Maldives on course to meet million tourist target as political uncertainty dominates global headlines

“The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has said the Maldives will successfully welcome over one million tourists to the country this year, according to Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb.

The claims were made as the country’s ongoing political uncertainty comes under intense scrutiny by global media after the country’s judiciary – previously reported as being heavily politicised in a UN-sanctioned investigation – suspended polling scheduled for September 28,” reports Minivan News’ spin-off travel site, Dhonisaurus.

“Tourism Minister Adheeb, speaking after the country officially launched the international celebrations for World Tourism Day on September 27 from Kurumba Island Resort, said that current statistics – backed by the UNWTO – indicated that tourist arrivals would exceed one million visitors during 2013.

The Maldives narrowly missed out on its stated aim of bringing one million visitors to the country last year, citing the impacts of global media covering the controversial change of government, an event which followed a mutiny by sections of the police and military.

The UNWTO launch event was attended by Adheeb, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and President Dr Mohamed Waheed, who spoke of the potential dangers the Maldives faced as a result of climate change – not least in terms of issues of water supply.

However, the celebrations, attended by senior UNWTO figures, were overshadowed by international media reports of “political chaos” in the country, and talk of potential disruption to the lucrative resort industry as a result of a 5,000 strong workers’ union pledging prolonged strike action.

The action was pledged in response to a Supreme Court decision on September 23 to indefinitely suspend the ongoing presidential election over allegations of voter irregularity, a decision that sparked global concern from international actors that had praised the voting process earlier this month.

Despite the strike pledge, tourism industry operators speaking to Dhonisaurus – including properties directly linked to presidential candidates placed second and third during voting on September 7 – said it had nonetheless been business as usual for the country’s resorts this week.

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Resorts hope for end to “food and beverage nightmare” as Maldives suppliers run out of gas

Resort operators and businesses across the Maldives have been forced to dramatically alter menus and even temporarily close entire restaurants after weeks of disruptions to the supply of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).

The general manager of one exclusive resort told Minivan News that LPG shortage had created a “food and beverage nightmare” over the last three weeks.

“Comedy of errors”

Maldive Gas, a major supplier of cooking gas to both resort operators and restaurants across the country’s inhabited islands, released a statement (Dhivehi) on Thursday (June 20) saying it expected the LPG issue to be resolved today.

Apologising to its customers, Maldive Gas stated that it had been forced to ration LPG to clients to avoid running out, citing a malfunction in the engine of a cargo vessel bringing a shipment to the Maldives as the reason for the issue.

Asked whether the company had resolved the LPG shortage today as promised, Maldive Gas requested Minivan News contact a company representative at its plant on the island of Thilafushi, who was not responding to calls at time of press.

Speaking to local media today, Maldive Gas Managing Director Ahmed Wafir announced that the company had since removed restrictions over the supply of LPG.

“Gas is now available as it was available from us before, without any limit,” he was quoted as telling Sun Online.

Minivan News understands that other key local suppliers such as Villa Gas have also been affected by the recent LPG shortage. Local businesses that are customers of the company said today they had been informed the issue would be resolved within the next 24 hours.

Despite the supplier’s claims, a resort general manager told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that many of the country’s exclusive island properties had been forced to drastically cut their menus due to a “comedy of errors” by suppliers.

The source claimed suppliers had been experiencing gas shortages even before reports surfaced that a transport vessel had broken down around 200 kilometres from Male’.

According to the general manager, very little information had been given by suppliers over what had led to the rationing, which was having a direct impact on a large number of tourism properties.

“All resorts have been affected from what we’re told, and what I’ve heard from other resorts. This also happened the same time last year and it seems suppliers have not learnt from this,” the resort source claimed.

The general manager said that aside from having to minimise menus, catering staff on the property had been forced to set up barbecues around the resort to try and feed guests, with certain restaurants and an on-site pizza oven out of use for most of the month.

“Needless to say, there have been complaints from guests,” the source responded, when asked about the potential damage the shortage of LPG would have on the Maldives’ reputation as a high-end tourism destination.

The general manager added that although the resort had continued to receive a limited supply of around two bottles of LPG a day during the shortage, this had been insufficient to meet the property’s average daily consumption of eight.

“Suppliers have told us normal service will resume by this evening, I’m about 90 percent certain [it will resume],” the source said.

In Male’, local media reported that a number of cafes and restaurants had also been negatively impacted by gas shortages over the last week, with some even forced to close.

“Very scary”

Local businessman Fasy Ismael, the co-owner of several well-known restaurants in the capital including The Sea House Maldives, Jade Bistro and Oxygen, described the challenge of trying to secure LPG as “very scary” for businesses such as his in recent weeks.

“We weren’t sure when we’d get LPG in, and thought we might have to shut down for a couple of days,” he said.

Fasy claimed that even today, his restaurants had only been receiving half the total amount needed to run the businesses.

“For the last week, we haven’t been able to get a full supply from Maldive Gas. Villas Gas has not been able to supply us for two weeks,” he said. “We are lucky we use two different suppliers to meet our needs.”

Fasy said today that both gas suppliers had promised that supply would be returned to normal by tomorrow at the latest.

He said his restaurants had narrowly managed to stay open, thanks to a large reserve stock of 15 bottles.


Underwater “sci-fi” hotel proposed for Maldives

This story was first published on the Maldives resort review site,

Of all the phrases synonymous with the Maldives’ high-end island resort tourism, ‘Star-Trek’ or science fiction may not immediately spring to mind. However, things could be about to change under a new project reportedly approved by the country’s Ministry of Tourism this week.

CNN has reported that a ‘Water Discus Hotel’, designed by Poland-based design group Deep Ocean Technology, aims to marry the Maldives’ traditional over-the-water luxury and beach appeal with “opulent” undersea bedrooms.

The design, unveiled at the Maldives Hotel and Trade Exhibition in 2011, makes use of over-the-water, flying saucer-like disc sections containing a luxury restaurant and spa that are attached to 21 underwater bedrooms via a glass tunnel.

The article does not specify a date for completion of the project, or details on how it will be funded. Minivan News was awaiting a response from Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb at time of press.


Designers for the structure have explained that the hotel’s two main discs sit on a central pillar. The discs offset their respective weight because of their natural water buoyancy, so only minimal foundations are needed.

“The lower disc is filled with air and is buoyant and is anchored to the ground with steel lines,” architect Pawel Podwojewski explained to Minivan News in December 2011.

Concept art of the hotel

The seawater swimming pools on the top disc are four metres deep and balance the weight the structure, and can be used for diver training. In an emergency, or in the case of maintenance, the cables can be released, allowing the lower disc to automatically surface.

As well as enjoying a glimpse into the Maldives’ much-lauded underwater environs from the comfort of their own rooms, guests will also be able to use an on-site airlock compartment to dive right into the surrounding habitats, Podwojewski told CNN.

He also claimed that the hotel intended to offer excursions in a three passenger deep-sea submarine.

The hotel has been designed with the minimum structures needed to try and limit environmental impact, Podwojewski said this week.

In the case of local coral reefs that would be impacted directly by the construction, special plantations would be grown and relocated around the hotel once construction was complete, the designers claimed.

“The key is to touch the sea ground at just few points,” Podwojewski told CNN.

“Most probably the hotel will land on a flat sand area to reflect the sun rays inside the rooms and the reef will be additionally planted around the hotel rooms to enrich the view.”

According to the group’s website, Deep Ocean Technology was founded in 2010 by a group of scientists and engineers from the Faculty of Ocean Engineering and Ship Technology, Gdańsk University of Technology, as well using the expertise of local research and development groups.

The company is backed by Swiss investors.


The Maldives has in recent years seen a number of resorts trying to provide innovative – not to mention headline grabbing – underwater developments such as restaurants, spas and nightclubs.

Above the water, the country is also reportedly set to see the development of a series of man-made islands, including a 19-hole golf course complex, according to the company overseeing the project.

Paul Van de Camp, CEO of the Netherlands-based design group Dutch Docklands International has said the project, which proposes the creation of five man-made islands to support leisure activities in the Maldives, will begin by the end of 2013.

Set to combine underwater club houses, subterranean tunnels and private submarines, the golf course is expected to cost an estimated £320 million (MVR 7.6 billion), UK media has reported.


Attorney General’s Office to decide on Yacht Tours injunction appeal in “days”

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) will announce in the “next few days” whether it will appeal an injunction preventing the state from taking over several properties operated by J Hotels and Resorts over a rent payment dispute.

Deputy Solicitor General Ahmed Usham told Minivan News today that the AGO was presently reviewing the Civil Court injunction issued earlier this month in order to decide whether to contest the matter.

“We have a time limit of 90 days – excluding public holidays – to file an appeal,” Usham said.

The government has sought to revoke the lease for Alidhoo Resort in Haa Alif Atoll and Kudarah Island Resort in South Alifu Atoll from J Hotels and Resorts’ parent company Yacht Tours Maldives since late last year.  The state had previously provided the operator a seven day period to hand over the properties.

However, Yacht Tours Maldives – formed by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdulla Jabir – has continued to contest the government’s right to reclaim the land.

In the Civil Court injunction issued on June 4 this year, the Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture was told it could not take over the resorts until a final ruling had been made over the issue of unpaid rent claimed to be owed by Yacht Tours.

Yacht Tours Director Ibrahim Shiham last week accused the government of trying to come on to the Kudarah resort property on June 3 without a court warrant to take over the property, alleging authorities had sought to create a “political drama” out of the case.

The Tourism Ministry told local media at the time that Yacht Tours had continuously failed to pay back the rent and fines in installments as previously agreed following a first termination notice being sent.

Minivan News was awaiting a response from Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb at time of press.


Maldives targets hosting flagship WTA event in 2014 as part of event tourism ambitions

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has expressed interest in the Maldives hosting the World Travel Awards (WTA) main international event next year – a move said to reflect the destination’s aim of expanding into event-based tourism, reports Minivan News’ spin-off travel site, Dhonisaurus.

After hosting the Indian Ocean regional WTA ceremony at the Paradise Island Resort and Spa earlier this month, Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has since confirmed that discussions had commenced on the Maldives potentially hosting the WTA’s flagship event in 2014.

The Maldives dominated this year’s WTA Indian Ocean ceremony held on may 12, with local operators and resort groups among the main winners on the night.=

Responding to the country’s award success, one senior tourism industry figure present at the ceremony this month raised concerns over the credibility of the wider WTA voting process – pointing to the high number of collaborators and sponsors for the Indian Ocean event that received accolades.

However, local authorities have maintained that this month’s ceremony will provide a major boost to the reputation of the Maldives resorts for meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions (MICE) tourism in the long-term.

Deputy Minister Maleeh stressed authorities were already working to play up the destination’s potential to businesses travellers.

“We are quite clear on our aim of trying to attract MICE tourism here.  In this regard we have already been in touch with management companies.  The WTA has said it was happy with how the [Indian Ocean ceremony] went and we have already started discussing hosting the international event, hopefully this can be arranged,” he said.

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Guesthouse potential thrusts Maldives mid-market tourism into political fray

This story was originally published on travel review site,

Since the inception of Maldives tourism over 40 years ago, the country has seen the development of more than 100 islands into exclusive resorts which – by focusing on secluded luxury – are almost entirely cut off from local laws and politics.

The potential for expanding mid-market tourism in the Maldives through the “niche” guesthouse segment may emerge as an early election issue after senior opposition and government figures clashed over how best the country’s inhabited islands can profit from visitors.

While the present government has boasted of nearly doubling the number guesthouse business since coming to power in February last year, the country’s opposition unveiled plans to address what it called a “total disconnect” between the lucrative island resort model and local people.

‘Real Maldives’

Beyond the political rhetoric, a growing number of specialist operators have emerged trying to cater to the mid-market demand from tourists looking to experience the ‘real Maldives’ –  a side of the country often unseen due to the prevalence of the lucrative ‘one island, one resort model’.

One such group is Secret Paradise, which this year began offering tourists special packages in North Male’ Atoll and South Male’ Atoll aiming to combine the traditional tourist staples of sunbathing, water sports and diving with authentic Maldives experiences like cooking and eating with local families, or assisting at island schools.

Ruth Franklin, a senior UK business figure who helped develop Secret Paradise with a local partner, said that aside from providing a more authentic travel experience, a key selling point for the business was to provide more affordable holidays for tourists concerned the Maldives was out of their price range.

Franklin added that trying to realise the full potential for mid-market tourism was not without challenges, especially in terms of a tourist’s perception of budget.

“To many travellers, ‘budget’ means a room for US$20 or less a night in many Asian destinations. In the Maldives, budget should be interpreted in relation to the cost of a night on a resort for bed and breakfast. Guesthouses on average start at US$50 verses the cheapest resort at US$250,” she said.

Franklin identified another hurdle in the general lack of information available to tourists about life outside the country’s resorts; from the cost of transportation and the availability of local ferries – which are further limited on Fridays and public holidays – to adhering with local laws and culture on ‘inhabited’ islands. On these islands, drinking alcohol and wearing bikinis are not permitted.

“Our packages are designed to take this into account so that travellers have the option of day visits to resorts, sandbanks and picnic islands where the restrictions do not apply,” Franklin added.

Franklin said that compared to the country’s resort and even safari boat industries, the niche status of guesthouse tourism did grant the segment a unique appeal in the region.

“Independent travel will never be in my opinion as it is in Thailand for example and quite frankly I wouldn’t want it to be. My belief is that local islands should have a set number of tourist beds available that is governed by the Tourism Ministry,” she said.

“Whilst I think it is right to open up the island to tourists to allow travellers to experience local customs and traditions and to help support local economy I would not want to see islands inundated with travellers to the point that the best of the Maldives customs and traditions disappear.”

Franklin suggested that wider success for the guesthouse industry could eventually lead to growing pressure to amend laws relating to alcohol and allowing women to wear bikinis on local beaches as part of a potential trade off for greater economic viability of mid-market tourism.

“Whilst my belief is that alcohol will not and should not be available on local islands there is definitely already a keen interest by guesthouse owners to provide private beach areas for tourists,” she added. “I am not in support of this as I think those guests who stay on a local island should do so to also experience culture and tradition and as ‘guests’ should respect a country’s law and regulations.”

Compromise calls

In December last year, the author of the latest Lonely Planet travel book to focus on the Maldives told Dhonisaurus that compromise would be needed by authorities should they wish to ensure independent travel was viable for a wider number of businesses going forward.

Lonely Planet author Tom Masters said he ultimately believed that local islands could still provide independent travellers with “sufficient attractions”, even within the strictly conservative laws practices outside of the country’s resort islands.

“However, I think only a tiny proportion of potential visitors would be happy to accept such a number of restrictions on their annual holiday, and so if some degree of compromise could be reached on issues such as alcohol or sunbathing, then the number of travellers opting for island tourism over that in an expensive resort would rise enormously,” he said at the time.

“A weakling in need of love and nurturing”

Adrian Neville, a veteran of travel writing in the Maldives previously told Dhonisaurus that beyond the recent political arguments, guest-houses had played a major role in the development of the tourism industry, dating back to their foundation in 1972. However, such properties were abruptly closed for many years as of May 1, 1984.

“This was pretty much directly at the behest of the resort owners for obvious reasons and on the spurious grounds of social problems and the wrong type of tourists,” he said. “Of course, now those wrong types are just fine – now they are not ‘hippies’ but ‘independent travellers’.”

While guest-houses had been reintroduced back in 2008, Neville contended that he was not sure whether the general attitudes of resort owners in the country would have changed much, particularly in terms of supporting the fledgling industry.

“The sector is up and running, but it is a weakling in need of love and nurturing,” he said.

Neville claimed that while there was clear interest in the further development of a guest-house sector to allow independent travellers to take in the Maldives, the country’s long-term segregation of tourists from local communities may also serve to limit the potential.

“There is sufficient interest but it won’t grow quickly until the issue of separation or, most unlikely for the foreseeable future, co-habitation with different lifestyles, is resolved,” he said.

Quality standards

Tourism authorities last year noted that guesthouse demand would likely remain “quite insignificant” when compared to demand for the country’s island resorts.

However, speaking to Minivan News in March this year, Deputy Tourism Mohamed Maleeh Jamal praised the industry as a “phenomenon” that the present administration would look to continue to support.

“The industry is doing well right now in Hulhumale’ [an island situated ten minutes from the capital by speedboat]. I understand major operators are already coming out with their own brochures,” he added.

Despite pledging government support for the industry, Maleeh claimed that it would be vital to ensure that quality standards were maintained across the industry in line with the reputation built up by the Maldives resort industry over the last forty years.

“We don’t want anything unexpected to happen,” he added. With a growing number of domestic airports anticipated to be developed across the country in the coming years, Maleeh said he expected a growing number of guesthouses would be established to meet demand .

“Where there are transports hubs, there will of course be more guesthouses appearing,” he said.

However, Maleeh stressed that the success of mid-market tourism was dependent on making sure that infrastructure was in place to welcome tourists.

“In some of these islands, the infrastructure is just not there; sewerage, drinking water, garbage disposal and 24 hour electricity supplies are needed,” he said. “My main interest is that while any Maldvian can open a guest-housem can we make sure that the customers are there?”

Ahead of presidential elections scheduled for September this year, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed has pledged to promote and support wider guesthouse development as part of efforts to try and aid wider economic growth.

“Having tourists on inhabited islands is not going to result in the community facing any additional detrimental effects that do not already exist. On the contrary, having tourists will empower the islanders to overcome whatever objectionable issues that they may face,” the former president claimed.

“Maldivians will have to open their eyes to outside cultures, and allow for the increase in opportunities for development. In addition to direct employment and income generated by guesthouses, it will also boost other existing island businesses.”

Despite guesthouses seemingly being in vogue as a topic for electioneering, Raki Bench, founder of the guest-houses in Maldives website last year said he was  critical of the role played by the present and former government to develop the industry.

Bench added in recent years, despite previous government commitments to provide more mid-market accommodation for visitors wanting to explore the country’s inhabited islands, further support had been lacking.

“The government has not really been helping guest-houses at all. It is a small sector, but it is showing growth within the wider tourism industry. I don’t see any promotion from authorities,” added Bench.

“I do understand why this is the case. After all what is the point in promoting an industry with a value of US$50 a night when you compare that to what resorts can make.”


A flavour of “real Maldivian life”: The Observer newspaper

Writing for UK-based ‘The Observer’ newspaper, Ruaridh Nicoll asks if it is possible to experience luxury within the atolls of the Maldives without breaking the bank.

“Standing on the bone-white sand, gazing into the clear water, I watched a blacktip reef shark cruise past my big toe. It was a tiny shark, maybe 10 inches long, but it moved as if a major predator: I imagined that in its mind it was the terror of tiny things.

‘Do they bite?’ I asked.

‘No, they are completely harmless,’ said Ali, operations manager of Vilu Reef, a resort on the Maldivian atoll of South Nilandhe. ‘We’ve only had one incident with them. A small boy of maybe four managed to catch one, which is hard , and he carried it up the beach and dropped it in the swimming pool.’

There was, he said, pandemonium.

My gaze rose, over a sea richer in fish than your average aquarium, past cabanas on stilts over the water, past the reef to where a blue seaplane was landing with more guests. The Maldives, coral islands on long-extinct volcanoes, pulsed in the sun – a million visions of paradise.

I’d never thought of visiting the atolls, seeing it as a bit posh, a bit package. A friend from British Airways changed my mind. He complained that because so many visitors to the Maldives were on honeymoon (or were just plain rich), the front of their flights were always packed, while economy sat empty. I got to wondering whether it was possible to visit on the cheap.

Well, it’s not easy. One option is to avoid the tourist islands, of which there are a little short of 100, and go to the local islands, which number 200. That way you will get the flavour of the real Maldivian life, in all its Islamic constraints. It’s fascinating, but there’s no booze, you’ll spend days trying to get around on small ferries, and have to swim in a burqa (for men, that’s optional).

Most of us who work full-time would, I guess, rather indulge the dream. So I looked for a resort that wasn’t a five-star tower of marble and palm fronds and which offered deals out of season. The result was Vilu Reef, a truly international experience.

‘The Chinese are arriving in ever-larger numbers,’ said Ali. ‘And you know what’s interesting? Not many Chinese people swim.’

We were walking across the island, under the shade of the palms and through the lush and scented undergrowth, a journey which took all of five minutes.

‘Then what do the Chinese do here?’ I asked. ‘The island’s tiny.’

‘Well they walk round and round until they are bored and then they dive in. Our lifeguards are trained to look out for it. We pull them out and then we say, We can arrange swimming lessons.'”

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LUX* Maldives targets residents, expatriates with underwater festival programme

Maldives nationals and expatriates with valid work permits are being invited to an underwater festival being held next month at LUX* Maldives resort in South Ari Atoll as part of special offer to open up the proceedings to a wider number of guests.

Taking place between April 15 and April 21, 2013, the resort operator hopes to offer an “intense” variety of activities for guests at the festival, including opportunities to partake in free diving and learn underwater film making with experts from the BBC and National Geographic.

LUX* Maldives has announced that during the entirety of the festival – or at least as long as availability lasts – locals and working expatriates will be able to stay at one of the resort’s villas for a special rate of US$200 (MVR3,080) per night on a bed and breakfast basis.

Transfers from the capital of Male’ to the resort will be US$35 (MVR539), while a compulsory supplement of US$650 (MVR10,010) will be charged to all guests for participation in the festival.  These supplement covers a nine dive programme, as well as participation in the exclusive underwater photography and filming course.

The charge also includes a full day excursion to learn more about the whale shark – often identified as a must sea for underwater explorers in the country – a night dive, introductory courses on free-diving and apnea breathing techniques, as well as guided dives for the more advanced, the resort has said.

Filming beneath the waves and “getting the perfect shot” are to be the key focuses of the latest LUX* Maldives’ Underwater Festival – now in its second year.

Further news and reviews encompassing all aspects of the Maldives tourism industry can be found on Minivan News’ spin-off travel review site, Dhonisaurus.


BBC, National Geographic experts joining LUX* Maldives 2013 underwater festival

The art of filming beneath the waves and “getting the perfect shot” are to be among the key focuses of the LUX* Maldives resort’s second ever Underwater Festival taking place between April 15 and April 21 this year.

Producers from the BBC and the National Geographic organisations will be among key guests at the South Ari Atoll-based resort for the festival – attempting to help attendees perfect the art of taking world class holiday snaps and films.

“This year, we have gone a step further and invited BBC and National Geographic producers to run courses on underwater video-making and video-editing in addition to the photography. We all come to the Maldives with the latest underwater cameras hoping to get the perfect shot, but always end up going home with bits of videos taken while snorkelling,” said a spokesperson for the resort.

“This time the festival will give the great opportunity to the attendees to learn the basics of making their very own underwater reportage.”

The resort will also be joined by world champion free diver Sara Campbell, who will be teaching guests relaxation and advance breathing techniques well beyond the realms of the average tourist to help with exploring the surrounding marine environments.

Guests staying at the resort during the festival will be able to participate in the various events for a supplementary fee, according to LUX* Maldives.

Last year’s festival, which ran from May 14 to May 20, was attended by guests including photographer Junji Takasago and free diver Jean-Jacques Mayol.  They joined the resort’s Resident Marine Biologist Chiara Fumagalli during the week to oversee the festivities and provide special programmes and presentations on diving and photography.

Further news and reviews encompassing all aspects of the Maldives tourism industry can be found on Minivan News’ spin-off travel review site, Dhonisaurus.