Tax tourists to fund conservation efforts, suggests report

Tourists to the Maldives should pay an environmental levy to fund conservation programmes in the country, according to a report produced by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), in collaboration with the College of Fisheries in Mangalore, India, Florida International University in Miami and the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (SANDEE).

The report, titled ‘User-based Financing of Environmental Conservation of the Maldivian Atolls’, places a monetary value on the use of natural resources for tourism, and proposes the use-tax as a means of compensating for the current “lack of political will and budgetary resources [which] appear to hinder the effective implementation of the above marine protection law.”

Tourism should fund conservation, the report suggests, as the study “found a large disparity between the amount of economic value generated from this nature-based tourism and the amount going into atoll environmental conservation.”

“Even a small tax levied on tourist expenditure on the islands or a direct conservation check-off as a user fee collected from the tourists would help defray the costs of the atoll conservation,” the report suggests.

Specific threats to the marine ecosystem – and the tourism industry – include threats to coral from development activities such as near-shore reclamation, harbor construction, dredging and other island expansion activities.

“Additionally the nutrient enrichment from sewage discharges from the resorts and nearby inhabited islands encouraging algae growth on the reef,” the report notes.

“Over-exploitation of reef fisheries also indirectly impacts the corals. Overfishing removes the herbivorous fishes and these fishes such as parrot and surgeon fishes are integral part of reef as they prevent the over growth of macro-algae on the reef as they deprive corals of essential sunlight.”

Despite the implementation of 31 marine protected areas, high demand for reef fish by resorts and seafood exporters means local fishermen continued to fish in these areas, with little funding allocated to education or enforcement.

“From inception the marine protected area program received only meager financial support from the government, and inadequate staff,” the report notes.

“In the year 2007, the entire environmental conservation program in the country received less than one percent of the Gross Domestic Product while the tourism and transportation sector together contributed about 46 percent.

“The inadequate funding of such programs seriously limits the ability of the management agencies of enforcing protected area boundaries, use restrictions, and penalties and conducting educational programs.”

The report suggests that part of the reason protected areas receive insufficient funding “is the government’s failure to recognise both market and non-market values derived from natural resources.”

“With nature-based tourism there exists a significant amount of economic surplus, which the tourists derive and which does not enter the market process. As a result, the government fails to recover at least a portion of that surplus toward the costs of protecting the resource from its users.”

Currently, visitors spend an average of US$1,666 per person per trip within the country, a total annual spend of US$1,126 million, the report noted, broken down into hotels (35%), followed by food and beverages (23%), recreational activities (19%), miscellaneous (18%) and retail shopping (5%).

If the government were to introduce a user fee of US$35, spread across these or levied at once, then based on current visitor numbers the country would generate US$27.36 million – “more than 85 percent of current environmental expenditure.”

Sim Mohamed Ibrahim from the Maldives Association Tourism Industry (MATI) counters that passing additional taxes to tourists is “not a good idea at all”, as “the Maldives is already seen as an expensive luxury destination, and unaffordable for tourists in the mid-market segment.”

“Resorts already need to apply best practice to maintain and manage natural resources to ensure they remain in business,” he said, favouring education and greater involvement between the industry and the local communities.

Resorts “could do more” to pass on best practice to the community, Sim acknowledged.

“In particular we have to catch the younger generation before they begin dropping waste in the ocean, for instance,” he said.

The report anticipates the industry’s economic counterargument, in that the main challenge faced in implementing such a conservation fee would be “political resistance from local businesses that serve the tourism industry. It is feared that excessive taxes and fees may turn tourists away to other places.”

“Ironically, Maldives’ tourism continues to expand significantly [and] users who greatly benefit from the rich natural resource are foreigners, while the responsibility for sustainable and fair use of such resources largely falls on the local population and the government,” the report reads.

“One way to resolve this disparity issue is to identify funding sources from within those who directly benefit from the tourism experience and the tourism dollars, and to design policies to ensure appropriate money transfer from beneficiaries to those responsible for conservation and regulation,” it notes.


12 thoughts on “Tax tourists to fund conservation efforts, suggests report”

  1. The travel cost method used estimates "the value" of the ecosystem based on what visitors spend to access these recreational sites. As such the main message should not be forgotten that this is giving a value of the place (our reefs are valuable! and probably worth more.) AND NOT what tourists would be willing to spend as additional taxes.

    Sadly with value, the government sees the potential $$$ and not the work they should be doing to conserve/improve these places. true these actions require $$$. And true tourists MAY be willing to pay a conservation tax, but I am sure they would want to see there money go to the right place... that it goes to the specific improvements and not the general treasury ... and to God (and those who know) knows where. As a tourist I would like to know where my money would go before I'm willing to pay anything!!

  2. i am a maldivian but i have to say this. the main cause of the problems the maldivian marine ecosystem is facing is because of maldivians. so, why should the tourist pay "environmental" tax for just enjoying the natural beauty of the marine ecosystem of maldives? i dont get this.

  3. The previous Government organized an local environmental conference in Male, held in the late eighties of the las century with the participation of officials from the Tourist Ministry and among others interested Diving Instructors form nearby Tourist Islands too.

    The discussions were lead and directed "what can the Tourist Resorts do to avoid pollution to the environment?"

    Desalination, Sewage Treatment Plants and Wastewater conditioning was the solution.

    Then the that time Diving Instructor and Base Leader from Lankan Finolhu - mostly kown as "Bodu Matimas" - got up and questioned:

    "What about Male with its over 100.000 inhabitants that time and the visiting dhonis (local + tourists) with their people? All the toilet water and waste water of all the companies and private houses, offices etc. was been pumped uncleared and untreated directly into the sea. Male is poisoning its own environment itself. Since years I am not diving anymore on the Male and "Oil-Island" reefs due to the waste water around Male itself. I was diving on some reefs on the west side of Vilingili - there was an unusual algae growing due to the nutrient enrichment from sewage discharges of the nearby Male. The same was on the reef nearby the wreck of the Maldives Victory. Here in Male itself there starts the biggest pollution of the environment."

    Immediately after that the conference was been ended from the officials in spite of the fact that there was planned over one hour more time for the expected contributions and discussions.

    I got to know about it as I was working that time in Lankan Finolhu for the Base Leader Lutz Hagemann.

  4. MATI is a gentleman's' club. Only Resort owners. Maldives Association Tourism Industry! These guys should not be seen as a spokesperson for the Tourism industry. Only resort owners are allowed membership. They just sit on their plush chairs and conspire of more ways to pocket more money out of our resources. They don't give a s*** about conservation or wealth distribution.

  5. I would agree with HAMA and Stephan van Treek!

    We are inventors of our own disasters!

    We wanted harbours and we dredged them; We wanted more harbours and we dredged them!

    Where did all the sediments buried for xxx numbers of years go?

    They covered the reefs around our islands like thick carpets and they killed the coral, who were feed to small fish, where feed to bigger fish, who were feed for the fish we eat!
    Now we have only a little fish to eat!

    Conferences and meetings have become showpieces, they in fact deliver very little and the bottom line for any failure is lack of "FUNDS"!

    Now this! Where should we expect the tourist to go?

    Surely it will be another place! Perhaps Sri Lanka and India, where business is unusually lucrative!

  6. dear hama, let me tell u the concept of consumer suprlus. you want to buy a tshirt and u think u can buy a nice one u like for about 200 rufiya. u saw one nice tshirt and when you asked the price it happens to be 50 rufiya. but because you liked it you must have been prepared to pay 200 rufiya for it. so here your consumer surplus was 150. you are more than happy to buy it for 50, 100, 150. your satsifcation of buying and price equal only at 200. so when tourists spend time generally they get extra satisfaction. so even if the shop keeper sold u for 70 instead of 50 you would have bought it happy as u were willing to pay 200. when i read the report i found that each tourist in average has 120 dollar surplus of satisfaction compared to the beauty of maldives. so if this is multipled by the number of day and even if 1% percent is chaged as the report it will generate revenue, at only 15% per tourist per trip without decreasing the number of tourists who would come. econommic concepts are targeted at those who use them. this can be done for local people also, but the average income of maldivians are too low. you talk of charging people for enjoying. why are you charged differently when you have a coffee in a restaurant compared to a coffe in a sai hota. the same ingredients but you are not just enjoying the coffee, its a total product tht you are enjoying. and for people like sim just say what he think rather than thinking good for the people.

  7. The cost of travel is already sky high and exaggerated in addition your liberty to see and value nature cannot be again charged. we totally disagree as tourists, in fact this is a tactical master plan and strategy to minimize flow of tourists to these regions by jealous institutes who have lost the opportunity to foot hold the portion of the golden egg.

  8. The cost of travel is already sky high and exaggerated in addition your liberty to see and value nature cannot be again charged. we totally disagree as tourists, in fact this is a tactical master plan and strategy to minimize flow of tourists to these regions by jealous institutes who have lost the opportunity to foot hold the portion of the golden egg. Ah eventually the fund will end-up in a pocket of elite or a politician.

  9. dear oyster, i am not saying anything against those "economic" concepts. and i know everything we do is somehow connected to economics (ho-hum). but seriously, have we ever done anything to save the earth? it is not the tourists who pollute the marine ecosystem... obviously we cant do much about the global warming but we can at least reduce the amount of waste we throw in the ocean. u think taxing the tourists will have any effect? what are we gonna do with the money, bribe maldivians in to not throwing waste in the ocean? well, good luck with that...

  10. Do these people even know that we don't exploit herbivorous fishes in the this country? We don't even like parrotfishes and surgeonfishes. That's the problem with giving these projects to outsiders who doesn't know what's going on here. The government should give the money to local people to do the studies....problem is if it's a Maldivian the rates will drop from USD 800 per day for a foreigner to Rf100 per day for a local. It's bullshit!

  11. dear hama, yeah agree you 🙂

    dear overexploitation, you are saying you dont like parrotfishes and surgeonfishes. see yourself the link it has on good coral reefs and sea grass and turtles. it is just one study, everyone does not have to accept it alone. as more knowledge is produced it can only help people and govt understand things in many angles.


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