How critical is tourism to the Maldivian economy?
The Maldives is a very special place. Tourism is its backbone and will support the country’s future development. This year we are celebrating 42 years of the tourism industry, which started in 1972 with only three hotels. It has now grown to 112 operational resorts. Just last year, 1.2 million tourists came to the country. Our average room rate was at $710. The Maldives has grown to the next level of tourism.
What are the unique selling points of the Maldives?
The concept of “one island, one resort” is unique to the Maldives; this means each hotel occupies one island. Geographically, we are the only country to be able to do that. It provides complete privacy and luxury for tourists to enjoy. We have positioned ourselves as a luxury tourist destination since the beginning, compared with the islands of Mauritius or the Seychelles.
What are the challenges?
Building a resort in the Maldives is not cheap because each island hotel has its own staff and there are high maintenance costs like watering the plants or sanitation. The Maldives is 100 percent dependent on diesel, but we are trying to increase awareness of the use of solar and other forms of renewable energy. If we plan well, remain eco-friendly and have sustainability measures in place, we believe we can maintain our number one position while growing further.
How has the Maldives’ tourism market developed since 2008?
Before 2008, 90 percent of its businesses served the European market, until the Chinese market came. We had to adjust and we did so very quickly. We make sure that every hotel has Chinese-speaking staff or signage written in Chinese. I personally recommend that there be state-owned enterprises that bring Chinese concepts to be mixed with European concepts. We are now positioning ourselves as “affordable luxury” with cheaper alternatives. One concept is inhabited islands with guesthouses. There we have “guesthouse islands” which are big islands that target small and medium-sized enterprises.
What is the correlation between tourism success and infrastructure investment?
Tourism development, meaning building hotels and resorts, cannot be achieved without basic infrastructure. The Tourism Infrastructure Development Project includes various mega projects, the Friendship Bridge being a major one.