Honourable Minister of Tourism Moosa Zameer speaks to Hotel Insider on integrated tourism development projects and tourism-specific developments in Addu and Laamu atolls.
Hotel Insider: The landscape of Maldivian tourism is changing, we used to be an exclusively luxury destination and now we’re branching out and exploring other avenues. What are your thoughts on this?
Moosa Zameer: At the outset let me express our best wishes for 2018 to all working tirelessly to maintain the positive momentum of our dynamic tourism sector.
Maldivian tourism is undergoing dramatic changes to diversify our products and services as well as the generating markets. We are primarily enhancing the tourism infrastructure and our capacity to serve various segments comprising global tourist market.
One of the primary components of the tourism industry is travel and transport. In this regard, under HEP Yameen’s leadership, we are addressing decades of negligence at our central air hub, Velana International Airport (VIA).
We all appreciate that the tourism industry is a cross-sectoral industry and it is completed when a diversity of elements are aligned. In the case of the Maldives, us being totally isolated from the rest of the globe and being an archipelagic nation, we rely heavily on reliable and quality air transport both international and domestic.
Hence, VIA needs to be developed to cater to the needs of our diversifying generating markets. On completion of the present mega redevelopment project at VIA, we will be able to enhance the image of the Maldives as a luxury destination as at present there is a huge mismatch between the top notch quality accommodation and VIA, which creates the first impression and the last impression of the Maldivian tourism industry.
Diversification of our generating markets is vital to minimize the adverse effects from various shocks in the international tourism market. So making Maldives accessible to various segments is of great necessity. Few years ago, we experienced various schedule carriers cancelling or reducing number of flights, simply because we were not able to attract enough travelers to fill the economy class section while business and first class was full.
I also want to state some facts as I believe your question relates to the increase in bed capacity in the country. The number of new resorts opened since the beginning of HEP Yameen’s government is 28 and the bed capacity has increased by 31%. It is true that this is a record growth on the supply side but according to our 4th Tourism Master Plan we should have 38,589 beds at the end of 2017. At present we have 41,255 beds and the variation is an increase of 2,666 beds which is not dramatic.
Most significantly, all the resorts opened are targeting high end clients with an average price tag of US$ 500 per night. Concurrently, the number of guest houses (GH) are increasing but the bed capacity increase in the GH sector is still far less than the growth in the resorts. At the end of 2017, 458 GH were given licenses and the total bed capacity of is 7,304 while the bed capacity in tourist resorts is 29,977 beds in 135 resorts.
I have no doubt that we are in the right path and the present projects will take our tourism industry to a higher level and our brand image will be enhanced and our position in the international tourism arena will become stronger, as we are attracting highly acclaimed global brands to our destination.
Hotel Insider: President Yameen’s government has championed integrated tourism development projects. Can we talk a bit about them?
We expand tourism primarily to improve the living standard of our people through increased revenue to the government to finance national developmental activities such as education, health, national infrastructure development and socio-economic development. HEP Yameen’s vision is to engage locals in various parts of the country directly in the tourism industry. The objective is to simply facilitate people in various parts of the country to gain direct benefits from the tourism industry.
With the forward thinking vision and ambition of the President to take this sector another step forward, Integrated Tourism represents the opening up of more opportunities both internally in the economic growth of the country while also opening up another avenue to enhance visitor experience.
Integrated Tourism is a systematic approach towards what has naturally grown in the hospitality sector with the rise of the guesthouse and mid-market segment in recent years.
While Maldives will always be championed as the luxury holiday destination, it is imperative that we evolve and cater to the discerning travelers who are more selective in terms of how they want to spend and what they want to experience during their travel.
By actively nurturing and guiding the growth of this segment during these initial stages of development, we are able to ensure the successful participation of more small and medium businesses and also the involvement of the youth in this dynamic business sector of the Maldives.
One example of how this segment has grown is the rapid development at Kaafu Maafushi. While Maafushi has grown organically over a short period of time, other visionary developments such as the planned developments in Laamu Baresdhoo and the developments by Singha Estate on the Embhoodhoo Falhu in Kaafu Atoll represents the potential of these developments.
Hotel Insider: Addu is slated for some 3000 guest house beds. It’s somewhat complicated down there. The people we’ve spoken with say it’s a vicious cycle of there not being enough rooms to bring flights, and without flights people are reluctant to invest in rooms. You’re trying to break this cycle by increasing room supply. What do you think will happen there?
Indeed, its true. We need sufficient bed capacity to attract airlines to Addu Atoll. Present bed capacity is far below the much needed bed capacity. So the additional 3000 beds planned to be developed will put Addu in a stronger position to attract airlines.
I do not believe that it’s a complex issue but it’s a matter of developing the necessary infrastructure and tourist accommodation facilities and tourist service and we will make tourism in Addu a great success. We have completed the redevelopment of the Addu Gan Airport and now we are focusing on the accommodation sector. We must not forget the huge potential of Fuahmulah as well. We are exploring the various avenues to expand tourism development in this atoll which is rich in heritage and with unique natural features.
Addu has a huge range of attractions which is not available in other parts of the country. The historical and heritage values and the eco-tourism products are being developed by the government with the assistance of various donor agencies. For the first time in our tourism history, we have developed eco-tourism products in both Addu and Fuahmulah and tourists are enjoying activities such as bird watching, nature trails, hiking as well as aqua based guided tours in various eco-systems in these two atolls.
Hotel Insider: You’re also developing Baresdhoo in Laamu. Can you tell us a bit about the project, how far it’s progressed?
Baresdhoo represents the government’s ambition of ensuring that integrated tourism is introduced and developed in a systematic, planned manner while ensuring the involvement of the small and medium businesses in the hospitality sector.
Laamu Baresdhoo is an uninhabited, 73 hectare island about one hour by domestic flight from VIA. The relatively large size of the island presents a huge opportunity for an integrated development project and the project being implemented on the island will comprise a number of key features; it will be one of the few hospitality developments in the Maldives with multiple hoteliers operating on one island.
With a planned development targeted for over 1500 rooms and a maximum carrying capacity of over 3,000 visitors at peak capacity, this represents one of the largest planned developments for this sector.
Key development for this project covers:
- Thirty plus boutique hotels and two large tourist hotels
- Multiple independent restaurants and food outlets
- Spa and wellness centers, water sports and dive centers
- Theme parks and commercial family attractions such as a mini golf course, paint ball, go-cart, arcades and similar attractions.
The project has recently been re-evaluated and has been opened for investments in the last quarter of 2017. The response has been very positive and the agency involved in the development is now negotiating with the investors and making the final preparations for the commencement of the development.
The present timelines are for all negotiations to be completed shortly and the physical works for the project to commence within the first quarter of 2018 with the target of opening the property for visitors by late 2019.
Hotel Insider: What do you think the impact of such integrated developments will be? How do you see them contributing to the growth of tourism sector for instance? How do you see such developments benefiting those who work in the industry?
Such integrated tourism development projects represents a different avenue for local business to become a part of the hospitality industry while also diversifying the offerings available for visitors to the Maldives.
Successful implementation of such projects throughout the country will have major benefits both to the individual communities and local businesses. They will responsibly diversify the hospitality sector, while providing direct economic benefits through the opening up of business opportunities, employment and other direct involvement of the community in the projects both during the implementation and the operations.
The tourism industry will also greatly benefit overall with these additional offering being available in the Maldives for the mid-market travelers.
With these factors combined and the dynamic, optimistic and young workforce in the country, the Maldivian tourism sector is poised to move up another step and continue to lead the way worldwide in the travel and tourism industry.