For this instalment of Conversation, we have a chat with one of the pioneers of the country’s F&B supply business, Ahmed Mausoom, managing director of Aries Enterprises.
Hotel Insider: You were selling souvenirs before you began supplying F&B goods to the resorts. Can we talk about your journey?
Ahmed Mausoom: Yes, we started as a souvenir wholesaler. During that time the market was not so saturated and it was relatively a new business in this country. Initially we were the only establishment doing this business at a large scale. We supplied mainly to shops in the tourist resorts and also to souvenir shops in some local islands like Himmafushi. Tourism was booming during the early 80s and our business as well grew in tandem with that.
However, during the late 80s the tourism industry started to decline. The industry was a six-month business back then, as sales were extremely low during low season. By this time, we were importing some food items like Mlesna tea and Munchee biscuits; these too were mainly for the souvenir market. However, due to the slowdown in tourism industry we envisaged the importance of diversifying our business in to other market segments. This facilitated our decision to extend our food products portfolio and start catering to both the tourism and domestic market. We gradually expanded our F&B product line and slowly moved away from the souvenir business. We added products like Vimto from UK, Rani from Saudi Arabia and since our sister company was representing Philip Morris, we were able to get distributorship from Kraft General Foods for some of their products like Kraft cheese. Today we represent some of the leading food brands in the market.
Hotel Insider: What was the F&B market like back then?
Ahmed Mausoom: The market in general was not very competitive in our line of business when we started. This gave us the edge to grow steadily and meet the requirements of the growing market. However, it was a seasonal business and new entrants as well soon came in to the picture. More than business rivalry, it was more of a friendly affair back then. I believe the business community was subconsciously working collectively and complementing each other and the business industry as a whole, to keep in pace with the booming economy. If I may relate, there were a lot of similarities to today’s emerging market of local tourism (guest house tourism) in the islands where some islands have achieved exceptional success as a result of working together to market the island more than individual establishments.
Let me also talk a bit about the resorts back then. It was quite different from what we see today. Most of them were built in a very traditional concept. The rooms had white sandy floors, coral walls and thatched roofs.
Hotel Insider: F&B is a key component of any resort. How do you assure that your goods get to the resorts as needed and on time? Are there any challenges you come across?
Ahmed Mausoom: In general, the process is quite efficient. With most resorts we follow the same procedures and the resorts are very systematic too. Usually we will get orders in advance with details of boat location and time. So there is not so much difficulty in that regard. However, due to some traffic rules implemented last year for goods deliveries, we faced great obstacles. Much of it has now been relaxed and the process is again relatively smoother. More than the logistics of delivering goods from our warehouses to resort boats, a major challenge we face now is getting shipments cleared from MPL/Customs. There are long delays during this process and as a result we some times have to delay some deliveries to our clients.
Hotel Insider: We are noticing a trend where tourists visiting the Maldives as well as people in general are becoming more health and environmentally conscious when it comes to food. Has this impacted your business in anyway?
Ahmed Mausoom: Our main market is still the domestic market. Nevertheless, we supply some selected items to the F&B sector. Yes, in general the people and the tourism sector’s requirements are changing to healthier foods and environment friendly products. We have tried introducing such products in the past but it did not materialize to success. However today, the trend has changed across the globe and is changing in the country as well. It is good to see these changes, but we need to do a lot more. The impact to business will always be good if we can embrace that change and support the change through our business.
Hotel Insider: Over the years, are there any major changes to the F&B supply business that you’ve observed within our tourism sector?
Ahmed Mausoom: As I said earlier, our business is still mainly targeted for the domestic market and we supply limited items to the tourism sector. Over the years, F&B supply industry has seen many large suppliers entering the market providing almost the complete F&B solution to the resorts, guesthouses and catering sector. In terms of volume and supply range, F&B business sector has seen tremendous growth.
The major change I think now is that you can procure almost all F&B items required for the industry locally and at a far better price than before. In the past, many resorts had to source a large part of their F&B requirements from abroad and this complicated their business structure and infrastructure. Now, they can concentrate more on the real hotel business and enjoy the ease and uncomplicatedness of F&B procurement.
Hotel Insider: Since you’ve been engaged in the Maldivian tourism industry for so long, do you have any general observations regarding the industry you might want to share with us?
Ahmed Mausoom: As a conclusion I would like to say this country is a gem. Its natural beauty, geography and formation complements an unlimited market for tourism. Our tourism industry is world class. We are at the apex internationally and many other countries are embracing our tourism strategies. This is an outstanding achievement for a country of our size. However, the downside is the disparity in income distribution geographically, demographically and socially. This has to be addressed. The local tourism introduced in President Nasheed’s regime has drastically improved the situation in some parts of the country. Local tourism has helped develop many islands that didn’t have much economic activity before into well-off island communities. Together with the guesthouse policy, the whole tourism industry should be further stretched across the country. Also, to meet the demands and cater to the massive tourism industry we have in the country today, we have to overcome the Male’ International airport situation. In the south, Gan International Airport and Hanimaadhoo Airport in the north should further develop to help tourism grow in these regions so that the industry can facilitate the economic activities across the country, paving way for an economically developed island nation.