switch to the online channels. Potential and existing clients are becoming tech-savvy experts. They know what they want, and are far more capable in looking for it… easily accessing information about hotels through digital tools. The influence of User Generated Content (UCG) such as consumer reviews, comments or ratings will also play a more vital role and its integration with online booking sites will also be another top trend. The key priority is to be on top of the latest online tools and aggressively develop digital services and presence: from mobile apps to E-Marketing, to loyalty programs.

Social Media creates opportunities never envisioned before. It influences how you are positioned on Google, your reputation can be damaged or enhanced within a blink of an eye, social commerce is coming, and all this is going mobile and will happen electronically in real-time. It is a revolution for the hotel industry, and it is just the beginning. As a company you have to wonder how much to invest and how to invest. The Return on Investment is still not clear, and there is a risk on spending too much on something that might be worthless.

Spas are becoming important to both the leisure and business traveller. Nowadays, they are a necessity rather than a luxury, just as a health and fitness club is today, as more people seem to be looking seriously at their personal health and well-being. The recent controversy in Maldives has put a spotlight on this area and we believe that this market will expand and grow further.

Growth of the mid-market will be important trend as well. In light of the economic instability in Europe, I think value added packages will once again become very attractive. This instability will help grow another trend – guest houses and mid-market hotels which will expand throughout the region in 2012. This will be most visible to the consumer with the emergence of clearly defined mid-market hotel chain brands.

Rounding out the most important travel trends for 2012 is the very short lead time of the advanced booking. This can be attributed to customer’s growing expectations of a modern and connected 21st Century, and the availability of airline capacity to specific destinations… which in turn relaxes customer urgency for an advanced booking and allows guests the opportunity to search at the last minute for bargains. Guests are looking for added-value and in terms of preferences and behaviour patterns, travellers are still taking vacations and travelling widely but they demand ‘that little bit extra’ more than ever. They are still looking for quality of service and personalized experiences but added value is a key factor while selecting their accommodation.

Overall, 2012 is a year of great expectations on the holiday front for Maldives… keep your fingers crossed.

A. G.

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