Minister reveals foreign investors’ interest in youth city project

Youth Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has revealed that investors from four countries have shown an interest in the Hulhumalé youth city project.

Speaking with Haveeru, Jamal said that companies from Austria, China, Malaysia, and Thailand had made enquiries regarding the development, pitched to the international business community during April’s Singapore investment forum.

“We have received very good proposals. A lot of foreign investors are interested in this project. We can go forward with the Youth City project as soon as Hulhumale land reclamation is complete as per the second phase,” Jamal told Haveeru.

The deal to reclaim land to the north of the artificial island was finalised with Belgian company Dredging International last week, which is expected to have more than doubled the size of the Malé suburb by next February.

A flagship programme in President Abdulla Yameen’s development policy, the youth city is projected to have a population of 50,000.

The project is reported to involve youth-specific housing, international class sports facilities, a theme park, yacht marina, and a tourism district.

Last month, the government revealed that three Chinese companies had expressed interest in the ambitious bridge project designed to link Hulhumalé the crowded capital island of Malé.


Home Minister to introduce obligatory government service for school leavers

Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer has revealed plans to introduce a “one or two year program under which every school leaver must serve the government”.

Naseer’s policy was revealed during a speech given at the inauguration of the police organised camp “Blues for Youth” on Sunday.

This is the second in the series of camps targeted for adolescents, with the current batch including youth from capital city Malé.

The first camp was held in Addu City and Fuvahmulah in late December, and police have announced that a second round of activities will be organised in these areas in the near future.

The current camp will be held from January 5 to 9, and has a total of sixty four participants between the ages of 15 and 18.

“The purpose of organising these camps is to contribute to future generations of school leavers becoming individuals who are aware of the ways of the world and skilled participants of the community,” a police media official told Minivan News today.

In addition to Umar Naseer, Minister of Youth and Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed, Deputy Commissioner of Police Ahmed Saudhee and other senior police officials joined today’s inauguration event.

Commending the initiative by the commissioner of police in organising the camp, Home Minister Naseer stated that the ministry will broaden the camp at national level.

“This government’s policy is to ensure that every school leaver spends at least a year serving the government. God willing, we will extend the Commissioner’s initiative to the level where each school leaver is obligated to engage in national service for two years, or at the very least for one year,” he stated.

He described youth as being highly intelligent and capable of conducting work to improve community matters more effectively. He claimed that the government will be conducting special work to ensure that youth become well-disciplined and responsible by the time they reach the age of graduation.

Home Minister Umar Naseer was not responding to calls at the time of press.

The youth minister and commissioner of police also addressed the camp’s participants in Sunday’s event.

Minister Jamal, highlighting the importance of similar camps to empower and increase opportunities for youth, described the young generation as “the biggest treasure that any nation can possess”.

He stressed upon the importance of creating responsible youth if a bright future is to be established for a nation.

Earlier in January, speaking at a National Day event, the Youth Minister unveiled plans to find employment for all youth by the end of the coming year, 2015.

Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed stated that there was a crucial need to increase participation of adolescents in the work to create a responsible youth generation.

“There is no pleasure any one can reap from frequenting scenes of crimes. It is by strongly staying away from crime and being responsible that real happiness can be achieved,” Waheed said.

He assured that the police force is ever willing to be of assistance to “bring youth to the right path” and to work for youth development.


Youth Minister promises employment to all youth by 2015

The government’s objective is to find employment before the end of 2015 for every youth listed in the unemployed youth register, Minister of Youth and Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has said today.

Several thousand youth have already been listed on the government’s new unemployed youth register both from capital city Male’ and various atolls, he said.

“Youth in the jails who have become a burden on the state and numerous families are now being put to work on various government projects,” Maleeh said, referring to a Ministry of Home Affairs’ program in which inmates are to work on government projects.

“Even beyond this, the government will create many opportunities for youth, and turn them into people who will shape the nation and be at the helm of building its future. This is one of the main objectives of this government,” he said.

That the government’s aim is to bring unemployment down to 3 to 4 percent of the country’s youth population, Maleeh has previously said. According to a survey conducted by the government and the International Labour Organization (ILO), the youth unemployment rate currently stands at 30 percent of the youth population.

The ministry has started work to compile a register of unemployed youth across the country in December. They also introduced a website to facilitate online self registration.

National Day

Speaking in an event held in the island of Utheemu in Haa Alif atoll, the Youth Minister emphasized the role of youth in the development of the country.

“We must work unitedly, prioritizing national interest and with sincerity towards our country. Youth is the main foundation in attempts to reach this goal. While it is youth who can convey the spirit of nationalism to future generations, the current deteriorated status of the economic and social fabric of our country has placed the future of our youth under an immense dark cloud,” he said.

“Several youth who have gotten involved in the abuse of drugs, and who mingle with dangerous groups and commmit serious crimes like assault and murder have become a huge burden to and a serious fear of our society,” he said.

The way to make youth more responsible is by offering educational and work opportunities, he added.

“The biggest responsibility upon all our shoulders today is building nationalism. This can be achieved by viewing the religion of Islam, human rights, culture, economy and social development as the main basis of nationalism,” he concluded.


Anil Adam appointed new deputy tourism minister

Anil Adam has been appointed as the new Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, the President’s Office has announced today.

Adam will replace Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, who was dismissed as deputy tourism minister by the government last week at the behest of his former party, the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP).


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.”


Gasim receives ‘lifetime achievement’ award at Maldives Travel Awards

The Maldives’ first ever travel awards ceremony was held at Paradise Island Resort on Friday evening to mark 40 years of tourism in the country.

The event, organised by the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO), was sponsored by India’s GMR, the current developers of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) which is expected to welcome over one million visitors into the country this year.

Following the opening of the events by some of the Maldives’ top musical acts, including Unoosha, Barchi, Ritte and Mummu, 21 awards were distributed for the categories of resorts, hotels, liveaboards and aviation.

The MATATO appointed judging panel included Dr. Mahamood Shougee (Former Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation and Former Minister of Education), Dr. Ahmed Adham Abdulla (CEO of Maldives Transport and Contracting Company), Ms. Zeenaz Hussain (Dean of Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism Studies), and Mr. Ghaly Murthala (Tourism Development Consultant for FJS Consulting Pvt Ltd).

Amongst the individual award winners on the night was Gasim Ibrahim, owner of Villa Hotels – the parent company of Paradise Island and current leader of the government aligned Jumhooree Party (JP) – who received a lifetime achievement award.

The Hulhule’ Island Hotel (HIH) also won the award for best luxury hotel whilst Paradise Island resort won the award for leading business hotel. The Villa group also picked up an award for leading domestic airport.

Mr Maleeh Jamal – formerly head of MATATO and current Deputy Tourism Minister – was also in line for a personal award, receiving an appreciation plaque alongside Abdulla Jabir – Deputy Leader of the JP – and Yoosuf Riffath, managing director of Capital Travel.

“The event was very successful, and we thank all the sponsors and MATATO for their assistance and support in making the first Maldives Travel Awards a grand success,” said Ismail Hameed, Director of Marketing for the event’s management company, High Rise.

“We also thank all the nominees and congratulate all the winners, and hope that more resorts, hotels, Liveaboards, airlines and airports will participate in next year’s awards,” he added.

Friday’s award winner Maleeh Jamal declared that the “hard days were over” for Maldives tourism, the country’s primary industry, responsible for over 70 percent of the country’s GDP.

Amidst the uncertainty since February’s power transfer, tourism authorities in the country have pursued a strategy of collaboration with the country’s private sector to try and strengthen arrival numbers to the country.

This focus included signing a US$250,000 (Rf3.8million) advertising deal to promote the country’s tourism industry on the BBC through sponsorship of its weather services.

In April, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) confirmed the appointment of New-York based public relations agency Ruder Finn to “oversee the overall media coordination and achievement of PR related solution for destination Maldives.”

Despite the scepticism of some leading branding consultants about the ease with which the Maldives can overcome the negative headlines of this year, Maleeh anticipated increased growth in the coming months.

Arrival numbers to the Maldives between January and August this year totalled 614,802 people – an increase of 2.9 percent compared to the same period during 2011.


Battle for the brand: Are the “hard days” over for Maldives tourism?

As the Maldives looks to boost tourism arrivals following negative international coverage of the country’s political unrest this year, one leading branding consultant has said destinations looking to overcome bad headlines rarely find quick fix solutions to improve their image.

Following the controversial transfer of power that brought President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to office on February 7, negative headlines regarding the political situation and violent clashes between civilians and security forces were deemed as having an adverse affect on tourism in the Maldives.

However, tourism authorities this week talked optimistically of the prospects for growth in the industry following several months of uncertainty that it said impacted growth – predicting a resurgence in international visitors towards 2013.

Earlier this week, Deputy Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture Mohamed Maleeh Jamal claimed “the hard days” were over for the Maldives tourism industry, after a Commonwealth-backed report last week rejected accusations that the present government came to power illegally.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed and the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have continued to allege that they were removed from office in a “coup detat”, claiming the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) failed to include key witness statements and evidence in its findings.

Amidst the uncertainty since February’s power transfer, tourism authorities in the country have pursued a strategy of collaboration with the country’s private sector to try and strengthen arrival numbers to the country. This focus included signing a US$250,000 (Rf3.8million) advertising deal to promote the country’s tourism industry on the BBC through sponsorship of its weather services.

In April, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) confirmed the appointment of New-York based public relations agency Ruder Finn to “oversee the overall media coordination and achievement of PR related solution for destination Maldives.”

However Peter Mathews, founder and chief Executive Officer of UK-based branding consultancy Nucleus, claimed a quick fix solution to changing perceptions of a destination on the back of negative international headlines was unlikely.

Mathews took the examples of Sri Lanka and Bahrain as countries that had experienced difficulties attracting tourists on the back of unfavourable headlines relating to reports of political uncertainty or human rights abuses.

“Both of these destinations have had issues with branding.  Branding alone is not an instant solution for a country’s reputation,” he told Minivan News. “If you are not transparent about issues, they will still be there for tourists to see once you scratch below the surface of a destination.”

With the growing prominence of social media and video sharing services like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Mathews claimed it was becoming increasingly difficult to move on from negative headlines without addressing the key social or political issues.

“We now live in a digital world of instant updates and information, there is nowhere to hide,” he said.

“Ultimately, the best way to re-brand in the medium to long-term is for a destination to try and ensure transparency and avoiding contradictions.”

According to Mathews, a single negative headline about a destination required number of positive stories in order for it to overcome any detrimental impacts to a country’s reputation.

“It can take a while these days for unfavourable headlines to slip down the Google rankings. Of course, some have turned to using the ‘dark arts’ but this doesn’t always work. Particularly in the luxury market, where consumers tend to be much better informed when it comes to travel,” he said.

Talking about the potential challenges for the Maldives regarding boosting confidence in the tourism industry, Mathews said that authorities would need to satisfy resort owners and the international brands operating in the country, as well as the wider population that positive changes were being enacted.

“Suddenly, word of mouth can become very important. This makes it difficult to paper over the cracks,” he said.

Mathews said the Maldives’ relatively unique resort industry – a hundred-or-so resort properties exclusively built on individual private islands – had been afforded protection from any political unrest that centered mostly on its inhabited islands.

“The Maldives resort experience is obviously very different to the Maldives experienced in the capital of Male’, and this does help insulate the industry from uncertainty,” he said. “Yet economically, I would have thought there was interest to try and bring tourism income directly to the capital and other [inhabited] local islands.”

However, the negative impacts on Maldives tourism witnessed following February’s political turmoil appears not to have been repeated despite fears of continued unrest.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) updated a travel advisory for the Maldives on August 24 to account for potential violent clashes linked to the release of findings by the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).

“Very positive”

Amidst talks of potential boycotts of the Maldives travel industry, a stance at one point this year backed by former President Mohamed Nasheed, Deputy Tourism Minister Maleeh contended that arrival figures immediately after February had been sluggish. However, even before the release of the CNI’s findings, which were welcomed by the Commonwealth last week, Maleeh contended that arrival figures had shown “very positive” during June and July.

The deputy minister therefore moved this week to play down fears over the country experiencing continued difficulties in attracting visitors.

“The hard days are over following the findings of the [CNI] report. Over the last week, unlike February, we have seen no major disturbances in the country and this sends a positive message out about the destination,” he said. “During the next four months we are expecting a positive outcome for the industry despite the economic crisis.”

Maleeh added that in light of political instability and “turbulence” experienced in the country since the transfer of power, internal stability was a huge part of attracting and maintaining visitor numbers

“What we do is try to provide the industry and media with information that is true and accurate,” he said.

In March, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) announced that, as well as returning to its ‘sunny side of life’ branding, the industry had set a target during 2012 to attract one million visitors to the country by year’s end.

Maleeh claimed that the industry remained on track to meet these goals, despite certain key challenges such as the impact of ongoing financial uncertainty on some core European tourism markets like the UK and Italy.

During the last 120 days of 2012, Maleeh said that a major tourism marketing push was being planned to meet these goals.  This focus was said to be focused on over 12 major emerging and established markets through Europe and Asia, including measures such as six travel road shows and an international media push.

“We will be bringing an estimated 40 journalists from around the world for press familiarisation trips to show them the ‘sunny side of life’,” he said.

Maleeh claimed that the MMPRC would also be collaborating with over 300 industry stakeholders including resorts groups, liveaboard boat operators and travel agencies to attend a number of major travel events and fairs around the world including London, Rome, Tokyo and Osaka. Key national markets in China and Eastern Europe would also be included.

Maleeh said authorities considered using special roadshow events in order to ensure a short-term boost in tourist interest.

Back in April, the MMPRC teamed up with local airline group Mega Maldives to carry out a travel road-show to promote the Maldives through what it described as a whistle-stop tour of five Chinese cities in one week.

According to Maleeh, the tours allowed the private sector to “close deals” during a period of “sluggish” growth in February and March.

“The roadshows have shown very positive results and we are looking to have one in Eastern Europe to try and boost the market in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic.

The MMPRC has also announced a commitment to take part in special market focused events like the Dive Resort Travel (DRT) Expo in China and other luxury travel-focused shows.

“Sunny side of life”

As part of the organisation’s marketing push, Maleeh added that under ‘sunny side of life’ brand, authorities would make use of a number of what he called lesser known taglines to target specific areas including ‘the spiritual side of life’ and ‘the colourful side of life’ – a tag used to play up the country as a dive destination.

“These messages are quite useful in areas like the Middle East, which are very popular with honeymooners,” he said. “Right now we are hoping that 2012 is shaping up to be a very promising year for tourism in the Maldives.”

Beyond addressing the Maldives’ image, several industry insiders have also raised concerns of late about the financial realities facing both local and multinational companies working in the country.

Just last month, several resort managers voiced concerns over revenue raising measures proposed by the Finance Ministry, which they claimed would have a detrimental financial impact on the tourism industry and provide little improvement in service or support in return.

The proposed measures were part of an ‘austerity’ package sent to parliament’s Finance Committee during August in a bid to address the country’s crippled financial condition.

However, since the publication of the CNI report, President Waheed told Reuters this month that China would grant the Maldives US$500 million (MVR7.7billion) in loans during his state visit to the country.

The loans, equal to nearly one quarter of the Maldives’ GDP, would include $150 million (MVR2.3billion) for housing and infrastructure, with another $350million (MVR5.4billion) from the Export-Import Bank of China, reported Reuters.

Minister of Finance and Trasury Abdulla Jihad told Minivan News today that despite the possible provision of finance from China, the proposed revenue raising plans such as
raising Tourism Goods and Services Tax (TGST) to 15 percent were still being discussed to help balance finances.


Business as usual at Maldives guest-houses after authorities issue “cautionary circular”

The government has insisted city hotels and guest-houses established on the Maldives’ inhabited islands remain open today, after a local media report suggested authorities had revoked the right of local councils to operate tourist properties on their land.

Sun Online reported yesterday that the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had called for an emergency debate in the people’s Majlis against an “order” by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture to cease the “operation of guest houses and hotels”.

MDP Chairperson and MP Reeko Moosa Manik was reported to have criticised the legality of an order issued on June 17, claiming the motion was a means to protect the interests of certain resort owners at the expense of developing independent travel.  Manik was unable to respond to Minivan News at the time of press.

Responding today to the Sun Online report, tourism authorities said there had appeared to be “confusion” about the content of a circular that as released by the ministry on June 17.

While not having seen the circular, former Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa said she did have concerns about the government’s attitude to guest-house development, alleging that authorities sought to reverse previous state commitments to decentralise powers to local councils. She claimed these powers allowed councils – in collaboration with the government – to have more of a say in localised tourist developments.


Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal claimed the ministry has issued a circular to make local councils aware that the allocation of public land for tourism development was to be approved by the ministry and not themselves.

“This circular from the ministry never mentioned guest houses or city hotels directly. Some local councils are allocating land for tourism developments like guest-houses,” he said.

According to Maleeh, the circular was devised as a “cautionary” response to ensure local councils only set aside land for hotels and guests-houses under license from the Tourism Ministry.  Maleeh contended this provision would ensure industry planning and safety standards were met.

“There appears to have been some confusion about the motion. Right now, any person can develop guest houses or hotels on private land,” he said. “To do this, they are required to go through the Tourism Ministry and follow regulations regarding safety and the number of rooms they are operating.  This is simply a circular to remind local councils that public land can’t be assigned by them for guest-house development.”

Maleeh claimed that all land being set aside for tourism development was required to go through a bidding process before gaining government approval.

Guest-house challenges

Just last week, Minivan News’ spin-off travel review site, Dhonisaurus, reported on the challenges facing the development of independent travel in the Maldives through industries like guest-houses.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb said at the time that the government was presently analysing the contribution to the economy of all tourist properties – including resorts, safari boats and guest-houses. Once this analysis was complete, the Tourism Ministry said it would then unveil how each sector will be developed though the country’s fourth tourism master-plan.

Speaking today, Deputy Minister Maleeh stressed that the country’s resort industry presently accounted for about 80 per cents of the total bed capacity available to tourists.

While guest-houses were estimated to account for 2.5 percent of tourism bed capacity, Maleeh claimed that the industry was “slowly picking up” – something that would be considered within the news tourism “master-plan”.

“Properties like guest-houses allow tourists to experience local culture here, there will definitely be a role for them,” he said. “However, the government wants to make sure these are successful ventures, but there may be issues to overcome for such properties. This is why the license to operate them must come from the tourism industry.”

“Running as normal”

One local operator of guest houses, who wished to remain unidentified, said that there has so far been no impacts on their business resulting from the tourism ministry circular.  The operator told Minivan News that an official tourism ministry inspection had been carried out last Wednesday (June 20) on a soon to be opened guest-house property, and there had been no indication of a change to their operations.

“As far as I’m aware, business is running as normal,” the spokesperson said.

Dr Mariyam Zulfa, who served as Tourism Minister under the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed until February’s controversial transfer of power, has however raised concerns that the circular could place a barrier on future hotel and guest-house developments on inhabited islands.

Zulfa stressed that while she had not seen the circular, from what she could gather, the circular highlighted a government policy now seemingly against granting permission for new guest-house properties.

“I take it to mean that the circular will place a bar on further local tourism development by usurping the power of local councils,” she said.

“During my time, we worked to try and empower local councils through a land use plan to take more responsibility for local tourism development. They still had to come back to the Tourism Ministry and obtain an opening permit for any property, but we wanted to give councils power to decide how to move forward.”

Land use plan

With all land allocation related to tourism development requiring presidential approval, Zulfa said that the previous government held a policy where every island in the country was required to have a land use plan approved by the Housing Ministry.

Zulfa claimed that on islands where land had been earmarked for tourism developments under this land use plan, any person with a business proposal for a guest-house or hotel could then go to their council for approval.

“The idea was that local government would have the authority to negotiate with local developers for the best deal for their communities,” she added. “The ministry would also be able to provide assistance if needed.”

Zulfa added that she found it “strange” that opponents of the former government had alleged the administration had been doing “whatever it pleased” in terms of distributing land.

“If we look as the islands set aside for resort development at the time, there was a US$600,000 charge per square hectare of land – an amount that was very close to previous investment regulations.

Zulfa added that the “significant” sum was devised after a tender process and consultation with the industry to ensure committed investors were being found to help fund developments.

“It seems strange to me that people are making it seem like we were giving away islands, when we had undertaken immense work and spent significant time in outlining these plans,” she added.

Earlier this month, the government refuted claims it had considered halting the lease of 60 islands awarded for resort development by the Nasheed administration.

Critics alleged that the CSR programme was against the law as the islands were awarded in the absence of an open bidding system, and had favoured MDP members.


Deputy Tourism Minister talks Malaysian tourism opportunities

The Maldives has pledged to attract 10,000 Malaysian visitors annually by 2014 through focusing on the potential of initiatives like sustainable tourism, according to local media.

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal told Malaysian media during the 2012 World Islamic Tourism Mart based in the country, that as the Maldives continued to try and address climate change issues at island level, local resort operators had been pursuing more eco-friendly operations.

Maleeh told Malaysia-based newspaper the Sun Daily that when considering the potential partnerships between the two destinations for sustainable tourism, some 6,555 Malaysian holidaymakers already visited the Maldives over the course of last year. He added that 1,700 visitors from the country had arrived during the first four months of 2012.

Maleeh claimed that with a growing importance attached to Asian visitors coming to the Maldives, local people working in the travel industry had also begun to better acquaint themselves with Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages and cultural practices.

“The number of Chinese tourists, including Malaysian Chinese, to the Maldives is expected to set a new high in 2012. We see them as an important market,” he told the newspaper.