Maldives elects new president, tourism stakeholders pledge support

Maldives on Sunday elected a new president as stakeholders in the tourism industry welcomed the incoming administration.

In an election that saw an all-time high voter turnout of 89 percent, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih from an alliance of opposition parties secured a decisive victory over incumbent President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom with 58.4 percent of votes.

The Maldives electoral body confirmed the results Monday morning.

After meeting President-Elect Solih at the President’s Office Monday morning, President Yameen addressed the nation and ensured a peaceful transfer of power. He noted that he would continue to serve until the end of the his term, which expires on November 17.

President Yameen walks away after delivering his speech conceding defeat in the election. PHOTO/ PRESIDENT’S OFFICE

President-Elect Solih, meanwhile, urged national unity and pledged to work for the betterment of Maldives.

“Regardless of who you voted for, I will be the president of all Maldivians,” he said, at a press conference late Monday evening claiming his victory.

The election results have been met with praise, with tourism organisations welcoming the president-elect and Vice President-Elect Faisal Naseem, an industry veteran who had worked at top posts in resorts in his career.

Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) said it hoped Maldives would attain new heights under Solih’s leadership. The association, which comprises Maldives tourism pioneers such as Mohamed Umar Maniku and Hussain ‘Champa’ Afeef, also pledged to work with the incoming administration.

Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) and Association of Travel Agents (ATA) Maldives, the two organisations representing local travel agents and tour operators, congratulated President-Elect Solih and Vice President-Elect Naseem.

“Please know that you can count on our best wishes and support as you assume the duties of the President. We look forward to working with your administration, and may you and all those who serve with you be granted with wisdom and strength to take this country forward,” MATATO said, in a statement.

Guesthouse Association of Maldives (GAM) President Ahmed Akram expressed hope that the relatively new local tourism industry would flourish under the new government. He noted that the joint opposition’s manifesto already includes several aspects specific to the guesthouse industry.

“We met him during the campaign and requested him to create a special division within the tourism ministry to facilitate and promote guesthouses,” Akram told Avas Online.

The joint opposition has proposed to triple the tourism promotion budget, which is currently set at MVR 50 million (USD 3.3 million) every year.

The government has come under fire from private organisations representing industry stakeholders such as MATATO over the lack of effort and budget to promote the Maldives as a destination.

These concerns come as the world-famous holiday destination struggles to match an increased bed capacity.

Over the past five years, dozens of uninhabited islands have been leased to local and foreign resort developers. Several international brands have entered into the market, increasing the number of resorts to 130. That number is set to increase as the government has announced the opening of some 20 new resorts over the next two years.

Along with the new resort openings come the challenge of increasing demand from budget travellers who choose guesthouses over luxury resorts that the Maldives is known for. The guesthouse sector has rapidly expanded with over 500 guesthouses in operation today.

The government has recently announced new steps to maintain a structured growth in tourism, including a slowdown in leasing islands for resort development and increased marketing efforts in key markets such as China and the Middle East in order to reach an ambitious target of a record 1.5 million tourist arrivals this year.

Main photo: President-Elect Solih (centre, left) and Vice-President Faisal (centre, right) greets supporters after claiming victory in the presidential election. PHOTO/ MIHAARU

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