MATATO backs guest house island policy

The Maldives Association of Travel and Tour Operators (MATATO) has endorsed the Thumburi guest house island project, urging its members to take part in the government’s plans.

“MATATO believes this will help target mass charter flights, rather than FIT [Fully Independent Traveller] or small groups, paving the way to bring back major charter operators to the Maldives,” said the group which represents over 50 local travel agents and tour operators.

Only Maldivians will be permitted to invest in such projects, the government has revealed, with priority given to those not yet involved in the industry.

“The concept is similar to the beach lodges in Phuket or Hikkaduwa. Thus, MATATO would like to urge its members to participate in this development opportunity, as it would allow them to grow from mere travel agency businesses to property owners within the process of vertical integration of a travel agency,” read an association press release.

The official launch of the scheme – part of President Abdulla Yameen’s election manifesto – came last week with a call for expressions of interest from small and medium businesses in the Laamu atoll development.

Envisioned as a way to “responsibly diversify the tourism product of the Maldives”, the plans to develop uninhabited guest house islands come after the rapid expansion of guest houses alongside local communities in the past five years.

Some in the industry have, however, questioned the schemes ability to offer the same level of benefit to local economies.

“The association believes this is a good project, worth our attention and promotion, although fine tuning will still be required, as this is a new concept to the Maldives,” said MATATO which also suggested its members could form a consortium for the project.

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.

“Rather than seeking a large scale investment, the current scheme offers smaller investors an opportunity to invest only in specific sub products, or a small block of accommodation similar to that of investing in a guest house,” today’s MATATO press release continued.

Describing the project as “a new concept for a world class brand”, the Thumburi brochure reveals plans for several beach hotels with rooms ranging from US$100-200 – far less than that currently charged by the country’s budget resorts.

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation will lead the project and engage with investors who will then market their own products.

Contributing an estimated 80 percent of the Maldives’ GDP and famous worldwide for it’s luxury one island/one resort image, the country’s tourism industry attracted over one million visitors for the first time in 2013.