Households prohibited from offering tourist accomodation

The Tourism Ministry has said households are not permitted to provide lodging for tourists, and indicated action will be taken against those who violate Article 20 of the Tourism Act.

The Act state that registered businesses with required facilities may host tourists. Tourists may not receive accommodation in exchange for payment to any establishment other than a registered and licensed guest house and hotel.

Households in Male’, Hulhumale’ and other atolls had recently placed advertisements for housing tourists.

Tourism Ministry Permanent Secretary Ahmed Solih told Haveeru that no complaints had been received, and that the ministry had issued the warning to inform the public of the policy.

Popular traveler website CouchSurfing, however, has nearly 80 registered users in the Maldives. While some users simply look to meet for coffee, others offer basic accommodation to travelers in exchange for a local perspective.

CouchSurfing does not facilitate, stipulate or endorse financial transactions.


Maldives a tourism leader in Asia-Pacific region

The Maldives was among the most popular destinations in the Asia/Pacific (APAC) region for the month of July, with a 27 percent increase in visitors.

Hong Kong followed closely with a 22 percent increase in visitors.

“Even during times of economic uncertainty, the Asia/Pacific region continues to perform strongly, reinforcing its image and position as a powerhouse of international travel and tourism,” said Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Strategic Intelligence Centre director, John Koldowski.

Asia Pacific (APAC) tourism destinations continue to see an upward trend in visitors annually. July 2011 saw a seven percent regional rise in arrivals compared to the same month in 2010.

Although Japan suffered a 36 percent drop in July arrivals, allegedly due to the earthquake and tsunami, Northeast Asia on the whole saw a six percent gain on July 2010. The Pacific, meanwhile, experienced a 3 percent drop in foreign arrivals in July 2011.

A Care Ratings Maldives report recently stated that Maldives tourism has made an impressive comeback since the 2009 global recession, and investment from China and India is expected to surpass precedents in coming years.

This year, the Maldives reached 700,000 arrivals by September. According to Tourism Ministry statistics, 19.9 percent of these arrivals were Chinese.

The increased activity within the APAC region could have a cultural impact at home. “Maldivian staff are more familiar with Western culture,” said Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO), Mohamed Maleeh Jamal. “Many speak Italian, French, German. So, the shift required to cater to more Asian guests and customers has lead many Maldivians working in the industry to familiarize themselves with Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages and cultural practices.”

Jamal pointed to the 2004 tsunami as the turning point for the Maldives’ tourism market.

“Before then, tourism was dominated by western European countries, and travel companies in China and the Middle East had limited access. Resorts were reaching occupancy levels regularly, and so expansion was not necessary,” said Jamal.

After the tsunami, however, interest from western Europe declined and the tourism sector was forced to work more closely with neighboring countries and their travel agencies. “The Maldives was also receiving complaints that the market wasn’t diverse enough,” said Jamal.

Jamal added that China is an important trading partner for the Maldives, and there was room to expand the business relationship.

But the Maldives has several advantages in the Chinese market. “All countries want to get tourists from China, and the Maldives has an advantage,” said Jamal. “It carries an image of paradise islands and tropical vacations, which is very appealing. In addition, the Maldives is becoming a celebrity hot spot. Given the celebrity worshiping culture that is increasingly common in China, the Maldives is very appealing.”

Jamal commented that Sri Lanka is trying hard to compete with the Maldives’ market.

Tourism is the largest contributor to Maldives’ GDP and foreign currency, accounting for 70 percent of the national GDP indirectly. Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) aims to draw 1 million tourists to the Maldives by the end of 2012.

PATA international visitor arrival figures suggest that improved economic stability is bolstering APAC’s tourism trend.

According to Care Ratings, Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTA) surged this year as China’s economy flourished and European economies made a slow comeback. Chinese tourists are projected to account for 15 percent of Maldives FTA by 2020.

But PATA studies note that the source market is shifting into northern Europe and Asia.

Koldowski pointed to a 50 percent increase in Russian arrivals so far this year, and a 14 percent jump in South Asian arrivals in July with 90,000 more visitors than the same month in 2010.

Southeast Asian arrivals to the region grew by 12 percent during the same time frame.


Maamigili MP opens first private airport with personal airline Flyme

The Maldives’ first private airport opened today in Alif Dhaal atoll Maamigili with Maamigili MP Gasim Ibrahim’s own ‘Flyme’ airline beginning operations from Male.

The first commercial ‘Flyme’ flight left Male this morning with 16 tourists, Gasim, his family, and senior Villa officials on board, Haveeru reports. The airline has two aircraft with a capacity of 46 passengers each.

Maldives Association of Tourism Industries (MATI) is said to have provided support for the airport’s construction. Gasim said the airport includes private jet parking, and there are plans to use more aircraft to service Gaaf Dhaal atoll Kaadehdhoo and Seenu atoll Gan.

CEO of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, Andrew Harrison, has expressed support for the airline.

Flyme airlines scheduled 10 flights for its opening day, however it did not disclose ticket prices.


Two British nationals found dead after suspected road accident at Kuredu

Two British visitors have died after what police suspect was a road accident on Kuredu Island Resort early Saturday morning.

Police were informed by resort management at 4:15am that two guests had been found with injuries beside one of the resort’s roads. A third individual was also injured in the incident and was taken to hospital, the Maldives Police Service said in a statement.

Police officers from Naifaru police station attended the resort and were joined by a special investigation team from police headquarters in the capital Male’.

“Police are currently conducting a full inquiry into the deaths and will release further details in due course,” the statement read.

“The identities of the two British nationals in question are not being revealed until police have spoken to their families.”

Local newspaper Haveeru reported a source from the resort as saying that the vehicle the tourists were riding had crashed into a large tree along the path to the western side of the island.

The source told Haveeru that police had closed off the area and that the bodies were airlifted to Male’ at 12.30pm today.

Kuredu had not responded to enquiries from Minivan News at time of press.


New mobile towers cut power consumption in half, claims telco

The Maldives “need not return to the stone age” and neglect creature comforts for the sake of the environment, Maldives’ Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam has said, and should instead find alternative ways to continue enjoying technological developments.

Certain environmental groups remain skeptical of the true effectiveness of green business developments, even in the tourism sector where restrictions on developers are more comprehensive, however Aslam said he believed the Maldives had nonetheless taken a “bold step” in its own commitment to sustainable practices over the remaning decade.

Aslam made the claims while speaking at the launch of a new ‘green’ mobile tower by Wataniya, one of the country’s two telecos, at the Adaraan Hudhuranfushi resort on Saturday afternoon.

Wataniya claims the new Single Radio Access Network (RAN) tower provides more sustainable and operationally-efficient mobile phone and data coverage, albeit at a significantly higher cost of acquisition.

According to the company, the first tower installed will cover a 60 kilometre radius around Hudhuranfushi at a 54 percent reduction in total power consumption and 80 percent reduction in carbon footprint compared to existing installed technology, and could be easily upgraded to handle upcoming 4G developments with the addition of a single card. It also claims the smaller size of the tower – essentially a single metal pole anchored to a concrete footprint the size of an office chair, makes it more attractive for roll-out on resort islands concerned about the visual impact of a conventional lattice structure mobile tower.

Aslam, speaking at the resort during the launch, told media that the support of foreign corporations such as Wataniya that had invested in the Maldives was a key part of the Maldives’ meeting its carbon neutral commitment by by 2020. Although details of how the country can efficiently meet its 2020 target remain elusive beyond broad political support for investment in green technology and renewable energy, President Mohamed Nasheed said last year that failure to meet the goals would be a “disaster” for the country in ensuring long-term stability both economically and geologically.

Despite the adoption of the new technology at Adaaran’s Hudhuranfushi resort, Ali Rilwan, Executive Director of local environmental NGO Bluepeace told Minivan News that he believed that the Maldives’ tourist resorts’ general commitment to effective sustainable practices was not limited to green technology and day-to-day issues like waste management.

Rilwan claimed that although tourist regulations did tend to be stricter in regards to the amount of natural land being developed and not allowing buildings to tower over an island’s tallest trees, other viable development areas included solar and renewable energy technologies.

“I think very few resorts are taking responsibility. Waste management is another vital area and only a few resorts have sewage treatment plants rather than pumping it into the ocean,” he said. “Some [resorts] are also not disposing of their garbage correctly either so they hire local boats to transport garbage to the island of Thilafushi.  In some cases management may be unaware that some boats travel just a few hours off shore and then dump trash in the sea without travelling all the way to Thilafushi.”

Despite his concerns Rilwan said that he saw developments such as those taken by Wataniya to introduce more energy efficient equipment like the RAN towers as a “good move” to cut environmental impact, although he believed the company’s spending on sustainable developments could be widened to a number of areas.

He pointed to telecommunications companies fully replacing plastic cards used by customers to recharge their mobile phone credit or looking at alternatives to spending on billboard advertising and promotions and simpler activities like planting more trees.

“Each resort is required to be working on projects like planting trees,” he said. “These companies could instead use their funding to do very visible commitments like plant coconut trees around islands.”

Perhaps more unlikely, Rilwan stated that Wataniya and its competitors such as Dhiraagu could also consider sharing and maintaining telecommunication commitment together to try and cut down on the space and energy requirements in supplying separate services to Maldivian customers.

With local councils elected into office in February, Rilwan said that he expected more visible measures and local projects to be managed to help local islands in boosting their sustainability.

Speaking to Minivan News in October, environmental organisation Greenpeace said it believed the Maldives acted more as a symbol than a practical demonstration of how national development and fighting climate change can be mutually exclusive.

Wendel Trio, the organisation’s Climate Policy and Global Deal Coordinator, said he believed that the Maldives could nonetheless play an iconic role in promoting the potential benefits of adopting alternate energy programmes.

“By coupling both strong words and the need for the big emitting countries in the developed and the developing world to reduce their emissions sharply, with a strong commitment at home, the Maldives has also gained respect,” Trio explained to Minivan News. “However, obviously none of the big emitting countries are looking at the Maldives as an example, as they all claim that their social and economic development cannot be compared to that of a small island state.”

He accepted that the country was somewhat limited by its size but said it could have play a role in advocating for more sustainable business and lifestyle practices.


Body of UK tourist found on beach at Kuredhoo Island Resort

The body of a tourist from the UK has been found on the beach of Kuredhoo Island Resort in Lhaviyani Atoll.

Police reported that the body of the 42 year-old woman was  discovered at 12:30am on Friday night. She was a guest at the resort, police said, adding that the Serious and Organised Crime Department was now investigating the matter.

A staff member working on the island told Minivan News that the woman had no injuries on the outside of her body.

“Her body was found just after midnight, on the seashore,” he said. “Police have now arrived at the resort and are investigating the case.”

Another staff member working on the resort told Minivan News that the body had been transferred to Male’ Mortuary.

The Front Office Manager at the resort said he was not allowed to comment on the issue.

Kuredhoo is situated on the northern reef of the Lhaviyani Atoll, 80 miles north of the international airport at  Hulhule.


Chinese couple disappear at sea, leaving 13 year old daughter

A Chinese couple holidaying in the Maldives disappeared from their resort on Saturday after they went for a swim, according to the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF).

The 38 year old woman and 40 year old man were holidaying with their 13 year-old daughter on the Hilton Irufushi Beach and Spa Resort in Noonu Atoll.

Lieutenant Abdulla Jaleel said that MNDF had already searched 102 square miles from air and sea, attempting to locate the lost couple.

“Yesterday we checked near Rehendi Resort, today we started to search near Dhigufaru island,’’ said Jaleel. “We have been unable to discover any sign of them.’’

“On that day, we received a report from a speed boat  travelling in the area that they thought they had seen a woman lying face down on the surface, but when they turned towards the direction of the woman to check, she had vanished,’’ Jaleel said. “MNDF Nothern Area coast guard immediately went to the area, but there was no sign of them.’’

Daily newspaper Haveeru reported that the couple and their daughter went to the beach and that their daughter walked around the beach collecting shells while her mother and father were swimming. When she came back she noticed her parents were missing.

Jaleel said that the missing couple’s daugter was now under observation at Irufushi resort.

The resort issued a statement today saying it had immediately launched its emergency search and rescue plan, and contacted the MNDF Coast Guard.

“The hotel is assisting the authorities and all efforts are being made to locate the guests. The well being, safety and security of our guests are of paramount importance and the Hilton Maldives / Iru Fushi Resort & Spa continues to make every effort to ensure that all practises and standards are in line with strict safety and security regulations,” the resort said.

On February 27, a 69 year old German tourist died while snorkelling at Embudhu Village Resort in Kaafu Atoll, eight kilometres from Male’.

On March 1, a Chinese tourist died while snorkeling at Chaaya Lagoon Hakurahura Island Resort. Two weeks later on March 14 a second Chinese tourist died at Holiday Inn Kandooma Resort.

Correction: A previous version of article incorrectly stated that a Chinese couple died at Holiday Inn Kandooma Resort on March 14. The male guest died while the female guest was revived.


Second honeymooning tourist dies while snorkelling

A Chinese tourist died yesterday while snorkeling at Chaaya Lagoon Hakurahura Island Resort, less than a day after a German man also died in a snorkelling accident at Embudu Village Island Resort.

Police confirmed the 30 year old was visiting the Maldives from China on his honeymoon.

A senior staff member at the resort told Minivan News that the man died while snorkelling off a boat with his wife near the edge of the reef with a group of tourists, less than a kilometre from the resort’s jetty.

”After they finished snorkelling and everyone came aboard the boat, the boat crew noticed one man was missing,” the staff member said. “The crew immediately started searching for him and informed the hotel management and diving school.”

He said the man was eventually discovered by a team of three resort divers who had been sent out to search for him.

One of the divers told Minivan News that the man appeared to be dead when he was recovered from water.

”When we brought him up there was blood coming from his mouth,” the diver said.

He noted that when the diving team discovered the man he was holding his snorkel tube in his hand “but the mask was missing.”

The team pulled the man aboard the dive boat and attempted to resuscitate him, but he was not breathing.

The man was taken to Meemu Atoll Mulee Regional Hospital and doctors confirmed that he was dead when arrived.

Police sergeant Abdul Muhsin said the man was brought to Male’ today morning and placed in the mortuary. He said a team of police forensics specialists were now investigating the case.

The case is the second snorkelling fatality in as many days. The day prior, a 69 year old German man died while snorkelling at the Embudu Village Island Resort.

Permanent secretary for the Tourism Ministry Ahmed Solih said he would not comment on the cases but noted that the ministry was verifying that safety regulations were being followed by the resorts.

Sim Ibrahim Mohamed from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) said the resorts needed to be more careful guiding snorkellers, particularly older divers.

The Maldivian resorts’ procedures for guiding and instructing snorkellers were very good, he explained.

”All the resorts have said they inform tourists about the nearby water conditions and tides, and they also tell them the do’s and dont’s.’ But they need to be more careful with old aged people,” Sim said.


Tourist dies while snorkelling at Embudhu Village Resort

A 69 year old German tourist died yesterday while snorkelling at Embudhu Village Resort in Kaafu Atoll, eight kilometres from Male’.

Police confirmed the case was reported at 4:45pm yesterday.

A senior staff member at Embudu village told Minivan News the man went snorkeling with his friend yesterday.

”His friend noticed that he had been floating in the water without movement for a while and went to help him,” the staff member said.

”When he shook him he did not move, so he knew that something was wrong. The sea was clam and there was low tide that time.”

He said the dead man’s friend shouted at a speed boat entering the resort and the man was recovered from the water.

”He was immediately taken Male’ to confirm his death.”

The man arrived at the resort on holiday with his wife on the 23 February and was supposed to have left on 9 February, the staff member said. The man’s son will arrive at the resort tomorrow.

Police seargant Abdul Muhsin said a forensic team were investigating the man’s body but had found no external injuries. ”He has been taken to mortuary now” he said.

Indira Gandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) confirmed the death yesterday.