George Corbin: Special message on Maldives reopening, tourism restart

Maldivian tourism experience as we see it today would have taken shape or form were it not for the encouragement and support from one individual: George Corbin.

Forty-eight years ago, the Italian travel agent took a chance upon a true underdog among the giants of tourism in the region. His ardent efforts to promote the Maldives as a destination helped set the very foundations of tourism in the then little-known stretch of islands in the Indian Ocean.

It all began with a chance meeting in Colombo between Corbin and Ahmed Naseem, then a junior with the Maldives embassy in Sri Lanka who later became foreign minister. At the time, Corbin was seeking pristine islands where he could bring Italians to swim and hunt fish.

For Corbin, the idyllic Maldives archipelago was love at first sight. Upon his first visit to Male, with Naseem by a cargo ship in 1971, he immediately vowed to return with more guests.

Corbin with the first group of tourists that visited the Maldives. PHOTO/ KURUMBA

Corbin brought the Maldives’ first tourists, mainly journalists and photographers, in February 1972. They stayed in humble lodging in three houses in Male, looked after by Mohamed Umar Maniku (now the Chairman of leading hospitality company Universal Enterprises) and his friends, including Hussain Afeef who is currently the successful owner and operator of several resorts.

Perfect for swimming, sunbathing, fishing, the Maldives enchanted them. Corbin promised to bring more tourists if Maniku, Naseem and Afeef could find them somewhere to stay. And Kurumba Village (now Kurumba Maldives), the country’s first tourist resort, was born.

Corbin (R) and Naseem (L) at Kurumba. PHOTO/ TRAVEL AND LIFESTYLE MALDIVES

Almost half a decade later, the thriving tourism industry in Maldives has been devastated. The global coronavirus pandemic has ground the industry to a halt, cutting off the country’s state revenues and foreign reserves.

But there’s much to be hopeful about. On Wednesday, the Maldives reopened its borders to visitors. Several major international airlines are expected to resume scheduled passenger flights to the country soon.

As the Maldives takes its first steps towards recovery, Corbin has a special message:

This is George Corbin with a message to the Maldives and its people.

Because of the loss of a family member, I will not be able to visit the Maldives for the official opening of their borders to international travellers, marking a very important moment after months of lockdown caused by the coronavirus.

The Maldives has a very solid tourism infrastructure, thanks to its numerous luxurious resorts, boutique hotels, guesthouses, liveaboard boats, gorgeous white sandy beaches, breath-taking underwater world, and most of all the humble kindness of the Maldivian people. The potential in the Maldive islands is huge and will be rewarded for years to come. How the beautiful the Maldive islands are with their thousands of coconut trees, sandy beaches, superb coral reefs, and most of all its beautiful variety of fish.

My first visit was in 1971, and on that trip I had the great pleasure and honour of meeting my now dear friend, Ahmed Naseem.

Naseem and partners and myself decided to get into a joint venture and build the first resort in the history of Maldives. And in 1972, we inaugurated the Kurumba Village, receiving the first tourists.

Today, the Maldive islands are world known and among the best destinations, getting visitors of different nationalities and regions, thus being a very safe haven.

To His Excellency the President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, to the ministry of tourism, and to every single Maldivian; I can only wish lots of success and happiness.

Note: This article contains reporting by Himoo Waheed. Cover photo: Naseem (R) and Corbin meet in Colombo in 2017. PHOTO/ @SaleemaRazak/ TWITTER

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