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.


MMPRC believes Thumburi project will bring an additional 150,000 tourists per year

Managing Director of the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) Abdulla Ziyath believes the government’s Thumburi integrated resort project will increase visitors to the Maldives by 150,000.

“The market had become quite stagnant, as there were not many new hotels on the way and we were becoming perceived as a place just for five-star tourists,” Ziyath told TTG while at the World Travel Market (WTM) in London.

“This addresses those issues and for the first time enables small businesses to invest; in fact we are actively discouraging the main existing resort owners from being a part of Thumburi”.

The government’s integrated resort project – or ‘vertical tourism’ – is designed to “responsibly diversify the tourism product of the Maldives”, says the MMPRC, after the rapid expansion of guest houses on inhabited islands under the presidency of Mohamed Nasheed between 2008 and 2012.

Some within the industry have expressed fears over the guest house’s impact on the Maldives image as a luxury travel destination, although critics of the new scheme say the multi-ownership guest house island concept will not bring the same benefit to local communities.

Ziyath spoke during the WTM, at which it unveiled the Thumburi project. The event features 146 representatives from 54 countries and is to conclude tomorrow.


Government unveils integrated resort project at World Travel Market

The Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) has unveiled its integrated resort development project at the World Travel Market in London this week.

Representatives from the Maldivian government’s tourism promotion department – as well as local tour operators – are taking part alongside 146 representatives from 54 countries.

“A press conference was held on the first day of the fair, where the highlight of the conference was the recently launched Integrated Resort Project which was disseminated to the audience,” read an MMPRC press release.

The new scheme, described as ”communal tourism development” or “vertical tourism” by President Abdulla Yameen is being overseen by the MMPRC.

Sixteen bids were reported to have been received earlier this year for the first 20 plots made available as part of the Thumburi guest house island project – designed to attract small and medium business to an industry dominated by high-end island resorts.

Also present in London this week are representatives of the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO), which is acting as an associate partner for the second year.

“This partnership opens new doors for MATATO members,” explained the association – the only Maldivian group to be given associate partner status.

”We believe that the growth and sustainability of our members, local travel agents and tour operators and other industry stake holders, require continued exploration and networking efforts in the emerging markets along with strengthening the presence in the lucrative markets for Maldives.”

The World Travel Market was launched in 1980, and has grown from 350 exhibitors to around 5,000 and 50,000 participants – agreeing deals worth $3.7 billion last year alone.

The Maldives tourism industry welcomed over one million tourists for first time in 2013, with the government expecting the 1.5 million arrivals in 2015.

The MMPRC visited China last month in an effort to further boost the now-dominant Chinese market, which makes up over 30 percent of the market share.

Recent statistics show that visitors from the UK – traditionally one of the largest sources of tourists to the Maldives – rose to 8 percent of the total in the first three quarters of 2014.

“The Maldives delegation will be meeting with the Top Travel Agents and Travel trade media to identify opportunities to build strong ties between two countries and to identify strategies to increase the number of tourist arrivals from UK,” said the MMPRC today.


MATATO backs guest house island policy

The Maldives Association of Travel and Tour Operators (MATATO) has endorsed the Thumburi guest house island project, urging its members to take part in the government’s plans.

“MATATO believes this will help target mass charter flights, rather than FIT [Fully Independent Traveller] or small groups, paving the way to bring back major charter operators to the Maldives,” said the group which represents over 50 local travel agents and tour operators.

Only Maldivians will be permitted to invest in such projects, the government has revealed, with priority given to those not yet involved in the industry.

“The concept is similar to the beach lodges in Phuket or Hikkaduwa. Thus, MATATO would like to urge its members to participate in this development opportunity, as it would allow them to grow from mere travel agency businesses to property owners within the process of vertical integration of a travel agency,” read an association press release.

The official launch of the scheme – part of President Abdulla Yameen’s election manifesto – came last week with a call for expressions of interest from small and medium businesses in the Laamu atoll development.

Envisioned as a way to “responsibly diversify the tourism product of the Maldives”, the plans to develop uninhabited guest house islands come after the rapid expansion of guest houses alongside local communities in the past five years.

Some in the industry have, however, questioned the schemes ability to offer the same level of benefit to local economies.

“The association believes this is a good project, worth our attention and promotion, although fine tuning will still be required, as this is a new concept to the Maldives,” said MATATO which also suggested its members could form a consortium for the project.

The Thumburi project will  make land available on the 17 hectare uninhabited island – as well as the linked Hulhiyandhoo island – for investors to develop hotels, a diving school, water sports centres, restaurants and shopping centres, while government owned companies will invest in the island’s basic infrastructure – electricity and sewage.

“Rather than seeking a large scale investment, the current scheme offers smaller investors an opportunity to invest only in specific sub products, or a small block of accommodation similar to that of investing in a guest house,” today’s MATATO press release continued.

Describing the project as “a new concept for a world class brand”, the Thumburi brochure reveals plans for several beach hotels with rooms ranging from US$100-200 – far less than that currently charged by the country’s budget resorts.

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation will lead the project and engage with investors who will then market their own products.

Contributing an estimated 80 percent of the Maldives’ GDP and famous worldwide for it’s luxury one island/one resort image, the country’s tourism industry attracted over one million visitors for the first time in 2013.