Maldives to lease new islands for tourism by year end
Maldives will allocate more uninhabited islands for resort development and open bids at the end of the year and early next year, the island nation’s tourism minister has said.
Ali Waheed told reporters Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic hit just before the announcement was made.
“We will review our plans based on the current market conditions. We are trying to invite open bids for the new islands in phases starting later this year or early next year,” he said.
Waheed stressed that the new leases will focus on boosting tourism in atolls such as Laamu, Faafu and Thaa, as well as the southernmost atolls where there are fewer developments.
Local laws allow tourism leases of up to 100 years.
The government resumed tourism leases last year, in a bid to develop additional 13,720 tourist beds within its first five-year term. Twenty-nine uninhabited islands and land from several inhabited islands were allocated for new tourism developments.
The Maldives currently has 166 resorts, 13 hotels, 631 guesthouses and 158 liveaboard vessels. These establishments have a combined bed capacity of over 52,000.
The government had earlier said that 132 tourism projects involving 140 islands were being carried out across the Maldives.
Eleven new resorts came into operation in 2016, followed by at least 15 new resorts in 2017 and 20 new properties in both 2018 and 2019.
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 Resort, Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi, Mӧvenpick Resort Kuredhivaru Maldives, Raffles Maldives Meradhoo Resort, and Pullman Maldives Maamutaa Resort.
Brands like Hard Rock International, Capella Hotel Group, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, Emaar Hospitality Group, Baglioni Hotels, Emerald 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, JW Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton brands in Maldives, Hilton Worldwide re-introducing its top-end luxury brand Waldorf Astoria, Aitken Spence introducing its Heritance brand, Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts opening its fourth resort, and LUX* Hotels and Resorts opening its second resort in the Maldives.
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.
Challenges on many fronts
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 600 guesthouses in operation today.
The coronavirus outbreak has also 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.
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, only 382,760 tourists visited the Maldives before the country closed its borders on March 27. It was a 40.8 per cent decline over the 646,092 that visited the Maldives from January to March last year.
With arrival numbers falling, several resorts across the Maldives suspended operations.
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 2,283.
Eight deaths have been reported and 1,863 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 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 were also shut.
Restaurants and cafes in the capital were 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 was also ordered.
These measures allowed authorities to contain the outbreak.
More than half of the people who contracted the virus have recovered and daily recoveries have over taken the number of new infections detected per day.
The Maldives will also reopen its borders on July 15.