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In the Maldives, tourism is on a roll. Here’s how

The Maldives is now renowned as one of the most exotic tourist destinations in the world, surpassing its decades-long image as a nation of fishermen.

The main tourist attraction is the resort islands that have the motto — ‘One Island, One Resort’, meaning that a single hotel takes up the entire island.

After landing at the Velana International Airport in the capital of Male, a visitor can take the taxis lined up alongside the boats. The fare is fixed, so there is no haggling involved.

Hotels, streets and sea beaches are sparkling clean. There are benches, swings, and hammocks on the beach where tourists can stop for a break.

The Bangladesh High Commission in the Maldives is located in the Hulhumalé area, adjacent to Male.

The area does not feature a luxury resort, but there are small hotels and cafés on the beach and all along the road.

A four-storey hotel stands on an approximately 1250 sq ft area on the beach. Though the rooms are quite small, a stay costs $70 to $100 per night.

Nahid, a Bangladeshi citizen and manager of the hotel, says the price of space in and around Male is high. The hotel he runs is small, but it costs 18 million Maldivian rufiyaas, or Tk 90 million (1 Maldivian Rufiyaa equals Tk 5.55).

“Many tourists spend a couple of nights in these hotels before going to the island resorts. We charge extra because of the greater investment, taxes, and operating costs,” he said.

Despite the high cost of travelling to the Maldives, millions of tourists flock to this small island every year. The World Tourism Organisation recognised the Maldives as the Best Tourist Destination in 2019.

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According to the ‘Yearbook of Tourism Statistics, 2019 Edition’ published by the Maldives Tourism Board, there were only 280 beds in hotels for tourists in the Maldives in 1972. By 2020, the number had skyrocketed to 51,827.

From 2016 to 2019, 62 percent of these accommodations at various resorts, hotels, guesthouses and safari boats were booked. But it dropped to 25 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Most of the tourists who come here are European. In 2020, 62.7 percent of tourists to the country came from Europe, 25.6 percent from the Asia-Pacific, and 5.8 percent from the United States.

Most of the buildings in the Male and Hulhumale areas are three-storey tall. There is no garbage on the streets. Residents park cars and motorcycles at the designated parking spots on the road. Each residential area has its own park or children’s playground. There are buses and ferries to ply in the city.

Rear Admiral Mohammad Nazmul Hassan, Bangladesh high commissioner to the Maldives, feels that Bangladesh can learn a lot from the Maldives with respect to the tourism sector.

On Dec 5, at the Bangladesh Mission in Male, he told reporters that 70 percent of Maldives foreign exchange earnings come from tourism. The main attraction of tourism here are the resort islands, he said.

“They have this ‘One Island, One Resort’ policy. Each company has its own rules on the island resorts here. They have leased the islands on the same terms from the Maldivian government. No element of the Maldivian government or their agencies ever interferes with their internal management.”

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The Maldives, composed of nearly 1,200 small islands, has about 298 square kilometres, but the total area of this island state, including the seas, is 90,000 square kilometres.

According to the tourism yearbook report, out of the 1,192 islands in the country, only 187 have settlements and 860 are uninhabited. Of these, there are 159 resorts.

High Commissioner Nazmul Hassan said that government agencies work on quality control on the resort islands.

“Almost all the best hotel-resort brands in the world are here. Occasionally government officials go on surprise visits there. Irregularities are first reported, then action is taken against them. This is the main reason for the development of the tourism industry in the Maldives.”

“Our experiences of the tourism industry here have been conveyed to the Bangladesh Tourism Corporation. If this experience can be used, our tourism industry will also improve,” he said.

According to Tourism Yearbook Data, the Maldivian government’s revenue in 2016 was 18,578 million rufiyaas, with tourism accounting for 34.8 percent of the amount.

Before the pandemic, in 2019, the revenue was 21,161 million rufiyaas. Of these, direct tourism revenue was 7,708 million rufiyaas or 34.9 percent.

Mir Saiful Islam, the founding president of the Bangladesh Community Welfare Association, an organisation of expatriate Bangladeshis in the Maldives, came to the Maldives in 1984 as a teacher.

Saiful, who grew up in Dhaka, said: “Various government agencies closely control the quality of hotels and cafes. You can’t influence them. Moreover, rules and regulations are observed in all areas of traffic, trade and commerce.”

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Bangladesh has now better connectivity with the archipelagic nation. US-Bangla Airlines, a Bangladeshi airline, has recently started direct flights from Bangladesh to the Maldives. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that Biman Bangladesh Airlines is set to introduce flights to the Maldives soon as well.

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