Future of Maldives tourism: exclusive or mid-market?

The Maldives is known for its high end world class resorts. Popular among the rich and famous, it seems the right amount of money can buy you some tropical privacy in the modern hectic world.

This privacy and seclusion of many Maldivian resorts is what makes them unique. This is what differentiates the Maldives from its competitors, and over the last few years many new exclusive resorts have sprung up.

These high end resorts, and the tourism sector as a whole, are an important part of the Maldivian economy: in 2008, the sector contributed 27.2% of the Maldivian GDP.

However several recent surveys suggest a vast majority of people are finding the price of a Maldivian getaway too expensive. Discussions on well-known travel forums such as Tripadvisor.com show that many guests and potential tourists are off put by the high prices.

Feelings on the issue are mixed. Many visitors, especially families, look for a cheaper option, while honeymooners are more willing to pay the extra dollars for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

There is demand from the high end markets for exclusive resorts. Ahmed Solih, permanent secretary for the tourism ministry noted that “expensive is a term dictated by demand & supply”.

Yet according to Solih, the development of a mid-market tourism sector in the Maldives  catering to the huge global middle class has always been on the government’s agenda.

“We lease the land to the developer, but it’s the private sector that makes the decision on who they will cater for,” said Solih.

The many tour operators and resort developers opt to cater for the high end market due to the proven profitable returns.

Solih continued: “In the Maldives, each resort has its own power and water generation, each resort is self sufficient, and for every head staying, there are two staff and they also live on site. This makes resorts a very expensive operation to maintain,” he said.

However the recent regulations allowing guest houses on inhabited islands and the introduction of a national transportation system (the Maldivian Dhoni Services, or MDS) has the potential to open the country to the mid-market tourist sector.

Former Minister of Tourism Abdulla Mausoom said ” it is vital to maintain the exclusive image that we have created for the Maldives, but with careful management, a venture into the mid-market sector is important.”

Both Solih and Mausoom said that it was not just a matter of accommodation, and that the infrastructure had to be in place for this new market.

Currently, guests are whisked off to their destinations on expensive seaplanes or fast boats to their destinations. If the mid-market sector is to gain a foothold in the country, a proper transportation system needs to be in place.

Another potential market for the Maldives is the Indian and Chinese middle class. India currently has the largest middle class in the world consisting of nearly 300 million people, contributing US$380 billion to the consumer market.

With such a large market at such a close proximity, it is surprising that only 2.4 per cent of the country’s tourists arrive from India.

Speaking on this issue, Solih noted that ” it is true that the Indian market has huge potential. According to World Trade Organisation (WTO), one in five tourists are now Indian. The reason that Indians do not come here is because our current packages are not desirable for them.

“Most Indians would come for a couple of days, at the most, and they look for duty free shopping complexes,” Solih claimed.

Indians like many Maldivians, love to go shopping when they are overseas. If we are to cater for these new emerging markets, we must plan on what it is they are looking for.

“The success of the tourism industry in the Maldives has been due to carefully planned expansion,” Mausoom.

The current system is well established, and has reaped benefits for the Maldives. It is now up to the developers and tour operators to decide whether they are willing to cater for the new markets that are out there.


Customs cage budgie smuggler

A man who tried to smuggle almost 40 live birds and more than 100 eggs into the Maldives has had his cargo seized by customs.

Customs discovered the birds after searching the Maldivian national’s luggage at Male’ International Airport, after he arrived from Bangkok on 20 December. In total there were 109 eggs and 39 birds, nine of them dead, customs officers said.

The birds are now in possession of the Agricultural Ministry’s plant and quarantine unit, which confirmed that most of the birds were canaries and budgerigars.

The birds and eggs were being readied for transportation to Thilafushi to be euthanised, the unit said.

Ali Rilwaan, head of environmental NGO Bluepeace, said the procedure for a situation like this was to determine the birds’ species and ascertain if they were wild.

“Normally these kind of birds are kept as pets, and if there are no health risks I see no reason for the birds to be killed this way,” Rilwaan said.

“For generations, Maldivians have kept birds as pets, and since the introduction of species such canaries and budgies as pets over the last ten years there has been less exploitation of local species,” Rilwaan continued.

Since the spread of bird flu the importing of pet species has been banned, however chicks and ducklings are still brought into the country in large numbers.

According to the plant and quarantine unit, there are no plans to find new homes for the birds and they will be destroyed.


Fishing vessel runs aground and sinks

A fishing vessel sank after it ran aground on Alifushi reef in Raa atoll this morning.

‘Kandu Roalhi 7’ of Alif Alif Ukulhahu left the Alifhushi harbour this morning at around 5:55am, experienced engine failure and crashed into the reef.

Another dhoni attempted to tow the vessel back to Alifhushi harbour, but during this process Kandu Roalhi 7 sank into the harbour.

MNDF northern command sent coastguard divers to the scene and together with the stricken vessel’s crew they managed to raise the vessel.

The coastguard website stated no one was hurt in this incident. This is the second incident of this nature in two days


Fishing dhoni runs aground

A dhoni on a sea cucumber harvesting trip ran aground on Laamu Gaaerifaru reef this morning.

According to the Maldives coast guard, the dhoni belonged to Ibrahim Ali of Raa Rasgetheemu. The accident occured at 8.50am this morning and the coast guard was contacted immediately.

A craft including police was dispatched from Laamu Madivaru and recovered the dhoni by 9:40am.

None of the six people on board were hurt, although the coastguard noted that the dhoni did not have a safety certificate nor was it carryng life jackets.


President to return home today

President Nasheed returns to Male’ today after playing his part in the United Nations Forum for Climate Change held in Copenhagen.

While the president played a pivotal role in the summit, media across the world reported that many countries present at the conference showed little respect for the work done by President Nasheed and other leaders.

The president is will give a press conference later today.


Maldives to graduate from ‘least developed’ country

Maldives is set to graduate from a ‘least developed country’ (LDC) to a ‘developing country’ by December next year, according to the Minister of Economics and Development, Mohamed Rasheed.

Speaking at a press conference, Rasheed said that at a recent World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Geneva a ministerial envoy had discussed many issues regarding the transition.

Rasheed said that graduating from a LDC would open the Maldivian economy to many opportunities, particularly the chance to broaden its activities from its staples of tourism, fishing and construction.

“After graduation the country needs to keep improving the economy,” he said. “This is only possible through foreign investment and the reinvestment of wealth.”

Rasheed explained that under the WTO’s framework, countries graduating would receive a five year aid package of US$1.5 million annually.

Rasheed also addressed the issue of foreign investment and international trade, both key factors he claimed would stimulate the Maldivian economy.

Describing one method of boosting foreign investment, Rasheed recounted a meeting with the Swiss minister for economics and trade that led to a tax agreement whereby Swiss companies investing in the Maldives will only have to pay Maldivian taxes on that investment, making them exempt from high Swiss taxes.


Customs make largest drug bust of 2009

Maldives Customs Service has intercepted over five kilograms of the drug ketamine at Male’ International Airport in the country’s largest drug bust this year.

Director of Intelligence and Special Operations Abdul Rasheed Ibrahim said the drugs were found in the luggage of an Indian national, Abdullrasulhan Abdulmukthalif, concealed inside a cardboard box with a hidden compartment.

Customs officers noticed irregularities when they scanned the box, and discovered 29 packets of suspected narcotics, carefully wrapped in polythene.

Lab tests confirmed the substance as 5.09kg of ketamine with trace amounts of cocaine, Ibrahim said, the first recorded case of ketamine being illegally brought into the country.

Ketamine is commonly used as a dissociative anesthetic in both humans and animals. Although a regulated drug, it is widely used as an illegal recreational narcotic.

Abdulmukthalif was travelling on Sri Lankan flight UL507 travelled to Male’ on the 15 December from Chennai via Trivandrum and Colombo.

Customs officers said Abdulmukthalif’s itinerary revealed that his final destination was Jakarta, a trip he had made four separate times, and each time he allegedly took a cardboard box on behalf of a friend from Chennai.

Ibrahim said although the street value of the drugs was Rf 6.5 million, he did believe the final destination of the drugs was the Maldives.

This was the 12th incident of illegal narcotics transportation this year discovered by customs officials, he said, adding that the total seized now stood at 12.56 kilograms (a combined street value of Rf 11 million).


Lost fishermen found

According to MNDF coast guard, the two fisherman from H. Dh. Neykurendhoo lost while out on a fishing trip have been found.

Hussain Abdulla, 43, and Mohamed Shifau, 15, left the island at around 7am on Saturday and failed to return.

Following a search and rescue operation carried out by the coast guard, the vessel was found today at 6.59am this morning,four miles off the coast of Neykurendhoo.

Both men were in good health and the boat is currently being assisted back to Neykurendhoo. The Coastguard noted that the vessel did not contain any mean of communication and urged people travelling in ocean-going vessels to ensure they had such equipment.


Onions reach US$950 a ton

The State Trading Organisation is trying to import more onions and potatoes into the country, in an attempt to bring down the current high prices of these two basic commodities.

But according to Miadhu, the STO might have to look elsewhere than India for onions where a ton of onions currently costs US$950.

However, India does provide letters of credit which enables the STO to purchase these goods without buying foriegn currency.

Managing Director Shahid Ali said that STO aims to sell these goods at affordable rates to retailers.