Maldives now also looks to mid-market Indian travellers

Maldives: This nation of 1,192 islands on the Indian Ocean is banking on better air connectivity with India to attract the mid-market visitors from the country even as global hotel chains are banking on brand loyalty to woo customers.

"We are looking to change a perception in India that the Maldives is a luxury destination," Minister of State for Tourism Thoyyid Mohamed told reporters, sharing the importance his government attaches to Indian tourists, the fourth-strongest market for the country.

"We are now targeting the mid-market segment and hope that by the end of the year more Indians will start to head for the Maldives as more direct air flights take off," the minister said, adding May to December were the months best to visit the Maldives.

The government is also focussing on the Southern Atolls on this mission.

Figures speak for themselves. Despite the recession worldwide since 2008, which severely hit the travel trade industry, growth from India and China continued unabated. In 2009, the Maldives received 15,800 visitors from India and the number went up to 25,700 last year.

At present, flights to Male connect via Colombo with the exception of Air India`s flights to the capital via Thiruvananthapuram and Bangalore. The Malvives is now waiting for Vijay Mallya`s Kingfisher ,which had planned two flights a week to Male, to announce its schedule.

Visitors from India have been on the rise and with the Maldivian government focussing on the development of the Southern Atolls, Shangri-La says it is benefitting by way of accessibility.

In preparation for the boom, global hotel chains that have a presence in the Maldives are banking on customers who are familiar with their service elsewhere to be able to woo them to the picturesque settings of this blue, green and clean island nation.

"Having a property in India has certainly helped us in promoting the resort," said Jens Moesker, general manager of Shangri-La`s Villingili Resort and Spa Maldives -- the only luxury property south of the equator in the country.

"Indians are traveling more intensely now in Asia and other gateway cities across the world in which they get to experience other Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts," Moesker told reporters, hoping brand recognition will make their task easier.

Shangri-La has extended its winter offer to Indian partners till May 8. "Guests can stay for four nights and pay for three. This offer includes a complimentary return domestic flight and a complimentary upgrade to half-board meals."

Others such as the Thailand`s Six Senses, founded by Sonu Shivdasani of Indian descent and which is launching mobile spas and hotels in India, also expects to attract Indians to its third property here, the Six Senses Laamu. The soft launch is set for April 2.

Laamu will have the first-of-its-kind glass cube wine cellar raised above the water, the largest overwater structure in the Maldives. "It is a spectacular setting. We plan joint packages along with our Sri Lankan hotels," said Alan Thomas, the managing director.

According to Shangri-La`s Moesker, there is also this huge market from India to attract pre- and post-wedding guests and gave last December`s example when an industrialist had chartered a flight for friends and relatives and booked the whole resort for three days.

"There is definitely a growth trend here."