Maldives to train more locals for tourism jobs

Authorities in Maldives are preparing to launch short-term training programmes to increase the number of locals taking up jobs in the country’s lucrative tourism industry.

During discussions Thursday on the nationwide short-term training programmes, Vice President Faisal Naseem told officials that his government prioritised the employment of Maldivians in all trades and industries.

“The government aims to train and develop the national workforce to maximise the opportunities for Maldivians,” he said.

Higher education minister Dr Ibrahim Hassan said 20 courses of certificate level three have been designed and are ready to be launched. They were developed based on a study to identify human resource requirements in the tourism sector, he added.

In addition to theory components, the programmes will have a practical component for participants to get on-the-job training at resorts.

“… the practical component would help students gain hands-on experience and better prepare them for employment,” Dr Hassan said.

He asked local island councils to help the government in recruiting students for the programmes.

Tourism minister Ali Waheed also said that the tourism industry requires more hard working Maldivians and more training opportunities to develop their skills.

He also highlighted the importance of designating some tourism jobs exclusively for Maldivians.

The Maldives’ tourism industry has greatly expanded over the past 47 years, becoming the country’s main economic activity and the biggest employer.

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 150 plus. That number is set to increase in the coming 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 450 guesthouses in operation today.

With the expansion comes the need to train locals for a range of new jobs that are expected to open up.

Meanwhile, Minister Waheed also briefed the vice president and officials on the plans to reopen the Maldives borders to tourists.

The Maldives is preparing to reopen its borders to visitors in July.

The country’s tourism ministry has drafted and invited comments from industry stakeholders on its own guidelines on reopening the borders.

The coronavirus outbreak has hit the Maldivian economy hard, as travel restrictions and other preventive measures affect the country’s lucrative tourism industry, which contributes the bulk of the island nation’s state revenue and foreign reserves.

All international airlines have suspended scheduled operations to the Maldives, as the island nation enforced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa in late March in a bid to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Cruise ships and foreign yachts were also banned from docking at any of the country’s ports.

Before the pandemic, the government had been bullish about tourism prospects, targeting two million, high-spending holidaymakers this year after last year’s record 1.7 million.

However, tourist arrivals saw a year-over-year decline of 22.8 per cent in the first 10 days of March. Officials say the number of tourist arrivals to the Maldives could drop by half in 2020.

With arrival numbers falling and the visa suspension in effect, several resorts across the Maldives had been closed.

Tourism has been the bedrock of the Maldives’ economic success. The $5 billion-dollar economy grew by 6.7 per cent in 2018 with tourism generating 60 per cent of foreign income.

However, the government is at present projecting a possible 13 per cent economic contraction this year — an estimated $778 million hit.

On March 8, Maldives reported its first cases of the novel coronavirus, as two hotel employees tested positive for Covid-19 at a luxury resort in the archipelago.

Eighteen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except five Maldivians who had returned from abroad — were later identified.

A six-case cluster of locals, detected in capital Male on April 15, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus. Several more clusters have since been identified, bringing the total number of confirmed case in the Maldives to 1,872.

Seven deaths have been reported and 648 have made full recoveries.

The Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on March 12, the first such declaration under a recent public health protection law.

The public health emergency declaration has allowed the government to introduce a series of unprecedented restrictive and social distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders in capital Male and its suburbs, a ban on inter-island transport and public gatherings across the country, and a nationwide closing of government offices, schools, colleges and universities.

Non-essential services and public places in the capital such as gyms, cinemas and parks have also been shut.

Restaurants and cafes in the capital have been asked to stop dine-in service and switch to takeaway and delivery.

A nationwide shutdown of all guesthouses, city hotels and spa facilities located on inhabited islands is also in effect.

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