Industry leaders call for more investment in Maldives tourism R&D

Leading players in Maldives tourism has called on authorities to ramp up investment in research and development.

Members of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) gathered at Kurumba Maldives last week for the industry body’s annual general meeting, where tourism pioneer Mohamed Umar ‘MU’ Maniku highlighted the need to strengthen research and development efforts.

“Industry policies should be based on comprehensive research findings,” he said.

MU Manik stressed that industry performance cannot be determined based on arrival numbers only. Other factors such as occupancy rate should be taken into account as well, he added.

“Due to the improved air connectivity, last year was a good year for the industry. This year looks promising too,” MU Maniku said.

The owner of Universal, which owns and operates the largest collection of resorts in the Maldives, hailed the ongoing development of the country’s main Velana International Airport.

In addition to minor improvements, a USD 800 million mega project has been launched to expand and upgrade the main Velana International Airport. The project involves building a brand new runway, an international passenger terminal and a seaplane terminal as well as other support facilities, including a fuel farm that can store 45 million litres and a 120,000 tonne cargo facility.

The airport is a key infrastructure that supports the Maldives multi-billion dollar tourism industry. Expansion of the airport is expected to boost tourist arrivals to the island nation as it aims to attract at least two million tourists by 2020.

Maldives concluded last year with a record 1.4 million tourist — a 6.8 percent growth over 2017.

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 announced 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.

Meanwhile, the new government has pledged to ramp up tourism promotion.

Reflecting the new government’s pledge, the state budget for 2019 includes MVR 104,200,000 (USD 6.7 million) for tourism promotion, up from MVR 34,733,333 (USD 2.2 million) this year and the previous year.

The government is also working on a new strategic masterplan for tourism. Consultation sessions are underway, including a symposium dedicated to guesthouse tourism.

Photo: Sun Online

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