The heavenly sandy beaches of the Maldives felt like a faraway fantasy during the lockdowns most countries had to endure during the pandemic — a fading memory from the pre-Covid years that saw an unprecedented boom of global tourism.

The country closed its borders for a few months in mid-2020 and reintroduced restrictions temporarily in mid-2021. Last year, it saw tourism arrivals drop by 67.4% from a year earlier, according to government data. However, tourists have been flowing back this year, with 2021 data to date showing the gap since pre-Covid levels narrowing to around 30%.

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With tourists finally back on its tropical atolls, tourism minister Abdulla Mausoom shares insights into the country’s strategy to widen its offer beyond its renowned ‘one-island-one-resort’ concept. 

Q: How are you evolving the country’s tourism offer in the wake of the pandemic? 

A: The one-island-one-resort concept is popular, and we will do everything to make sure it continues to prosper. But we want to develop other products. One is real estate tourism, which refers to long-stay tourism. We will develop islands where people will be able to lease villas for longer stays. 

Q: The Maldivian authorities are also considering developing an offer for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (Mice). Can you elaborate on that? 

A: Mice in the Maldives is going to be different. We don’t have huge conference centres — it’s more for executives’ breakaways. Most hotels will have smaller rooms for “barefoot meetings”, which I expect will become very popular. 

Q: The country’s coffers have been hit by the pandemic. How important is tourism for the Maldives to replenish them and trigger an economic recovery? 

A: We need tourism because tourism is everything. Most of our fiscal revenues come in through the tourism tax, but also we need new investment. We are opening up for foreign investors to come and invest. At the moment, we are calling for bids on 18 resorts products, which will be assessed according to marks (highest to lowest bidders), and their environmental and social impact. 

Q: What do you think will be the long-lasting impacts from the pandemic? 

A: We are optimistic that we will be able to go back to pre-Covid levels; current occupancy rates have already been as good as they were in 2019 for the past few months. However, we still have to be careful because people are not very sure about the whole Covid crisis yet. While some countries are doing well, others are facing new spikes in infections. In the Maldives, we have different islands; we can establish different bubbles and we can control the spread of the virus.

Tourism has yet to go back to normal. Visitors still need a negative PCR test and double vaccination to come to the country, and there are some limitations to internal travelling. But when we decided to reopen the borders last year, we decided we wanted to manage tourism in a way that guarantees safety for our staff, the [economy] and the public, and this is the way we have been doing it since then. 

This article was first published in the December 2021/January 2022 edition of fDi Intelligence magazine. Read the online edition here.