Ex-MP Ali Waheed appointed Maldives’ new tourism minister
Former parliamentarian Ali Waheed has been appointed as the new Minister of Tourism.
The appointment was made hours after Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who defeated incumbent President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom in the September 23 elections, was sworn in as president on Saturday.
Waheed replaces Moosa Zameer, who had been the tourism minister since October 28, 2015.
Waheed holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Australia’s Curtin University and has been actively involved in politics for over a decade.
He began his political career in 2008 as the Spokesperson of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), the political party of the then incumbent President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom. Known for his exceptional oratory skills, Waheed worked during the first democratic elections held in the Maldives, defending President Gayyoom’s policies at various platforms throughout the campaign.
With Gayoom’s defeat in the 2008 elections, Waheed contested the first parliamentary elections held under the new constitution. In the May 2009 elections, he defeated his opponent from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to win the parliamentary seat of his native Thoddoo constituency, making history as the youngest to ever enter the country’s parliament.
After a five-year term in parliament, Waheed served as the chairperson of MDP, the largest political party in the Maldives at the time.
Waheed left the Maldives in 2015 after being briefly detained following a mass anti-government protest on May Day. He secured political asylum from the UK and lived there with other opposition leaders before returning to the Maldives after Solih’s win in September.
While in exile, Waheed joined Jumhooree Party and secured the party’s leadership through a congress vote.
Waheed’s appointment comes as the new government pledges to ramp up tourism promotion with new initiatives and more funding.
Authorities have come under fire from private organisations representing industry stakeholders such as the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (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 few 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 more than 130. That number is set to increase as another 20 resorts are expected to open 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 previous government has 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.
Maldives had in September welcomed the one millionth visitor of 2018.
According to the latest figures, total arrivals for the past nine months of the year increased by 8.3 percent to reach 1,080,459 compared to the 998,009 in the same period of last year.