H.E, the president of the Republic of the Maldives Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom opened the 27th joint meeting of the UNWTO Commission for East Asia and the Pacific, and the UNWTO Commission for South Asia on June 3 at the Bandos Island Resort and Spa, Maldives. He was praised by UNWTO Secretary General Dr. Taleb Rifai and his tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Gafoor to put tourism in the forefront of his administration.
Here is the transcript of his speech:
Secretary-General Excellency Rifai, Honorable Ministers, Dignitaries, Cooperate Leaders, Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen;
Assalaam-Alaikum Warahmathullahi Wabarakathuh!
I am blessed to be invited here to officially inaugurate this important event by UNWTO and to welcome you all to the Sunny Side of Life.
I thank you for giving me the honour of inaugurating the official logo and website to mark ‘Visit Maldives Year’. I am confident that, through this global campaign, we can look forward to welcoming record numbers of holidaymakers to our beautiful shores in the Maldives. A number of exciting national and international activities will be held throughout the year to mark ‘Visit Maldives Year’.
These include an Underwater Festival, an International Surf Event and a tree planting programme, to name just a few.
This meeting could not have been held in a more suitable destination, given the context of the meeting – Positioning Tourism in a Wider Socioeconomic Context.
My Government is undertaking a massive transformation of the country’s economic policies, including the tourism sector and redefining the catalytic role of tourism in uplifting the livelihood of young people.
There is no doubt that tourism sector’s contribution to the creation of jobs is unparalleled with any other sector. In fact, the benefits of tourism as a catalyst for job creation go a long way from mere creation of employment in hotels, resorts and restaurants.
Many ancillary businesses throughout the economy gain from tourism, including the retail sector, entertainment arena and transportation industry. In the Maldives, the two most significant sectors after the largest foreign exchange earning tourism sector are the construction and agro sectors. The growth of both these industries relies heavily on the hospitality sector.
As a net importing country, the Maldives relies heavily on the influx of tourists for foreign exchange and is an important balance to the outflow in monetary terms by its residents. Furthermore, tourism also creates a platform for boosting domestic consumption.
Tourism has taught Maldivians the art of living together in a globalised and fast-evolving world. We have ensured that, contrary to the common misconception, tourism can coexist with the age-old customs, values and traditions of a country. When we look at the traditional sectors such as the handicrafts and lacquerware, one of the overarching reasons for their revival in a continuously changing landscape is the growth of tourism, and the market that has presented itself as a result of nearly one and a half million holidaymakers choosing Maldives.
Furthermore, we can proudly announce that, today, the Maldives would rank amongst the best when it comes to the development of tourism that promotes and conserves wildlife and pristine ecosystems, as well as precious natural resources.
Changes in global tourism bring to the fore. A number of important local realities. In the Maldives, we have had to adapt to the challenges in the tourism landscape, anddemographics of travellers in formulating policies with respect to the future growth of the industry.
At the very heart of tourism and hospitality are the dedicated staff that ensure that every traveller leaves us with fond memories and a yearning to return to our sunny shores. To our young population, working in a resort hotel can be rewarding.
There are, however, a number of societal realities that they face and an equal number of sacrifices that they have to make, including the issue of family members having to migrate to other municipalities for work.
Such realities prompted us to seek diversification into areas such as community-based tourism, and we have earmarked 3 large community-based resort development projects across the nation.
My Government has been executing policies towards the creation of almost 95,000 jobs for the youth, changing the tourism investment landscape, and promoting youth entrepreneurship.
Tourism has become an important policy tool dedicated to the change, development and reconstruction of the social and physical environment of our country. With the growth of tourism, transport costs to and from the atolls have reduced significantly. This development has also resulted in the birth of the world’s largest seaplane network.
We have pioneered on transformational infrastructure development projects, including the development of the second phase of Hulhumale’ – the Youth City, a bridge connectivity between Male’ and the airport island Hulhule’ and the development of the Male’ Port.
As a further boost to our tourism development, the Government has announced an initiative to facilitate sovereign guarantees for bank loans undertaken by the private sector that are under 4% interest cost.
Mr. Secretary General, Excellencies,
Tourism in the Maldives has indeed come a long way. When the pioneers of our tourism industry launched the very first resorts in the early 1970s, many were sceptical about the future of this new sector.
As we celebrate our Golden Jubilee of Independence next month and proudly share with our friends and partners the catalogue of success stories in our post-independence contemporary history, tourism will indeed take pride of place as the engine of our phenomenal growth. We have indeed proven all the doubters to be wrong. Today, our award winning tourism products have placed us at the very helm of tourism worldwide.
We currently seat all major hotel chains in the Maldives and each year we are being awarded distinction by hospitality groups and critiques alike.
This important meeting by the UNWTO showcases our commitment to working in partnership with stakeholders in sustaining and developing our tourism product. It is also an opportunity for us to thank UNWTO and many stakeholders for their continued support, and to renew our commitment to working together in the time ahead.
Mr. Secretary General, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,
Let me, once again, thank UNWTO for inviting me to say a few words at this meeting, and for choosing Maldives to host this meeting, on the eve of the “Visit Maldives 2016” campaign. May I also take pleasure in inviting you all to be ambassadors of the Maldivian tourism industry and to support us in our bid to make “Visit Maldives 2016” a success.
Enjoy your stay here, and enjoy your deliberations. May Allah wish you prosperity in the years ahead.
Thank you all.
Wassallaam Alaikum Warahmathullahi Wabarakathuh!