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New era begins in Maldives amid challenges, but tourism is optimistic

Written by editor

It is the rising sea level and finding new homes for Maldivians that are at the top of the agenda of the newly sworn in president of the Maldives.

It is the rising sea level and finding new homes for Maldivians that are at the top of the agenda of the newly sworn in president of the Maldives. Formerly a journalist, Mohamed “Anni” Nasheed, 41, Tuesday took his oath of office at a ceremony televised live from a convention center in the Maldivian capital island of Male where he began his pro-democracy campaign in 1990 for an underground magazine.

President Nasheed had been a constantly jailed for a period of six years under former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who sternly held on to his post for 30 years and was thought of as a dictator who would never relinquish his power.

Thankfully, he did, and the Maldivian tourism industry expressed great hope yesterday at the opening of the World Travel Market in London that the new administration will indeed bring a new era of democratic reforms for the Indian Ocean nation despite the challenges it is facing because of the rising sea level.

Mohamed Adam, director of the Maldives Tourist Board, said: “We have a new constitution, and we have a new parliament as well, and then we have a supreme court. There will be three different independent bodies that are coming up. There will be a lot challenges and a lot of changes in the government – that’s what I see. So it totally [will] be a new democracy in the Maldives.”

“I think when we have a new government, anyway, there will be a lot changes, but then we are hoping that…, so everybody is hoping that it will be much better than the previous government,” Adam added. “We have expected a growth of 8 percent over the past year, and we might not reach that figure this year, but, hopefully, in the next 2 years we can increase the capacity in the arrivals, and we will be able to have a better growth compared to the previous years.”

Maldives has been exhibiting at the ongoing World Travel Market for a long time and for good reason. He said: “Eighty percent of our visitors are from Europe. The leading market will be always be Europe. But we have new markets coming up that are very, very potential, like Russia. All the traditional markets, there has been a negative growth – all 37 markets.”

However, Adam also acknowledged that emerging markets are customers that the Maldives is strategically watching out for. He said: “Others like China and Russia, they are going very well, and also from the Middle East and Scandinavia. Those are the new markets, which have the potential to the Maldives, which is going to be really very positive for the Maldives and tourism. At the same time we will still have the traditional markets as well, even though there is a negative growth, because there are a lot of things changing globally and this might affect the Maldives tourism. We hope that we can still tackle this problem.”

As for impact of the ongoing global economic crisis, the Maldives has far been fortunate that it hasn’t felt any. “We had called about 30 resorts, and we checked from 30 resorts whether there has been any cancellation or any reservation amendments,” Adam said. “There is no cancellation as such, so far. From our records, it doesn’t show any cancellation. Bookings are still being made, so we don’t see any negative direction.”

Adam also addressed the Maldives’ environmental concerns from a tourism perspective. He said: “I am sure there will be, with the new government, there should be some contingency plans, because we have the disaster management company, and they will be more effective about tsunamis and any other disasters that will come up to the Maldives. Definitely, there will be some…”

He added: “We don’t have any cancellations such for Christmas and the New Year – that is the peak season for us. So far, we don’t have any cancellations, but according to some of the local travel agents, bookings that are being made is less. So that might be only the fluctuation that is going to happen.”

Adam also said he and the entire tourism industry is optimistic about the new government. He said, “Everybody is very confident that it will be very, very good, because there will a lot of investments, and there will be more opportunities for the investors to come to the Maldives.

“We see the country opening up much more. Right now we have about 90 islands, and we have a lot of islands that have been leased out, and we have a lot of hope that these islands will be open and operational within the next two years with the change of this government. Because there have been a lot of islands that have been given out to the public, but it has not been completed. So these islands might be re-deeded and go to new parties. So I think that might be a little change in the tourism sector.”