Today, I bring you an interview with Tommy & Dea from Maldives Low Budget, the first Indonesian based online travel middleman that offers all-inclusive trips to Maldives.
Established in November 2014, operated 100% online without any office space or staff, Tommy & Dea sells budget holiday packages to the Maldives targeting middle-income class Indonesians as their market. While many Maldivians prefer Bali as the perfect honeymoon destination, these two from Indonesian has got the hearts for the sunny islands of Maldives…
What excites you about being the first Indonesian based online travel middleman that offers all-inclusive trips to Maldives?
Maldives has a long standing reputation of being a luxurious and expensive destination to people all around the world. For most Indonesians, a trip to Maldives in the past would have cost an arm and a leg, keeping in mind that the country’s GDP per capita is only standing at USD3500. When we first introduced ourselves online through social media platform and Indonesian travel forums, we received so many curious emails and inquiries over the first few months. So, what’s most exciting for us was to see the reaction of people’s surprise and excitement over the possibility and opportunity to visit Maldives within their spending power. That was also how we actually came up with our tagline; “Closer to Paradise”.
Now, the idea of budget traveling to Maldives is not new anymore. Many have found out that Maldives is now accessible with low-cost carriers such as Air Asia and Tiger Air. We have also noticed a few other competitions emerging in Indonesia but we always welcome competition as a motivation to improve ourselves. Having a head start has given us a lot of advantage on the experience and expertise.
Which components of the Maldives touristic product do you exactly sell?
We offer an all-inclusive trip. By “all-inclusive trip”, we do not mean full board meals + free flow of alcohol (which is heavily regulated and restricted in Maldives). What we actually mean is a trip package that includes all the necessary transportation, meal, accommodation and activities. We want to make sure that we can maximize our guests’ short holiday in Maldives. We do help them with flight bookings as well if requested. Resort bookings are also possible through online booking engines such as Agoda.com and Booking.com, though this is rare and does not really fit with our image.
How has your work experience prepared you for this?
We do not actually have any tourism or business background at all. We started this business based on passion, not knowing if it will actually work. Luckily for us, some significant growth is now evident after being stagnant for one whole year. So, no work experience prepared us for this. May be this experience is preparing us for future opportunities!
How do you find the lowest fees for your client?
We try to ensure that the rates we offer to our guests are still lower than the normal tourist rates by working within the gap of the agent’s rates and the hotel/ guesthouse’s normal tourist rates. If our rates turn out to cross the normal tourist rates, we promise that the difference will be very conservative. Our rates may not necessarily always be the lowest, but it is definitely affordable enough. We offer our clients a no-hassle, very convenient pre-trip process.
What would you do if your customer couldn’t afford the package you suggested?
So far we have not encountered this issue. We believe the rates that we offer are still very reasonable. In fact, they cost around the same as many local destinations within Indonesia itself. However, if we do encounter this problem, we will probably try to offer them a free and easy package. We cannot afford to throw a huge big discount as much as we want to.
Describe a time you impressed a customer. What did you do, and what did you learn from that experience?
Guests were set to go for a safari yacht trip but I believe that this group of guests will not find that activity very memorable for some very particular reasons. I wanted my guests to return to Indonesia with an experience they will rarely encounter back home. I offered the guests a last-minute upgrade for a seaplane experience. Guests then made a last-minute decision to private hire a seaplane for a 20-minute photographic flight. I coordinated with the hotel staff who worked with Trans Maldivian Airways to make this possible. It was rushed and very last minute, but all went well. Guests were happy and the seaplane ride, although short, became one of the trip’s highlights. I was complimented for being pro-active, informative and adaptive.
There are extra miles we can go through to heighten guests’ satisfaction. We learnt how important it is to identify our guests, predict their behavior and preferences. I say, we should always take a guess but never make an assumption. We can ask them if they want something to be in a certain way and we try our best to do it accordingly. Adaptability is a very important thing.
Describe your approach to planning a complex itinerary.
All our itineraries are sort of tight and fixed. When setting our itinerary, we have to be mindful about the guests’ time of arrival and departure as well as the guests’ ample rest time. As the trip duration is generally short and activities are quite packed, we want to make sure that we do not rush our guests and drain them out of their energy. We notice that Indonesians have a tendency to prefer shorter trips. For a vast majority, they really just want to take good traveling pictures. Not many are adventurous enough to explore the different atolls. Hence, we mostly try to cater to that. Our packages are mostly 3 to 4 nights filled with fun activities such as snorkeling, sandbank trip etc. It is very suitable for a short or a weekend gateway with additional nights made available for those who wish to stay longer.
The only time when it gets really complex is when we try to partner with other local islands that are located very far away from the airport as the transport gets quite expensive and less frequent. We have partnered with a guesthouse in Thoddoo Island; which is located about 65km away from the airport. Luckily, our partner is very flexible about the speedboat transfer fees and charges so we can try to work around this issue together as a start.
What are your challenges?
Firstly, pricing our offers in Indonesian’s local currency Rupiah. Currently, the exchange rates between USD and IDR can fluctuate quickly and drastically; which makes it difficult to price our packages ideally. Pricing our packages in USD would have confused our main targeted Indonesian market. Secondly, innovating within our market’s traveling preferences can also be quite difficult as they prefer a short trip of 3 to 4 nights only. Thirdly, communicating with our partners as they are not always 24/7 available. We mostly chat on Viber or Whatsapp, but we do calls regarding more pressing matters. Lastly, setting ourselves apart from our competitors.
What do your clients tell you about the Maldives?
Maldives is as beautiful as it is in pictures.
How do you feel about the Maldives tourism?
We would say that Maldives tourism is currently thriving than it ever was before. It is now accessible for tourists from different income classes. With the new law allowing tourists to stay in local islands and local people to build guesthouses/ hotels, we are just very glad that now the locals are able to rightfully profit from their own country’s beauty with their small guesthouses and hotels. The new tourism law has opened opportunities for more Maldivians to become entrepreneurs. With low-cost airlines such as Air Asia and Tiger Air flying directly from Southeast Asia’s most important airport hubs to Maldives, travelling to Maldives is getting increasingly more affordable and accessible for many people from this region.
The tourism sector may also bring some change to Maldives’ sociopolitical landscape. More tourists from all over the world are interacting with Maldivian locals, offering the locals different insights and perspectives that they would otherwise not know. Many of these tourists bring different cultures and ideologies to the countries they travel to. The constant exposure to these different cultures and ideologies may bring about some sociopolitical changes to the country’s rather conservative outlook in the future. Depending on one’s perspective, this can be bad or good.
On a more negative note, Maldives current thriving tourism can be threatening to its natural and idyllic beauty as well as the health of its ocean ecosystem. The increasing amount of tourists would definitely result in more waste and trashes produced in many local islands that welcome tourists. Tourist activities may also destroy coral reefs and impair its ability to recover or function properly. Ocean ecosystem may also be disturbed so regulations and laws need to be put in place and enforced for protection. For example, the restrictions that have been put in place for diving in Hanifaru Bay.
Tommy & Dea are currently working with a few hotels and guesthouses in Hulhumale, Thoddoo and Maafushi with a portfolio of 138 guests. I thank them for letting me interview them and allowing me to publish this, I also wish them good luck in their venture in promoting Maldives, The Sunny Side of Life…
Photo credits: Maldives Low Budget