WTM 2009: Maldives sets out new goals

Wednesday, 11 November 2009 19:54

The government of the Maldives is to allow foreign ownership and development of private luxury villas for the first time.

The villas are to be developed by the private sector, with the country’s minister for tourism, arts and culture, Ahmed Ali Sawad, saying there is a possibility they could even be built on ‘local’ islands if the proposals were deemed appropriate.

Speaking at WTM, Sawad also said the country needed to focus more on cultural tourism with a pilot project framework now in place for developing cultural projects on local islands, using new visitor interpretation centres created around the 2,000-year history of the islands.

Excavation and preservation is currently in progress on several ancient sites, many of Buddhist origin. “We also have to move more towards community-based tourism to benefit local people,” Sawad said. “This is about diversifying our tourism portfolio.”

A new National Museum will open in the capital, Male in 2010, he said, and a Maldivian outpost of The Hay Festival is also being proposed for autumn next year, with a focus on environmental and freedom and democracy writers coming to speak at the literary event.

Wedding tourism could also become a reality in the Maldives. “We know we are already a popular destination for honeymooners, but we don’t see any reasons why we cannot now explore the potential for weddings for non-nationals here too,” he said.

Infrastructure and connectivity are other being explored by the new government, which took over in the Maldives a year ago.

The government is now keen to encourage development in many projects via its Investment Maldives programme to help the country grow sustainably, said Sawad, adding there had already been interest from overseas investors in developing the airport on Male.

With the arrival of British Airways flights from the UK and flights from Muscat with Oman Air - both launched at the end of October – as well as a drive to get more access from China, India and Europe, he said that investment in upgrading airport facilities in Male was essential.

Recent figures show 465,839 tourists visited the Maldives up to September this year.

“Initial estimates were of a high negativity in tourism drop-off but we saw a slower decline than we had thought, around 7%. We have a very resilient and unique product. Previous crisis points such as 9/11 and the tsunami showed short declines then we bounced back out and we feel that is what will happen with this recession,” Sawad said.

He said that 2008 had finished 1% up in arrivals on 2007 and that the government had been focusing on stabilising and reinvigorating all sectors of industry, including tourism, since its arrival a year ago.

Becoming carbon neutral in 10 years is another stated aim for the country whose landmass is only 1% of its total territory. “We are not a huge contributor to the climate problem, but we are one which is most affected,” said Sawad.

The government recently held a cabinet meeting underwater to try and raise awareness of the climate issues facing the tiny island nation.

There are 1,192 islands in the Maldives; 200 of which are inhabited islands and 94 of which have been devoted to tourist resorts.



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