Guesthouse island project relocated

The government has changed its guesthouse island project from Laamu Atoll Thumburi to Baresdhoo in the same atoll and renamed it the ‘Laamu Integrated Project.’

President Abdulla Yameen launched the project in June 2014 for the development of a 2,100-bed resort in Thumburi operated by multiple local small and medium-sized enterprises, describing the concept as  “communal tourism development” or “vertical tourism.”

Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) managing director Abdulla Ziyath told the press yesterday that Baresdhoo was chosen as the new location as it is 10 minutes by speedboat from Laamu Gan and significantly larger than Thumburi.

“As the island is 72 hectares, when we consider the project feasibility, more plots can be [sold],” he reportedly said.

Ziyath said 70 percent of land allocated for hotel development has been sold and that the 3,000-bed ‘integrated resort’ will open for business in 2017.

The 17-hectare Thumburi island and the linked 19-hectare Hulhiyandhoo island will be developed in latter phases, he said.

Baresdhoo was previously leased to Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group for agriculture. However, the agriculture ministry decided not to renew the lease when it expired in July 2014, saying Villa had not done any farming on the island.

Ziyath told the state broadcaster in March that the decision to change the island was made following consultations with potential investors.

Construction of a jetty and harbour on Baresdhoo would begin in about a month and conclude before the end of the year, Ziyath had said.

“So overall the project’s viability and progress is very good. There was a slight delay over changing the island,” he said.

The MMPRC was tasked with overseeing the project and engaging with investors. The corporation had said that the guesthouse island project is designed to “responsibly diversify the tourism product of the Maldives” without damaging the country’s image as an upmarket, high-end destination.

The project was also pledged in the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ manifesto with the aim of involving small and medium businesses in the lucrative tourism industry without encroaching on inhabited islands.

Following the introduction of guesthouses in inhabited islands in 2009, mid-market tourism grew substantially with the availability of a low cost accommodation option.

The number of registered establishments rose from 25 at the end of 2010 to more than 170 last year. However, despite the tripling of guesthouse bed capacity, the industry continues to be dominated by the ‘one island-one resort’ model.

The MMPRC meanwhile signed an agreement yesterday with Heavy Force to construct a causeway and harbour on Baresdhoo and contracted the state-owned Island Aviation company to provide transportation services.

Baresdhoo will be developed under phase one of the project, Ziyath said, and the MMPRC will invite bids for “support services” such as a diving centre, water sports facilities, and a shopping centre in a month.

Island Aviation managing director Abdul Haris said the company expects a twofold increase in the number of passengers to Laamu atoll when the project is complete and would facilitate seaplane operations to the island.