With additional reporting by Daniel Bosley
Details of the government’s first guest house island on Thumburi, in Laamu atoll, were revealed last night.
“Once again today we are looking to diversify tourism, to shape it in a different way. It does not mean moving away from the existing concept of having one resort on one island,” said President Abdulla Yameen during the launch.
Part of the Progressive Party of Maldives’ election manifesto, the guest house island concept aims to diversify the tourism industries to include small and medium enterprises, without encroaching on inhabited islands.
While guest house tourism on populated islands has grown rapidly in recent years, some in the industry have expressed concern that it may damage the high-end resort image of the Maldives.
The project – which will involve the development of a 2,100 bed resort run by multiple local businesses – was described as “communal tourism development” or “vertical tourism” by the president.
“So in this newly introduced concept, we are inviting various small and medium businesses who are interested in this industry to chip-in money – [it is a] type of tourism based on amounts which could be easily borrowed from banks as well,” he continued.
The president also revealed that further guest house island projects would be carried out within the special economic zones to be established under proposed legislation.
Speaking at yesterday’s event, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb explained that the decision had come in response to medium sized businesses who wished to gain a foothold in the resort industry.
Only Maldivians will be permitted to invest in such projects, with priority given to those not yet involved in the industry, explained Adeeb.
The Thumburi project will make land available on the 17 hectare uninhabited island – as well as the linked Hulhiyandhoo island – for investors to develop hotels, a diving school, water sports centres, restaurants and shopping centres, while government owned companies will invest in the island’s basic infrastructure – electricity and sewage.
The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) will lead the project and engage with investors who will then market their own products.
MMPRC is currently fielding expressions of interest and expects to begin development by the end of the year.
“In our mind, the ultimate objective of this [project] would be increasing job opportunities and providing the opportunity to go forward benefiting the economy for many young Maldivians, and to double our per capita GDP income when our five-year term is completed,” President Yameen said at yesterday’s event.
Despite the tripling of guest house bed capacity in the past six years, the industry continues to be dominated by the one island/one resort model.
Growing from just 22 registered businesses in 2009, to 171 currently listed, the guest house tourism project – initiated during the presidency of Mohamed Nasheed – was introduced as an attempt to allow local communities to benefit from the billion dollar industry.