Maldives resumes tourism leases, allocates 29 islands for new resort development

Maldives on Tuesday resumed tourism leases, allocating 29 uninhabited islands and land from several inhabited islands for new tourism developments.

Local laws allow tourism leases of up to 100 years.

The Tourism Act was amended in 2016 to allow closed bidding for islands for resort development.

However, the new government, which came to power in November 2018, had scrapped the amendment. The government also suspended new tourism leases, pending a market analysis and proper evaluation of existing developments.

At a ceremony held Tuesday evening at the main convention centre of Dharubaaruge in capital Male, tourism minister Ali Waheed said the government plans to develop additional 13,720 tourist beds within its first five-year term.

“This initiative will create at least 18,000 employment opportunities for locals,” he said.

The uninhabited islands earmarked for resort development include:

  • Four in Haa Alif atoll: Maafinolhu (424 beds), Dhapparu (1,000 beds), Medhufushi (317 beds) and Alidhuffaru Finolhu (233 beds)
  • Three in Haa Dhaal atoll: Hondaidhoo (500 beds), Kudafaru Fasgandu (233 beds) and Vaikaramuraidhoo (436 beds)
  • Three in Shaviyani atoll: Nalandhoo (1,700 beds), Kudalhaimendhoo (400 beds) and Fushifaru (233 beds)
  • One in Noonu atoll: Kunnamalai (250 beds)
  • Two in Raa atoll: Egili (200 beds) and land reclaimed from the lagoon of Alifushi island (200 beds)
  • Two in Meemu atoll: Seedhee Huraa (200 beds) and Boa Huraa (200 beds)
  • Two in Faafu atoll: Enbulufushi (200 beds) and Jinnathagau (200 beds)
  • Three in Thaa atoll: Kaaddoo (200 beds), Kanimeedhoo (200 beds) and Olhufushi (200 beds)
  • Three in Laamu atoll: Kashidhoo (233 beds), Dhonberaha (233 beds) and Bodumunyafushi (233 beds)
  • Two in Gaafu Alif atoll: Maareha Fai (494 beds) and Funadhoo Villigilla (233 beds)
  • Three in Gaafu Dhaal atoll: Kandahalaga (215 beds), Fereytha Villigilla (233 beds) and Kadevaareha (200 beds)
  • One in Addu atoll: Hankede (200 beds)

Additionally, land from several inhabited islands has been allocated for the development of local tourism facilities such as hotels and guesthouses. The land covers:

  • 16 hectares from Addu
  • Two hectares from Fuvahmulah
  • 0.5 hectares from the island of Vaadhoo in Gaafu Dhaal atoll
  • 19 hectares from the island of Gan in Laamu atoll
  • 0.5 hectares from the island of Nolhivaranfaru in Haa Dhaal atoll
  • 8.5 hectares from the island of Kelaa in Haa Alif atoll
  • 23 hectares from the island of Uligan in Haa Alif atoll

Minister Waheed acknowledged that some of the islands are home to environmentally sensitive areas. Those areas will be fully preserved through the development process, he said.

Waheed stressed that these new leases focus on boosting tourism in regions where there are fewer developments. The greater Male region has been excluded because of the high concentration of tourism activity in the region, he added.

The latest official figures show that 152 resorts, 10 hotels, 579 guesthouses and 154 liveaboard vessels are in operation. These establishments have a capacity of 49,337 tourist beds.

Government had earlier said that a total of 132 tourism projects involving 140 islands are being carried out across the Maldives.

Maldives is set to achieve its target of welcoming 20 new resort openings this year.

Eleven new resorts came into operation in 2016, followed by at least 15 new resorts in 2017 and 20 new properties last year.

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 in operation to more than 150.

Singapore’s Park Hotel Group has opened its first resort in the Maldives, whilst major international hotel chains such as AccorHotels have entered the Maldives with five openings, including Mercure Maldives Kooddoo ResortFairmont Maldives Sirru Fen FushiMӧvenpick Resort Kuredhivaru MaldivesRaffles Maldives Meradhoo Resort, and Pullman Maldives Maamutaa Resort. Brands like Hard Rock InternationalCapella Hotel GroupCarlson Rezidor Hotel GroupEmaar Hospitality GroupBaglioni HotelsEmerald Collection and Meliá Hotels International have announced their entry to the Maldives as well.

Existing international players are also upping their presence, with Marriott International launching Westin and JW Marriott in Maldives, Hilton Worldwide re-introducing its top-end luxury brand Waldorf Astoria, Aitken Spence introducing its Heritance brand, Minor Hotel Group to introduce its AVANI brand, Onyx Hospitality Group to introduce its OZO brand with its second property in the island nation, and LUX* Hotels and Resorts opening its second resort in the Maldives. The Residence by Cenizaro has also opened its second Maldivian property, whilst Thai hospitality group Centara Hotels & Resorts has announced the development of its fifth resort in Maldives.

Leading local hotel groups, including Atmosphere Hotels and ResortsSun Siyam Resorts, and Crown and Champa Resorts, are also on an expansion drive.

Meanwhile, the first integrated tourism developments in the Maldives — Emboodhoo Lagoon project and Rah Falhu Huraa lagoon project — are underway, with the first phase of the Crossroads Maldives integrated destination at Emboodhoo Lagoon already open to visitors.

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.

Maldives had in November welcomed the 1.5 millionth tourist of the year, reaching the destination’s target for tourist arrivals this year.

Maldives welcomed a record 1.4 million tourists in 2018. It was a 6.8 per cent increase from the 1,389,542 tourists that chose to holiday in the Maldives in 2017.

The new government aims to attract 2.5 million tourist arrivals per year by the end of its first five-year term in 2023.

To achieve this target, the government had added MVR 50 million (USD 3.23 million) to the annual marketing budget of the tourism ministry.

In the state budget for 2020, the government had allocated MVR 154.2 million (USD 9.98 million) for tourism promotion — up from the MVR 104.2 million (USD 6.7 million) in 2019, and MVR 34.73 million (USD 2.2 million) each in 2018 and 2017.

The government, which came to power in 2018, 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) in 2018 and 2017.

Photos: Mihaaru News

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