Maldives to trim sales pitch to sail financial storm

Wednesday, 12 November 2008 14:41

The exotic Maldives, one of the world's most exclusive tourist destinations, is looking to cut prices and put resort expansion on hold to weather the global financial crisis.

Traditionally a high-end destination even by the standards of luxury hospitality, the Maldives' secluded resort islands cannot escape the international meltdown, the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) says.

MATI, which represents more than 80 percent of the Maldives' tourism and travel sector, said the cash crunch in their main European markets would force the resort industry to make adjustments.

"What we can do is lower our prices," MATI Vice President Ahmed Mujuthaba told AFP.

"We have never been a cheap destination and never can be, but we need to reduce our dependency on the very rich and try to attract the upper middle classes as well."

According to Mujuthaba, the average daily expenditure of a tourist in the Maldives could be as high as 15,000 dollars, with only a few resorts offering "budget" rooms at 200 dollars a night.

Nearly three quarters of holidaymakers going to the Maldives are from Europe, and recent falls in the value of the euro and the British pound have made an island paradise vacation far more costly.

"Most of our contracts are in dollars. Suddenly the rates have become even more expensive for our European guests," Mujuthaba said, adding that the government might have to reduce rates on resorts to ensure they remain viable.

Hussain Hilmee, the manager of Sunland Hotels which operates four resorts, said there had been no big cancellations so far, but occupancy next year was a concern.

"People will now be more price conscious and will be looking for value for money," he said. "With cost cutting, we may be able to weather the storm."

Tourism had been the big success story of the Maldives, an archipelago of 1,192 tiny islands in the Indian Ocean. The land area of the country is less than one percent of its 90,000-square kilometre (55,000-square mile) territory.

The Maldives enjoys a unique concept where each resort is a self-contained island offering privacy. That has also raised overheads with each island having to produce its own electricity, drinking water and sewage treatment.

The tourism ministry secretary Mohamed Solih said the country may not be able to achieve the 5.3 percent growth it expected in the hospitality sector this year.

"This is because we are highly dependent on the economic stability of the major European and Asian markets," said Solih. "But if you look at the picture so far, it is not so bad."

However, he said the country will review the planned development of more resorts to avoid the risk of overcapacity at a time of a global recession.

The one-billion-dollar Maldivian economy earns a third of its income from tourism. It has helped the Maldives, a nation of 300,000 Sunni Muslims, to become the richest country, per capita, in South Asia.

The new ruler of the thousand islands Mohamed "Anni" Nasheed said he expected the country to survive the financial crisis given its experience in weathering two Gulf wars and the December 2004 Asian tsunami.

"Our fundamentals are still very strong," said Nasheed, shortly after he won the October 28 presidential run-off, defeating Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who had turned the country into a tourist hotspot since coming to power in 1978.

"I am confident our tourism industry has the resilience to survive this one as well," the president-elect said.

"Tourism is glamorous, but we get more money from fishing and that industry is doing really well."

Source: AFP

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