A great opportunity came up last week for me to visit the Maldives cheaply, which sounds like an oxymoron since the Maldives is one of the most expensive tourist destinations in Asia. So for this very reason, I had to go.
The beaches were beautiful, but I couldn’t leave my Emerge work behind completely. I decided that if I were to go to the Maldives, I could see if there was a market for Emerge jewelry there. My thought process was: incredibly rich tourists, lots of shops both on Male (the capital) and in the resorts, people want to be socially conscious, and the product is from Sri Lanka which is close to the Maldives …
I met with both a tourist shop owner and the manager of a resort. In the tourist shop, I looked through the jewelry – most of which was made from local Maldivian coral – to compare our product. The cheapest necklace I could find was around 1600 rufiyaa, or roughly $125. Not quite Emerge’s price point. They sold no jewelry with glass beads or seedpods either.
When I spoke with manager of the resort, I asked him point-blank if he thought our product could sell in the Maldives. He basically said that there were two obstacles: (1) the fact that when people visit a destination, they want something made from that place, not from the place next door, and (2) going to the Maldives is pure escapism. When tourists come, they want to get away from all their worries and problems. Therefore, they would feel guilty reading about the stories of the girls that Emerge works with, and would be less inclined to buy their jewelry.
I don’t know if I buy the second point. Our marketing at Emerge is pretty good. I’m sure we could present the girl’s stories in a way that was truthful but made people feel good about buying the product, not sad that they haven’t done more. In fact I think we do a good job of this already. But he is completely right about point number 1. He suggested that if we partnered with one of the local NGOs in the Maldives – NGOs that consequently wield a lot of power – we could definitely sell in the local stores. But when I asked him what he thought a necklace would sell for, he said $2 to $8, which is lower than we sell the products for in Sri Lanka, not taking into account the cost of shipping.
The trip was both fun and informative. Sometimes I feel that working here in Sri Lanka is like a huge puzzle, and each time I meet with someone or have an idea and test it out, another puzzle piece is fitting into place.
Until next time, Ellen