Comment: Maafushi a shining example of guest-house tourism

President Nasheed’s references to guesthouse tourism on the local inhabited island of Maafushi in the recent televised presidential candidates’ debate has drawn comment from many in the tourism industry (not to mention the opposition parties and the various political affiliates whose only job seems to criticise Nasheed at every available opportunity).

Those references by Nasheed were made for a very good reason. Because Maafushi is a shining example of how successfully guesthouse tourism has been implemented on an inhabited island, and  illustrates how every employable person, every man or woman seeking a job on the island, has the opportunity to seek gainful employment.

Not only that, all the service-provision on the island has thrived on the commercial viability and need of the visitors coming to the island’s shores.

Cafés, restaurants, and water-sports businesses are thriving, as is the home gardening of local vegetables and fruits which can be sold to readily available buyers. All of these of course are what the guest-house policy is designed to achieve.

Occupancy of guest houses on the island is impressive with an average occupancy rate of over 70 percent – further demonstrating that demand is steady enough to support this newly emerging segment of the Maldives tourism product. In short, Maafushi demonstrates that guest-house tourism can indeed be successfully replicated across all the atolls of the Maldives.

MDP’s guest-house policy, like all of its policies, has been designed after extensive research, public consultation and with assistance and guidance of experts from the economic sector. During our public policy consultation process, which took the form workshops and repeated visits to local islands over several months, local entrepreneurs and concerned citizens alike consistently expressed their desire for an MDP policy “to bring tourism to our atoll”.

Without a doubt tourism, as it should, has remained the cornerstone of MDP’s vision for regenerating growth in the economy. The guest-house policy especially is aimed to kick-start local economies and more importantly to utilise the natural resources endowed on our beautiful islands. The competitive advantage of the Maldives as a tourist destination is the unique formation of the small islands, ringed as atolls, surrounded by reefs and ensconcing a breathtaking undersea marine life.

MDP’s policy team has asked all the right questions. What exactly is the Maldives tourism product? What are its components? At what point of maturity in the destination’s image should new components be introduced? Can occupancy rates be met if we introduced a different segment of tourism? What will guest-house tourism do to the existing resort tourism and safari-boats and dive-tours? Will budget tourism dilute the ability to market the destination successfully as a romantic island getaway on which exclusivity to guests is guaranteed?

These questions have been thoroughly discussed and scenarios considered before the policy was included in the MDP’s manifesto. The policy debates have produced many encouraging answers.

I believe the Maldives tourism industry and indeed local entrepreneurs in the country have reached a point in maturity in which new initiatives could be boldly introduced. The concern of the resort industry is that the current cache of 5 to 7 star island resorts built exclusively on uninhabited islands is emblematic of the destination’s image, with the view that any form of tourism on inhabited islands will create confusion and sully that image.

Looking at destination maturity across many other countries in the world, the timing is appropriate now to showcase what the rest of the country is about. Is there a single destination in the world without a network of guest-houses, youth hostels and locally based homestay arrangements? The existence of these facilities do not detract from the image portrayed by the destination marketing organisations, in fact they are seen as a necessary addition complementing the primary tourism product.

I am convinced such will be the case for the Maldives too. Forty years of tourism has created a specific image of the islands in the marketplace. And that is all about the islands’ natural beauty – such unique beauty not found in any other part of the world.

The guiding post for this policy is the answer to the question: Why do tourists come to the Maldives? The answer: to experience the spectacular natural beauty of its isles. Being on a resort or an inhabited island does not deprive a visitor or indeed any tourist of accessing such beauty.

To walk on a pristine white beach, snorkel in the azure seas or experience the breathtaking underwater world is entirely possible whether tourist facilities are provided on an inhabited island, or exclusive purpose built resort island.

Dr Mariyam Zulfa was former President Nasheed’s Tourism Minister at the time of the overthrow of his administration on 7 February 2012.

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12 thoughts on “Comment: Maafushi a shining example of guest-house tourism”

  1. Ofcourse this is a shining example!

    Middle class people of the industrial world who need a vacation, away from the robotic life they live in, need a vacation!

    They need to spend some time among real people, and in a real world! Where all peoples can live in peace and harmony without having to wanting to what is not there!

    This is a wonderful thing!

  2. "Is there a single destination in the world without a network of guest-houses, youth hostels and locally based homestay arrangements?"

    That's a key question, of course. There are a lot of potential visitors to the Maldives who don't particular fancy living in a 10 star hotel surrounded by pristine beaches. They want to experience the local culture, the simplistic life of the Maldivians and see the natural environment as it is. I guess that's the target market for the guest house business.

    Will it dilute the luxury market? If it would, then all the 5 star hotels in the world would have gone bankrupt by now. Clearly, these two models cater for very different markets and there's no overlap. Again, it's human nature to fear uncertainty, so, the existing luxury hotel owners will naturally kick a fuss.

  3. Without a doubt, this is a splendid opportunity and perfect timing to participate in the increased flow of tourists. Invest and plan cautiously, success does not come with just making a building, making a sign and keeping the door open.

  4. Ws there in March his year. Fab island and fab tourism wht is done there. I used to live in the Maldives 3 year prior to this- and have not seen anything like this before! A real gem and tourists loved it- they didnt get the wonderful glizzy world, but a island, which is a dream come true- but with the connection a normal life too.!

  5. I was for a long time deceived by the regime argument that keeping tourism exclusive will stop the more negative effects of rampant tourism in the whole country. It took MDP to remind me that there are huge positives for the ordinary people and the regime and the elite were simply trying to keep their hold on the profits.
    I agree. Two different markets. The rich don't need to stress about losing their incomes as the low end tourism will not compete with the five star resorts. A really inspired idea by MDP and one that is working for the people.
    The nature of tourism is changing. More and more tourists including myself and friends want to contribute to the local economies. Guest house tourism fits in nicely into that niche- ethical and people/culture friendly.

  6. Government should begin conducting training for the guest house operators as it would guarantee a professional service being offered to tourists. After the fall of MDP the new tourism ministry is not so convinced about sustainability of tourism in local islands. lobbied by resort owners and some extremist religious groups the Ministry is far from being supportive in the development of the sector.

  7. In the end this debate will begin and end with how soon we can convince the people to allow the controlled sale of liquor in said guesthouses. We cannot a sizeable tourist market without catering for the liquor-needs of Westerners in a holiday mood.

    I find it hard to believe that we can attract visitors from nearby Asian countries such as India given their need to shop and enjoy city life on Holiday. However I am not an expert in this area and any initiative that may benefit the Maldives and its businesses in the long run must be studied, tested and promoted.

  8. The guesthouse business model asvocated by MDP is not sustainable and it does not address social problems that come with it. With such poor regulation and low barrier to entry there would be a glut of bed capacity which will make most of the businesses unfeasible. Lower prices will lead to substandard facilities and service.moreover security issues will arise which will spoil Maldives Destination will take a few years for the public to realize this. This guesthouse policy is a political vote gainer but it will be a longterm failure. Dr Zulfa knows it

  9. MDP Guest house policy is a sign which the ordinary Maldivians could get a glimpse of what the rich and the glamorous elite tourism tycoons would be experiencing. its a stepping stone. it would lead locals to a higher profit making business in time. it creates a lot of employment and in return decrease social issues related to it. W sounds very jealous from a political angle. Security as W mentions should be dealt with, but again all high end tourist destinations do have these products too. i salute for mdp having the courage to initiate this policy..


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