BERLIN, Germany – The Tourism Minister for the Maldives, Moosa Zamer, issued a statement in regards to the present situation of the world tourism industry.
This statement was issued in Berlin at the opening of the ITB trade show. The Maldives is the official partner country this year.
As the world’s tourism sector prepares for its unofficial annual meeting in Berlin this week, it meets under a cloud of increasing global uncertainty and instability. There is little doubt that the industry is particularly vulnerable to both economic downturns and security concerns. It seems that in 2015 there was the perfect storm on both fronts – the global economy, especially in once robust emerging markets, continued to stall, while appalling attacks on tourists and communities alike shook the world. When money is tight, jobs uncertain, or terror attacks hit the headlines, often the initial reaction is to stay at home and postpone that holiday.
There have indeed been some unprecedented challenges to hoteliers, airlines and governments alike. The appalling attacks on British tourists in Tunisia, the shooting down of a Russian airliner in Sharm-el-Sheikh or the attacks on the Bataclan theatre in Paris did have an impact. Tourist numbers in key markets are down, with the developing world hardest hit. France suffered a 10% fall, Kenya 25%, while Turkey faces a drop of almost 50%. This is of course a huge stress on local jobs, which has a trickle down effect to ordinary families that rely on the industry for their livelihoods. With over 200 million people globally relying on tourism – 1 in 12 global jobs – the importance of protecting the sector from external shocks, especially in more fragile developing economies, is crucially important.
Yet, as leaders in the industry, we should not despair. While we face new challenges, the sector remains resilient and I remain positive about the future. Overall tourist numbers are actually up 9% in the last 12 months according to the United Kingdom’s ABTA – travellers are certainly more selective and discerning, but crucially they are still travelling. In a world where competitive airfares, increasing routes and the expanding online marketplace are driving competition, it is down to policymakers and the private sector to work together to adapt and change to these new economic and security challenges.
In the Maldives, we have proved that adaptation is possible. Tourism has helped make our country and upper income nation over the last 30 years. We have met our Millenium Development Targets – from health to education and women’s empowerment – on the back of a resilient and well managed sector. We have of course faced challenges – the 2004 Tsunami and the slowdown in the global economy amongst others – but, in close cooperation with the private sector, have ensured tourists not only are receive continued impeccable service and offerings, but crucially feel safe.
Indeed, we are proudest of our safety record. There has never been a single tourist death caused by a violent criminal act. Our government agencies, in concert with our international partners, work tirelessly to ensure our borders are safe, and internal security is maintained, for tourists and locals alike.
We have, unfortunately, faced a recent political campaign to tarnish the country’s image. Scare stories of religious extremists threatening tourists have been spread by people who have vested interest – not to highlight an impending problem, but solely to gain headlines. Some journalists, especially in Germany, roundly distorted the truth and the reality on the ground. It led to exciting headlines that had no basis in reality. Clearly the problem of home grown extremism cannot be ignored not only in the Maldives but around the world. The Government of the Maldives takes it extremely seriously – that is why we have passed a new anti-terror bill, set up a counter-terrorism centre, and are working with international counter-terrorism agencies to share intelligence and resources. But all nations, from the UK, Belgium, France to the United States, face this same issue. To single out the Maldives – which has yet to receive no credible threat of an attack – is grossly unfair. The political motive to propagate these untruths, however, becomes all too apparent.
What can our experience teach others on meeting these challenges? Firstly, it is to address security challenges with a calm and apolitical head. With so many nations now relying on tourism as a main source of GDP, a fall in visitor numbers could have a devastating effect. That means having a sensible conversation based on the facts. Luckily, in the Maldives we have proudly reasserted our record, and maintained our reputation as one of the safest destinations on the world. It takes hard work and sound policies to achieve what we have achieved. We would like to assure everyone that we will do whatever it takes to make sure that Maldives, as always, remains the most peaceful country in the world for holiday makers.
This is despite often hysterical pronouncements from those wanting a cheap shot in the media, and who have scant regard for the effect it will have on jobs back at home. We will continue to vehemently resist this minority who seek to stir the hornet’s nest and portray an alternate reality. To panic and scaremonger does not just unfairly damage a reputation that many have spent years building – it has a tangible effect on employment and jobs. And, crucially, with lack of opportunity and youth unemployment intrinsically linked to the rise of home grown terror, the tragic irony in this tactic is all too clear.
That is also why our government is also keen to look at the bigger picture. Opportunity in education, health, gender parity and environmental protection all feeds into a robust and resilient tourist sector. We have seen in recent years and increased appetite for younger middle income Maldivians to launch their own entrepreneurial projects in the tourism sector. Jobs are also emerging in other fields – in infrastructure, health tourism and technology. Now we are the only MDG+ country in South Asia. Our literacy rate is 98% and extreme poverty is nonexistent in the Maldives. This result is a more vibrant tourism sector – with improved offerings and a better educated, diverse and engaged workforce. But it also brings something far more profound – a sense of national unity, togetherness and security. This is the path we would like to continue, so our beautiful islands remain open for the world to see for generations to come.