Tourism key for community development, says government on World Tourism Day

No additional reporting by missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan

The tourism industry holds the key for youth employment and community development said senior government figures as the Maldives celebrated World Tourism Day.

“I call upon Maldivian youth to enter the tourism sector with renewed courage,” said President Abdulla Yameen, pledging greater opportunities for young people within the sector.

“To this end, to increase income and job opportunities in the north, God willing a further five resorts will be put up for bidding during this year and awarded for development,” he continued.

The industry – which accounts for 25 percent of GDP – continues to grow rapidly based on just over one hundred island resorts currently in operation. Tourist arrivals increased by 11 percent between August 2013 and August 2014, numbering 806,000.

Attempts at community based tourism have expanded rapidly in recent years, with the number of guest houses based within local communities growing from 22 registered facilities in 2009 to just under 200 today.

With tourism and community development the central theme of this year’s World Tourism Day, Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb lauded the Maldives’ industry as an example of how tourism can develop local communities.

Adeeb cited the current government’s innovation in mid-market tourism – the integrated resort project model – as a way to “responsibly diversify the tourism product of Maldives to the mid-market segment”.

“One of the fundamental elements of the Maldivian tourism industry is that the views and aspirations of the host community are taken into account as their support and genuine involvement enriches the holiday experience for the travelers visiting the Maldives from across the globe”.

The integrated resort model – pioneered with the recently launched Thumburi resort project – is designed to make the industry more accessible to small and medium sized enterprises, though some have questioned how the scheme will benefit local communities.

People-based development

World Tourism Day 2014 was celebrated in the Maldives with boduberu performances at all the country’s airports as well as environmental activities at a number of resorts, including reef cleaning and tree planting.

A bicycle ride was also organised in Hulhumalé to raise awareness of the use of environmentally friendly forms of transport.

The ride was organised by the Tourism Adaptation Project which will include 10 investment schemes to “climate proof” infrastructure in the tourism industry, explained Adeeb in the World Tourism Day supplement published for the occasion.

The supplement also included statements from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and World Tourism Organisation Secretary General Taleb Rifai.

“Tourism is a people-based economic activity built on social interaction, and as such can only prosper if it engages the local population by contributing to social values such as participation, education and enhanced local governance,” said Rifai.

“At the same time, there can be no real tourism development if such development damages in any way the values and the culture of host communities or the socio-economic benefits generated by the tourism sector do not trickle down to the community level.”

In his article for the supplement, Adeeb noted that the government’s flagship special economic zones bill would accelerate the development of the atolls and pave the way to initiate mega projects in different regions of the Maldives and will be a platform to expand our tourism industry”.

President Yameen last week reiterated his determination to provide equitable development throughout the 26 atolls, during a ceremony announcing reliable electricity would be provided to all inhabited islands during 2015.

A UNDP human development report released in June noted the growing disparities between the region surrounding the capital and the outer atolls. It described the tourism industry as an “oligarchy”.

While acknowledging the recent growth of the guest house industry, the report argues that the bulk of the luxury resort industry provides little opportunity for local small and medium enterprises.

Recent statistics showed that Malé’s Kaafu Atoll was home to 39.9 percent of the tourism industry’s bed capacity, while Seenu Atoll – home to country’s second largest urban population – had just 3.6 percent.

Following the launch of an online petition in April calling for development of the tourism industry in Haa Dhaalu – the country’s second northernmost atoll – government minister’s pledged equal development of the industry.