Mohamed Firaq - Founder And Managing Director, Inner Maldives Holidays

Mohamed Firaq - Founder And Managing Director, Inner Maldives Holidays
PUBLISHED September 01, 2018

<p class="MsoNormal">Mr. Mohamed Firaq is the owner and principal founder of Inner Maldives Holidays and has been a lifelong contributor to the Maldives&rsquo; hospitality and tourism industry. The IslandChief was graced with an opportunity to ask him more about the growth of his career and business while exploring the changes that the industry has undergone over the years.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">&nbsp;</p> <p class="MsoNormal">&nbsp;</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>How did you enter the tourism sector? Could you give us a brief description of the early days of your</strong> <strong>career?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">After completing school in 1984, I was offered the position of an officer at Rover Tours. During the time, the Maldivian tourism industry was very different compared to how it is today. Having spent a couple of months at Rover Tours, I began attending meet and greet services for clients at the airport, rather than spending my time at an office administrator-based job. That was when my enthusiasm for the industry grew the most. That was also when I began networking with many prominent industry experts and received several job offers.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">In 1999, a travel company called &ldquo;Cross World Maldives&rdquo; came into being. They brought various changes to the tourism industry. For example, they were the first to operate charter flights to the Maldives &ndash; it was something completely new to the Maldives then. Back then, foreign tour operators were dependent on resorts and hotels; they had direct contracts with them. Hence, there weren&rsquo;t many opportunities for local travel agents.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Cross World Maldives changed all that by bringing in charter flights, Lauda Air from Austria and Ever Green Holidays (Eva Air) from Taipei &ndash; the first chartered airlines to operate into the Maldives. This was an eye-opener for many local agents who were seeking opportunities.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">After Cross World Maldives ceased its operations, many key industry figures encouraged me to start something of my own, which I did. And here I am today. My experience with Cross World Maldives helped me pave my future.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>Tell us about some significant changes the tourism industry has gone through since you first started</strong> <strong>working in it?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">I believe there has been more diversity than ever, and a lot of innovation to resort facilities. Would you believe resorts like Kurumba Maldives or Meerufenfushi were giving their rooms for $30 a night? I doubt you would believe this, but they did. Today, you can&rsquo;t get a room from Kurumba Maldives or Meerufenfushi for that price. So, obviously the prices have seen a record high over the years. Resort transfers have also had a notable upgrade. In the past, it used to take about two and-a-half hours to get to Meerufenfushi. Today, it only takes 20 minutes by seaplane or 50 minutes by speedboat.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>What events led to the inception of Inner Maldives Holidays?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">It was the encouragement I received from my colleagues at Cross World Maldives when they shutdown the company. They continue to support the tourism industry and contribute to its growth. My colleagues there knew me as an impulsive person and would tell me, &ldquo;Firaq, why don&rsquo;t you start something on your own? We could support you.&rdquo; I was also a focal point for tour operators, and a key figure to communicate through. Because they knew me very well personally, they were also there to support me when I needed it.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">I can still remember the day that I didn&rsquo;t have enough cash to print my business cards when I first started Inner Maldives and one of my very dear friends lent me $1500 to buy my office stationeries and print business cards.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>Tell us some of the challenges that you faced at the startup of Inner Maldives?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">The biggest challenge we had was financial support. I am saying this because the investments we did with the resorts were colossal, such as advance payments. We had a rather difficult time, sometimes going to the extent of mortgaging property to pay resorts because we started small and didn&rsquo;t have sufficient funds to operate a travel agent smoothly.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>Inner Maldives has expanded over the years to become one of the leading travel agents in the country, to what do you attribute the success of the company?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">My team! My staff and co-workers, and the cooperation we receive from the industry. One person cannot run a business like this properly. You have to trust your people, and it is something I firmly believe in. I don&rsquo;t let my staff feel that I am just the owner here; they work alongside me as colleagues. As the owner, it maybe my responsibility to take certain decisions, but I also let them look through and come up with options. So, I alone cannot take credit for our success.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>What are your views on the current status of the Maldivian tourism industry and what changes are you anticipating for the future?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">We are still migrating from one market to another. Markets like China and Russia are currently growing rapidly. We shouldn&rsquo;t, however, forget the struggles we made in the past to reach where we are today. I strongly think we still need to drive the European market, and find ways to sustain it. I believe that one of the main reasons for the slowdown of that market is pricing. Hoteliers are almost always on the lookout for the best income and high yields, but not for ways to sustain the markets. We must aim at balancing all the markets while watching new markets emerge.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Loyalty is vital. A person starting a business should also know their focus. If not, you cannot find investors. I am quite sure that nobody will come and invest big in Maldives as a newcomer; they would consider efficient financial discipline and would only be injecting more money gradually depending on the progress. Financial discipline is also a key characteristic for someone starting a travel company, as we don&rsquo;t start with huge assets. We only have a name. We sell our name, and keep it going until we are eventually recognized.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">&nbsp;</p>

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