Thursday, January 31, 2008

Valentine's in the Maldives

Extravagant romantics looking for the ultimate Valentine's experience will be heading for the Maldives during February.

valentines in the maldives

This collection of over a thousand tropical islands is already a year-round haven for loved-up couples who want to immerse themselves in themselves. The newest luxury resort Naladhu, which opened in March 2007, is gearing up for the Valentine's period with special packages available throughout most of the month.

The exclusive island consists of just 19 houses, each positioned by the Indian Ocean with a personal House Master always on hand. With promises of pure indulgence and sensual pleasures, guests can have their every whim indulged. A massage, spa treatment, bath ceremony, Valentine bed-turndown, his and hers gifts and gourmet breakfast are all included in the package, valid from 1 February to 20 February 2008. Prices start at US$1,600 per night so it's for true love only. British travellers might want to take advantage of the favourable sterling-dollar exchange rate at the moment.

Naladhu Maldives is part of the prestigious Small Luxury Hotels of the World group and was named one of the world's “hottest” new resorts by Conde Nast Traveler in the 2007 “Hot List”.

For those with less cash to splash it seems European city breaks are increasingly popular for Valentine's weekend. The growth of budget airlines and cheap flights has encouraged this trend. Online travel agency reports a rise in the number of bookings for Valentine city breaks from the old favourites like Paris and Rome to fashionable destinations such as Reykjavik and Barcelona.

Jon Pearce from says: "City breaks are growing in popularity every year, and especially around Valentine's Day people want to take a romantic city break together. We can offer many cheap romantic city breaks for our customers, and there are so many great destinations available..."

Written by: Maxine Clarke


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

President Gayoom officially inaugurates Gan International Airport

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has officially inaugurated the Gan International Airport on Tuesday.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony President Gayoom said that the Gan International Airport would make a remarkable contribution to speeding up the pace of progress in Addu Atoll. He also said that the Government attached a very high priority to the development of Addu Atoll in particular as it was one of the most populous atolls in Maldives. He noted that a number of projects had been launched for the development of Addu Atoll over the past few years and that the opening of the International Airport was a notable achievement in the field of aviation.

During his speech President Gayoom urged the employees of all airports in Maldives to provide the best services for their customers and pointed out that the Airports were the face-front representatives of the country.

The Minister of Transport and Communication Mohamed Saeed also spoke at the ceremony, noting the historic significance of the Addu Atoll Airport. He said that Maldives had achieved significant progress in the field of aviation due to the collaborative efforts of the Government and the people.

President Gayoom and the First Lady Madam Nasreena were greeted upon their arrival at the ceremony by the Minister of Transport and Communication Mohamed Saeed and senior officials of the Ministry, the regional airport and Maldives Airports Company.

The Presidential couple arrived in Addu Atoll at 11:00am Tuesday morning. They were greeted at the Gan Airport by the Atoll Chief Saud Abdulla, Minister of Transport and Communication Mr. Mohamed Saeed, Minister of Tourism and Civil aviation Dr. Mahmood Shaugee, and other officials attending the ceremony. The students of Feydhoo School presented the President and the First Lady with a welcome song at the airport.


India to work for proactive economic cooperation with Maldives

A fervent desire on the part of India to lift the traditional assistance and trade-driven cooperation with Maldives to a comprehensive relationship structure comprising economic and academic cooperation and a healthy two-way trade regime is in evidence as Minister of State for Cooperation Jairam Ramesh began discussions with Ministers and officials here on Tuesday.

Mr. Ramesh, on a three-day visit to Maldives as part of his drive to expand trade and investment ties within the SAARC countries, told The Hindu that the time has come for India to take a hard look at its economic cooperation with Maldives and make it more proactive and even unilateral when it came to responding to the aspirations of a rich and young society that was trying to achieve its political and economic aspirations in a changing world.

Maldives is the third stopover for Mr. Ramesh. He had visited Bangladesh and Pakistan and is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka within the next two weeks.

The Minister’s tour of the SAARC nations and interactions with delegations is in preparation for the SAFTA Ministerial meeting in New Delhi on March 1 and 2.

“We have to send a signal that India’s perspective vis-À-vis SAARC countries is changing; that we are no longer prisoners of reciprocity and that we are sensitive to the concerns of our partners,” Mr. Ramesh said.

Pointing out that Maldives was one of the outstanding economic success stories of the past three decades with 7 per cent GDP growth and a per capita income in the region of $3000, Mr. Ramesh said India had to see how it could go beyond trade to investment and cooperation in diverse areas.

The present level of trade and investment interactions between the two countries was not commensurate with the potential. With a 11 per cent share, India was behind Singapore and Sri Lanka in exports to Maldives and there was scope for improvement here.

“In private investment, we figure nowhere, compared to Singapore and Malaysia.”

Mr. Ramesh identified the expansion of the list of items traded between the countries, making of the annual assessment of Maldives’ import requirements automatic, cooperation in the fisheries sector (particularly in tuna fishing), and greater Indian engagement in Maldives’ higher education needs as some of the areas where the two countries could have fruitful joint initiatives.

While India’s exports to Maldives during 2006 were worth Rs. 384 crore, imports were worth less than Rs. 6 crore.

“We must import more items and quantities from Maldives,” he said.

The Minister, who is being accompanied by Marine Products Export Development Authority chairman G. Mohan Kumar, said he would focus on bilateral cooperation in tuna fishing and processing during his talks with Maldivian officials.

India has already announced major plans to develop its tuna resources, particularly in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Fisheries in Maldives faces a challenge as from 2011, the country will lose its duty-free benefits in Europe.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008


The Minister of State of Commerce, Shri Jairam Ramesh will be visiting Maldives from January 29th to 31st as part of his drive to expand trade and investment ties within SAARC. He has already visited Bangladesh and is scheduled to be in Sri Lanka in two weeks time. Interactions with delegations from Pakistani and Bhutan have also taken place. In addition, Shri Ramesh has visited all the important border trade centres in the region including Petrapole, Moreh and Attari/Wagah. The visit assumes significance in light of the forthcoming SAFTA Ministerial meeting in New Delhi on March 1st-2nd, 2008.

Shri Ramesh will also review the working of the Indo-Maldives Trade Agreement of 1981 in light of the changes that have taken place in the economies of both countries. India supplies essential commodities like rice, wheat flour, eggs, potatoes, stones and sand as part of this Agreement. Even though wheat exports from India are banned, as a measure of the importance it attaches to SAARC in general and Maldives in particular, India supplies wheat flour to Maldives.

India accounts for around 10-11% of Maldives imports, next to Singapore and Sri Lanka and is on par with UAE. Exports from India to Maldives are presently in the region of about $ 100 million. Singapore accounts for almost 90% of the FDI into Maldives, followed by Malaysia. Shri Jairam Ramesh’s visit is to explore how India can expand its trade and investment presence in Maldives, a country of great strategic significance to it.

Fisheries is one important area for bilateral cooperation that is proposed to be discussed during Shri Ramesh’s visit. Cooperation in tuna is one specific area that will be discussed now that India has also announced major plans to develop its tuna resources, particularly in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. n addition, Maldives has sought India’s assistance to develop it as a trans-shipment and logistics hub because of its strategic location. Maldives has also expressed in expanding the scope of training in IT.


Monday, January 28, 2008

India looks to ramp up presence in Maldives

Maldives, located just south of Lakshadweep islands in the Indian Ocean, has somehow slipped below the radar of India's strategic consciousness all these years.

But this is changing. India is ramping up its presence in the tiny Indian Ocean island nation that is now being seen as a potential strategic and economic hotspot. Maldives — for long a political fiefdom of its longest-serving president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom — is in the middle of a political transition.

Now, it's changing into a multi-party setup, with some Islamist parties being part of the political mix. This has lent a sense of urgency in pushing India's interests in that country.

The coming week will see foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon travel to Male, and following hot on his heels will be minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh. On February 6, Gayoom himself will be in Delhi to participate in a conference on global warming — an enduring nightmare for Maldives.

MEA will try and remove some of the strains that have crept into the relationship with Maldives, particularly following terrorist incidents, and a less than acceptable stand of Maldives on Kashmir. But, most importantly, it is India’s opportunity to tell Maldives that it matters big.

The underlying message by India next week will be that Indian globalization is incomplete without a proper relationship with Maldives.

Strategically important, Maldives has suggested it be made a logistics hub for India on the high seas. Maldives has even offered to give an entire island to India's IT industry, to set up shop there. Since India is expanding its presence as a maritime power in the Indian Ocean, leaving Maldives out of the calculation would be short-sighted to say the least.

India has a strong-enough defence and security relationship with Maldives — apart from supplying it with defence equipment and fast-attack craft, India takes care of almost 75% of Maldives' defence training.

But, there needs to be greater economic interest. Despite its proximity to India, it's Singapore and Malaysia that have the greatest investments in Maldives, not India. There is negligible tourist traffic from India, particularly when one considers that Italy sends 131,000 tourists per year as compared to 11,000 from India and 20,000 from China. And, tourism forms 35% of Maldives' GDP.

The new impetus by India seeks to move beyond the visible projects like building the Male airport to getting into Maldives' education sector and fisheries, both high earners for India, as well as exploring other rewarding avenues to set up Indian presence.

At the bottom of India's calculations are several other factors — India doesn't want to lose an existing friend to the Chinese due to short-sighted political and economic calculations. Besides, if Islamist parties are going
to have a say in Maldives' future, India needs to make sure they don't impact India's security interests.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Maldives '07 tourist arrivals rise record 12.3 pct

Tourist arrivals in Maldives rose to 12.3 percent -- more than projected in 2007 and its highest ever -- thanks to an improvement in the infrastructure of its tourist resorts, officials said on Wednesday.

The tourist arrivals reached 675,889 in 2007 compared with 601,860 in 2006, the island's Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation said in a statement.

"The increase was mainly because of the infrastructure improvement in the resorts," Abdulla Niam, deputy director of marketing at Maldives Tourism Promotion Board told Reuters.

"We opened some of the resorts last year, which closed after 2004 tsunami."

Tourists resorts in the Maldives were hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which killed over 200,000 in the region.

Although the islands' target last year was to achieve an 8.5 percent increase over 2006 tourists arrivals, the Maldives achieved saw a better-than-expected rise to 12.3 percent.

The Maldives Tourism Ministry said United Kingdom ranked top in 2007 with 125,158 tourist arrivals, followed by Italy with 117,246 tourists. Third highest was Germany with 72,269 tourists.

The average stay of a tourist has increased to 8.5 days for 2007 from 8.0 days in 2006, the ministry said.

Renowned for its luxury resorts -- accommodation in pavilions on stilts over turquoise lagoons can cost over $1,000 a night -- white sand beaches and world class snorkelling and scuba diving, tourism is the lynchpin of the Maldives' 850 million dollar economy.

Tourism revenues grew 10 percent in 2007, contributing $240 million or 28 percent of GDP. That compared to sector growth of 45 percent the previous year as arrivals recovered from the impact of the 2004 tsunami.

Tourist arrivals fell 36 percent to 395,300 in 2005 after the disaster, but recovered to 601,860 in 2006.

Spread over 1,200 tiny, mostly uninhabited islands 500 miles 800 km) off the toe of India, the country has little in the way of industry or agricultural production aside from fishing. (Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Ben Tan)


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Kuoni Long-haul Report Sees Maldives Hold Onto Number One Place For 2007 As Tailor Made Business Grows

At the launch of its annual long-haul report, leading specialist tour operator Kuoni Travel announced that the Maldives has retained its Number 1 position as the favourite long-haul destination both for 2007 and going forward to 2008. Also at the top of the table for 2007, Thailand remains at Number 2, Egypt has climbed one place to Number 3 and Kenya and Dubai have retained the Number 4 and 5 places respectively. As predicted in last year’s report, China, including Hong Kong, had an outstanding year in 2007, with business to mainland China up by some 60%, climbing two places to Number 6.

Looking forward to 2008, early ’hot stars’ include India, climbing two places to Number 9, with year on year growth of some 30%, South Africa, into the Top Twenty at Number 18, with growth of 14% and Bali, which is enjoying a welcome resurgence and is currently sitting at Number 19 for the year ahead.

Commenting, Nick Hughes, Managing Director, Kuoni Travel says "It’s great to see the Maldives continuing to hold its well-deserved position as the favourite long-haul destination"

"In terms of the major trends we are seeing in long-haul travel, the most apparent is the shift towards tailor making. During the past two years the tailor made share of our total business has grown by approximately 50% and is being requested on an increasing basis. Kuoni has long been recognised for its ability to personalise holidays on a very individual basis for our clients and it is this skill, supported by our in-depth knowledge, careful selection of product and excellent customer service that we believe will set us apart moving into the future, as the leading provider of top quality tailor made holidays"

For further press information on Kuoni, and copies of the long-haul report, please contact Kuoni media relations.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Mansfield TV star Richard weds in Maldives

MANSFIELD TV and radio star Richard Bacon steps out with his blushing bride Rebecca McFarlane at the couple's wedding in Somerset on Thursday.
Around 180 family and friends filled the picturesque venue of Babington House on the big day to witness the happy couple say their vows and exchange rings.

Among the many guests at the white wedding were radio presenter Kirsty Young and Chris Evans accompanied by his with Natasha.

The newly-weds are currently enjoying a two-week honeymoon in the Maldives.


Maldives' airline to operate daily flights to India

Launching its first international operation, Maldives' national carrier 'Island Aviation Services' would be starting daily flights between the island nation's capital Male and Thiruvananthapuram from January 25.

To start with the airline would be flying a 50-seater Dash8 aircraft for the 120-minute journey, starting from 13:30 Maldives time, and return to the island at 18:30 from here, the airline's Managing Director, Bandhu I Saleem, told a press meet here.

" We are making a beginning in the international aviation sector on the strength of warm ties between the two countries and their liberal aviation policies," Saleem said.

Island, fully-owned by the Maldivian Government, had so far been providing inter-island connectivity among the islands constituting the Maldives.

The launch of the service in the sector would help the normal passengers flying between the two countries and also the tourism boom on both sides, he said.

A fast emerging tourist hotspot, the number of resorts in Maldives was expected to go up to 100 from 80 now. Male receive quite a large number of chartered tourist flights from European countries, he said.

Spencer's Travels Services Ltd., would be representing the airline whose office was inaugurated in the city Tuesday.


Global Hotel Alliance welcomes two new members

Global Hotel Alliance (GHA) welcomed two hotel brands to its membership, strengthening its membership as it now reaches nine members. The two new members are Anantara and the Cham Group. Anantara is a collection of six spa resorts in some of Asia’s most exotic destinations. Anantara Resorts are currently located in Thailand in the seaside town of Hua Hin, on Koh Samui, in the Golden Triangle; and also in the Maldives and in Bali, with several new resorts already under development.
Michael Sagild, Anantara’s Chief Operating Officer, is delighted to be joining GHA: “Anantara Resorts has established a solid reputation for offering an experience to guests unlike any other, one that couples serenity with exoticism and state-of-the-art convenience with indigenous charm. Our Membership of GHA will enable us to broaden our reach and communicate our brand to more customers, through new marketing channels, together with our GHA partners”.
Cham Group comprises Cham Palaces & Hotels, which is a collection of eleven city and resort hotels in Syria and Jordan and soon Algeria. Some, such as the Cham Palace in Damascus, are the true historical palace hotels of the region.
Royal Regency International Hotels is also part of the Cham Group with its properties in Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Marsa Allam in Egypt and Minsk. Cham Group’s hotels complement other GHA member hotels in the region, and will form part of strong network of GHA hotels in the Middle East.
Dr Ghassan Aidi, Cham’s President, is buoyant about their prospects as a member of GHA: “It’s not always easy marketing a local brand out of the Middle East, but these beautiful countries are steeped in history, and boast destinations such as Petra in Jordan, which was recently voted as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and Palmyra and Afamia in Syria, which are set to become a ’must-visit’ on the tourist map in a region where the hotel business is already growing exponentially. GHA helps us to communicate our brand and to promote our destinations to customers who are looking to do business in the region or who wish to discover first-hand our magnificent history and cultural heritage.”
Anantara and Cham will use GHA’s central reservations system,, powered by the technology of its partner Micros-Fidelio, and Chris Hartley, GHA’s CEO, is bullish about the prospects of continuing success for GHA and its members. “In 2007, generated over $10m in incremental revenue to our members, while providing $1.5m in distribution cost savings. The addition of Anantara and Cham as new members, plus the prospect of more to come, enhances GHA’s ability to reduce costs for its members and cross-sell to each other’s customers, thus creating an ever-improving value proposition.”
GHA’s members are all regional brands, offering local experiences, and an attractive alternative to the standardised, chain experience. “Anantara and Cham fit GHA’s cultural mould perfectly in this regard,” Hartley added.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

JKH confident of excellent returns from

Keells Hotels Limited, which has invested USD 10 million in refurbishing and reconstructing its Maldivian properties, re-launched two of these resorts under the Chaaya brand last weekend hopes to earn around USD 2 million on its Maldivian operation next year on four resorts in the Maldives, JKH Deputy Chairman Ajit Gunawardena said yesterday.

The two resorts that have been re-launched were Chaaya Reef Ellaidhoo and Chaaya Island Dhonveli which are now running at full occupancy.

Gunawardena said that the company invested USD 8 million in refurbishing the 112-room Chaaya Reef adding new "over water villas" (previously called water bungalows) to the property they purchased one-and-half years ago. The resort had been closed over a long period while the new construction and refurbishment proceeded.

In the case of Chaaya Island, the resort was not closed completely and it was running at half its strength of 150 rooms, Gunawardena explained.

The sub lease on another Maldivian resort, the oldest of the John Keells Hotels’ Maldivian operation, runs out at the end of March and the property is being handed back to the lessor, Gunawardena said.

"Once that happens we will be running four island resorts in the Maldives," he said.

Asked whether the lag in the Sri Lanka segment of the group’s leisure operations will be caught up in the Maldives, Gunawardena said that this has happened in the past.

He said that they were getting "excellent rates" on their Maldivian resort with rooms sold between an average of USD 200 to USD 550 in the peak season with considerably higher rates commanded for the Presidential Suites.

"We sold one for 10 days at USD 1,100 a day," he said.

Gunawardena was hopeful that running the four resorts at optimum capacity would yield good results to the JKH leisure segment.

Chaaya Reef is a popular destination for diving in groups looking for sunken shipwrecks in addition to the famed underwater aquatic world available all over the Maldives.

Chaaya Island Dhonveli has 136 villas and bungalows together with 24 over water suites equipped to top international standards.

This resort is particularly attractive to surfers who the company said "come from far and wide" seeking the pounding surf at Pasta Point. The resort offers five restaurants and three well designed bars with live music and dancing every night.

JKH Deputy Chairman Gunawardena and Executive Vice President Jayantissa Kehelpannala running the group’s resort hotel segment along with distinguished Maldivian invitees and others were present at the re-launching of the two resorts on January 13 and 14.


Chairman of Saudi Charity Campaign calls on President

Advisor to the Minister of Interior of Saudi Arabia and Chairman of Saudi Charity Campaign, Dr. Saaid Al Arabi Al Harthi called on President Gayoom yesterday morning. The meeting was held at the President’s Office.

Dr. Saaid Al Arabi Al Harthi said that he was visiting the Maldives to gather information on the progress of the post-tsunami recovery programme. He commended the Government’s efforts and assured the President that the Saudi Charity would continue to offer its support and assistance towards the programme.

Highlighting the high priority that the Government attaches to the post-tsunami recovery programme, the President emphasized the urgent need for further donor assistance towards the effort. He thanked the King, the Government and the brotherly people of Saudi Arabia for their generous assistance towards the reconstruction of damaged houses in the country.

The Minister of Finance and Treasury, Gasim Ibrahim, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdulla Shahid, the Minister for Presidential Affairs, Mohamed Hussain, the Deputy Minister at the President’s Office, Dr. Hala Hameed and the Coordinator of the Saudi Charity Campaign, Major Mahir Bin Abdrahman Al-Hadray also attended the meeting.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Body renaissance: Denise van Outen unveils her bikini body after shedding the pounds

Denise van Outen stripped off for some winter sunshine and revealed her enviable new figure on a beach in the Maldives, after fighting the flab and shedding the pounds.

And she's set to gain a rumoured £1million more when she joins her old presenting partner Johnny Vaughan as his Capital Radio breakfast show co-host.

The Any Dream Will Do judge has undergone something of a physical renaissance after being snapped bulging out of her bikini in Los Angeles over a year ago.

A saggy Denise was snapped with rolls of spare flesh as she lounged poolside, in unflattering photos which clearly spurred her into action.

Now a superslim Denise, 33, sports a taut stomach with not a spare inch of fat on her torso as she frolicked on a beach in the Maldives.

A determined Denise worked hard to get herself back into shape and her efforts soon paid off, as she landed the role of raunchy bisexual Maureen in the West End musical Rent last October after returning from Hollywood.

Her run ended in triumph just before Christmas. But it a new role as a judge in the BBC1 reality show to find a new Joseph, 'Any Dream Will Do', might also account for Denise's radiant new look.

The former Big Breakfast presenter is now dating handsome winner Lee Mead after splitting from actor James Lance, 32, last August.

Denise van recently spoke about her romance with Joseph star Mead, and of her surprise that it has taken so long for everyone to find out that they're an item.

"We kept it quiet – but not that quiet. We were kissing and walking down the street holding hands. He was coming to see me on stage when I was in Rent.

"I couldn't believe no one found out earlier."

She also revealed that her relationship with actor James Lance had come to a rather unceremonious end.

She admits: "I was dumped, I'm not going to lie about it, it happens to everyone."

Denise admitted she made little attempt to hide the fact that she fancied Lee during the series. However she is keen to make it clear that the pair didn't get together until Lee had ended his previous relationship of three years with dancer Kerry Stammers.

Denise said: "I rarely spoke to Lee during the series. There is quite a divide between the judges and the contestants, you have to be professional.

"Also, he had a girlfriend who was at the studio and I would never have gone there, I'm old fashioned like that. They were broken up for three months before anything happened between us.

Now Denise has landed a new job alongside her former onscreen partner Johnny Vaughan, as the pair attempt to recreate their famous chemistry for London's Capital Radio breakfast show.

Denise is reported to have signed a £1million contract to join Johnny Vaughan, 41, as his co-host.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Lily Allen suffers miscarriage

Pop singer Lily Allen has lost the baby she was expecting with Chemical Brothers musician Ed Simons.

The couple announced the pregnancy last December, saying they were “thrilled” but asked for privacy as “the pregnancy is at a very, very early stage”.

Today a spokesperson for Allen said: “We can confirm that Lily Allen has suffered a miscarriage. She and her partner Ed Simons will be making no further comment and we ask that their privacy be respected during this difficult time.”

Allen, 22, had just returned to London after a holiday in the Maldives with Simons, 37, when she suffered the miscarriage. The couple are reportedly devastated.

The singer made her name after posting her music on social networking site MySpace. Today, fans flooded her page with messages of support.

“I'm really sorry for your loss, my thoughts are with you,” posted Connie.

“My deepest sympathy Lily. I’m really sorry to hear the bad news, hope you pick yourself up again soon,” wrote Mike.

Allen is due to release her second album and front a new BBC TV chat show this year.

She has previously said she wants to retire after completing her second album, having watched her film producer mother, Alison Owen, work hard while raising children.

“I love her and think she’s brilliant, but I don’t want to work as hard as she did to provide for us. That’s why I’ve always wanted to make lots of money early on.”

Allen, whose father is the actor Keith Allen, scored a No 1 hit with the track Smile in 2006. Her album Alright Still made it into the top three.


India slip one place to 144th in FIFA rankings

India slipped one place to 144th in the first FIFA rankings of the year, released on Wednesday.

India and Yemen swapped places from the 2007 year-end chart and this also means India slipping one place to 27th among the AFC countries.

Despite the one-place loss, it is much a better rank for India as compared to last year beginning when India were ranked 157th in January 2007 chart.

Maldives are the next best South Asian country on 153rd while Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal are at 163rd, 167th, 168th and 186th, respectively.

Among the Asian countries, Japan (34)continued to lead the pack followed by Iran (41 ), Korea(41 ), Australia (48 ) and Saudi Arabia (57).

Meanwhile, Argentina remained the world's highest-ranked team and the rest of the top-15 was also unchanged.

Brazil, Italy, Spain and Germany followed Argentina at the top-five while Czech Republic, France, Portugal, the Netherlands and Croatia make up the lower top-10.


MALDIVES GET THIRD PLACE - Asian Cricket Council

Maldives beat China in the 3rd and 4th Playoff at Chiang Mai Gymkhana to clinch third place in the ACC U-19 Challenge Cup. Maldives dominated the match, winning by 155 runs. China were disciplined in the field but ultimately their fallibility against spin-bowling was again exposed.

Maldives won the toss and had no hesitation in batting. Mihusan Hamid and Husham Ibrahim put on 120 for the 2nd wicket in just under 23 overs; Mihusan made his 74 off 93 deliveries and Husham made his 70 off 71. They made an interesting contrast in style. Mihusan more studied and correct, Husham more flamboyant and powerful. Both hit on the up through the line and dispatched the loose ball well and took plenty of singles to disrupt the Chinese bowlers of whom Zhang Yufei was the pick with 3-52 off his ten overs. Both Mihusan and Husham benefited from let-offs early on and had the chances been held, such has been the fragility of the Maldives tail. China could have really kept the Maldives in check.

As it was, Maldives made 275 and it was always going to be very difficult for China. Particularly when they are rooted to the crease against spin-bowlers, particularly when Maldives have high-quality spinners.

Some good strokes were played but a stroke a campaign doesn't make and as soon as spin was introduced in the ninth over of the innings, China's batsmen were struggling. They play pace well undoubtedly, but not yet spin. Left-handed Zhao Xu drove one glorious soaring 6 over mid-on against Mihusan Hamid but it was Hamid who picked up five Chinese wickets with his tossed-up offspin and seven men around the bat.

China were all out for 120.

ACC U-19 Challenge Cup
Third and Fourth Place Playoff
China v Maldives at Gymkhna
Maldives won the toss and chose to bat
Maldives: 275 for 8 off 50 overs (M. Hamid 74, A. Hassan 30, H. Ibrahim 70; L. Jian 3-52)
China: 120 all out after 29.1 overs (M. Hamid 5-38)
Man of the Match: Mihusan Hamid (Maldives)


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

tdic appoints award-winning anantara to manage sir bani yas and qasr al sarab resorts

tdic appoints award-winning anantara to manage sir bani yas and qasr al sarab resorts.

Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), the name behind some of the most prestigious tourism initiatives in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, has appointed the award-winning Thai hospitality operator Anantara Resorts & Spas to manage two unique five-star resorts within the emirate.

Anantara, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, will manage the boutique Desert Islands Resort & Spa, which will be the centrepiece of the unique Sir Bani Yas island experience, as well as the Anantara Qasr Al Sarab retreat, planned for the inspiring Liwa desert in Arabia’s Empty Quarter (Rub Al-Khali). The two will be the first Anantara-managed hotels in the emirate.

“Anantara has established an exceptional reputation within Abu Dhabi for the operation of its ultra-deluxe spa at the seven-star Emirates Palace Hotel,” said Mubarak Al Muhairi, Managing Director, TDIC and Director General of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA). “It will now bring its internationally-renowned reputation for delivering distinct experiences immersed in culture, heritage and natural beauty to these truly unique resorts.

“Once again TDIC has delivered on its commitment to engage with world-class partners to deliver unsurpassed hospitality experiences for the most discerning travellers.”

The 64-room Desert Islands Resort & Spa, which is scheduled for a soft-opening in the second quarter of next year, will be central to the opening up of Sir Bani Yas, a former Royal eco-resort which lies eight kilometres off Abu Dhabi’s western coastline. Sir Bani Yas is the largest of eight islands which, together with an onshore gate, will ultimately make up the multi-experiential Desert Islands destination.

“Starting the second quarter of this year, guests at the Desert Islands Resort & Spa, will have access to this inspirational island with its unique wildlife herds, including some previously-threatened breeds which were successfully bred in captivity under the directive of the late UAE President and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan,” said Lee Tabler, CEO of TDIC.

“Sir Bani Yas has been something of a closely kept secret which will now be attainable by resort guests and a select number of day visitors.”

Apart from rooms in the main hotel building, the resort will feature one and two-bedroom chalets, a spa with an inspiring range of locally-influenced and Thai treatments, two swimming pools – one overlooking the vast expanse of the Arabian Gulf – a fitness centre, tennis court and an extensive children’s play area. Guests can dine in any one of three restaurants and a delicatessen, relax in the library or shop in the gift boutique. The resort will also attract exclusive incentives business with a choice of three venues – a private dining room, board room and a meeting room.

Hotel guests will have access to the planned Sir Bani Yas Arabian National Park – one of the world’s largest island nature reserves – which will have a phased opening from the second quarter of this year.

Designed as an aspirational desert retreat, amid the towering dunes of the Liwa district, the Anantara Qasr Al Sarab, will be just 90 minutes drive from Abu Dhabi International Airport. Fashioned in a style reminiscent of a desert fortress, the resort will be the ultimate in ‘get-away’ luxury and will also boast a luxury health spa, a conference centre, adjoining excursion and tented villages and a children’s playground. It is scheduled to open in 2009.

“Creating a destination experience is at the core of the Anantara philosophy and one that the brand takes seriously,” said Michael Sagild, COO of Minor International, Anantara’s holding company. “All our resorts offer first-class, unobtrusive service, spa facilities and a range of adventure activities associated with their individual locations. Abu Dhabi is a very welcome addition to our highly selective destination portfolio, which currently includes luxury resorts in Thailand, the Maldives and Bali.”


Maldives economy slowed sharply in '07: central bank

Economic growth in the Maldives slowed to 6.6 percent in 2007, the islands' central bank said Monday as high oil prices and a drop in the fish catch impacted on the economy. Economic growth, down from a staggering 19 percent in 2006, was however better than the 5.5 percent expansion forecast by the International Monetary Fund. The Maldives Monetary Authority, the islands' central bank, also predicted the economy will surge by 9.5 percent in 2008, led by a booming tourism and construction industry.

Tourism, which accounts for about a third of an economy of just under a billion dollars, was forecast to reach 600,000 visitors in 2007 after already grown 13 percent to 553,900 visitors from the January to October period.

Source: AFP

Monday, January 14, 2008


When the Maldives were good they were very, very good, when they were bad they were very, very bad. Against Bhutan at the Prem Oval their good qualities – dynamic batting, aggressive bowling, sharp fielding – prevailed and they ran out winners by 21 runs.

Bhutan had their chances, many of them, but just couldn't close out the match. Bowling their overs a little slowly cost them dearly too, as chasing Maldives's 245, they only had 48 overs in which to do so.

A 128-run-partnership for the opening wicket between Maldives's captain Ahmed Hassan (76 off 111) and Jilwaz Rasheed (51 off 77) set up the Maldives but Bhutan dropped them both early on in their innings. Seven chances were missed in all and delaying the introduction of the spinners (as well as the 33 wides) not only allowed the batsmen to settle and play their shots with impunity on a hard, true surface but slowed down the over rate considerably. In-depth research by the ACC match referees has shown that regarding wides, dropped catches, lack of spin bowlers – the teams which overcome two of these handicaps tend to win.

The game was close and as it went on every action mattered.

Maldives gifted some late-innings wickets to Bhutan and whereas at one stage a total of 260 looked possible, they had to settle for 245. A little complacency cost them too, as they set out to defend what they felt was a big total. But Bhutan have match-savvy and in Manoj Adhikari their wicket-keeper opener, have a batsman of some quality. Plus, the Prem Oval has a lightning-fast outfield.

"We had chances to win," said Bhutan's coach Damber Singh Gurung. That they did. And though Maldives themselves bowled 50 wides, they bowled enough quality deliveries and fielded well enough to never allow the Bhutanese freedom any freedom. Bhutan managed just 13 fours in their innings, Maldives hit 29. Bhutan's captain Jigme Singye was run-out looking for 2, with the score on 123 in the 28th over and with the run-rate mounting, Manoj Adhikari who had batted with great composure fell to a super catch at deep-backward point trying to force the pace. The other batsmen all did their best but the catches and run-outs kept coming.

The Maldives really played well in patches and have shown that they have the batting and bowling to trouble any side. "It was our first ever international U-19 victory," said Samad Faiz the Maldives manager, "this will make big news back home."

ACC U-19 Challenge Cup
Bhutan v Maldives, Prem Oval
Bhutan won the toss and elected to field
Maldives: 245 for 8 off 50 overs (A.Hassan 76, J. Rasheed 51, M. Hamid 41; T.A. Wangchuk 3-38, S. Luitel 3-33)
Bhutan: 224 all out off 46.5 overs (M. Adhikari 64; J. Rasheed 3-40)
Man of the Match: Ahmed Hassan (Maldives)


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Maldives budget deficit could undermine economy: World Bank

The World Bank warned Maldives, South Asia's richest economy, that recent economic gains could unravel, if the atoll nation failed to tackle political instability and curb its budget deficit.

"Constitutional changes, pressures for unsustainable fiscal deficits, and vulnerability to economic shocks could offset or potentially roll back some development gains," Washington-based lender said announcing a new 45 million dollar five-year country assistance plan Wednesday.

Tourism and tuna, which accounts over two thirds of the economy of just under a billion dollars, has helped the Maldives move up to a middle-income nation enjoying the region's highest per capita income of 2,674 dollars.

But President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's government has been on a spending spree ahead of a multi-party presidential poll in August, leading to a growing fiscal deficit.

The budget deficit, which was just 1.9 percent of the economy in 2004, has expanded to 7.3 percent in 2006 and is set balloon to 23.9 percent in 2007, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

"External debt has risen from 43 percent of GDP in 2004 to about 65 percent in 2006, and it is expected to hit 80 percent of the country's income in 2007," the IMF said in a recent report.

The atoll nation country spends over 10 percent of its income to as interest on foreign loans as it borrows money to build key infrastructure like harbours, hospitals and schools.

"Past development has been founded on sound fiscal policies, political stability, and highly successful tourist industry, based on the country's extraordinary natural assets," said Alastair McKechnie, the bank's country director for the Maldives.

The five-year strategy will deploy both lending and advisory services, as well as private sector investments, infrastructure, access to finance, and tourism, the Washington-based lender said.

Other new areas of lending include environmental management, mobile phone banking, and a new pensions system.

Since 2000, the bank's private-sector lending arm the International Finance Corporation has invested 47.8 million dollars into four Maldivian projects related to finance, tourism, logistics, and telecommunications sectors.

Gayoom, who has ruled South Asia's most exotic honeymoon destination with an iron fist since 1978, has been accused by political opponents of running the country as a dictator and say it is time he stepped down.

However, Gayoom, who survived an assassination attempt on his life on Tuesday, plans to run for re-elections as he battles radical Islamists who are trying to distrupt the country's vital tourism industry.

He has banned women wearing the full veil and foreign preachers as well as unlicensed Muslim prayer groups from operating in his nation of 330,000 Sunni Muslims.

Situated about 700 kilometres (435 miles) southwest of Sri Lanka, Maldives is a chain of 1,192 coral islands scattered across the equator.

Source: LBO

The world’s most romantic lagoon resorts

Heavenly vacations in the Maldives, Tahiti, Malaysia, Mexico and more

Looking to get away from the winter’s cold and live out your vacation fantasy on an island paradise, complete with lagoon-side accommodations?

Your fantasy can become reality at a wide range of posh resorts in the world’s top beach destinations, such as the Maldives, Seychelles, French Polynesia, Mexico’s Riviera Maya and even the Caribbean.

Run by luxury hotel operators like St. Regis, Rosewood, Aman Resorts and Six Senses, many of these resorts offer over-water luxury accommodations, like Soneva Gili’s 1,400-square-meter Private Reserve villa in the Maldives; this has two master suites, a private spa and speedboat with crew and personal butler service. Anantara Resort Maldives’ over-water suites float in the Indian Ocean; some even have their own private, infinity-edge plunge pools.

Although these hotels might be located in remote locations, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice creature comforts or rough it. Villas and other guest rooms at these resorts are elegantly furnished; many use local wood and thatch in their décor. Butler service is frequently available too, not only at Soneva Gili, but also at the St. Regis Bora Bora and Six Senses Hideaway Nin Vanh Bay in Vietnam, among others.

Spa services can be found everywhere, including at Miri Miri Spa at the St. Regis Bora Bora; this 13,000-square-foot facility occupies its own private island and offers both Tahitian and Pacific Rim treatments.

Source: msnbc

What If You Built An Island Paradise And No One Came?

With an average altitude of just over three feet, this tiny island nation faces an imminent threat from rising sea levels caused by global warming. Luckily, it has a lifeboat: Technocrats have built a man-made island more than six feet high.

On paper, it's a tropical paradise. Capable of housing as many as 150,000 of the nation's 369,000 residents, Hulhumalé has a mosque, a school, a small office building and several hundred apartments. Planners even imported cows -- the only ones in the Maldives -- to make fertilizer.

According to the master plan, there will also be an arts center, a luxury hotel and marina, a leafy civic district and a big hospital to complement the Maldives' famous beachside bungalows and fancy resorts. The Muslim nation's plans even include an alcohol-free entertainment zone with a "Rard Rock Café."

But now Maldives officials are facing an uneasy truth: Just because you build it doesn't mean that people will come.

Much of the island remains an empty expanse of gravel lots and wan palm trees despite government efforts to relocate several thousand people here from Malé, the island capital just a couple of miles away.

The new roads -- some wide enough to handle four lanes of traffic -- are often untraveled except by government vehicles and Maldivian youths who tear around on motorcycles.

One afternoon recently, a few Bangladeshi construction workers ambled across a weedy empty lot, heading nowhere in particular. Nearby was a discarded shoe and graffiti saying, "Vengeance was here." At the new fish market along Hulhumalé's seaside, winds ripped through the empty open-air structure and the restrooms were trashed. One Maldivian distributor sells frozen fish at the site for several hours in the afternoon, but doesn't attract many buyers.

"I find it quite relaxing, actually," said 25-year-old Ahmed Hashim, who staffs the stall. He then abandoned it, walking off into the distance.

Some residents, like Mohamed Sodiq, 40, are already looking to move away. He came to Hulhumalé a couple of years ago to work as a policeman, but he says the rents are high -- and the life is boring. There are no volleyball courts, he says, and he likes volleyball. "If I can get a plot on Malé, I'll move there," says Mr. Sodiq, who has been scanning newspaper ads for Malé apartments, but to no avail. "We can all have our hopes and dreams," says Mahjoob Shujau, a 39-year-old Maldivian civil servant who heads the Hulhumalé Development Corp., which is in charge of managing Asia's newest city. But for now, he says, Hulhumalé, despite a population of roughly 5,000, is simply "not there."

Many residents of Malé say the idea of Hulhumalé is a good one given the atrocious conditions in the capital.

It has more than 100,000 people in a space that can be crossed on foot in 25 minutes. Rents for two-bedroom apartments top $9,000 a year, despite annual per capita incomes of $4,000. Imported sports cars jam the narrow streets, even though it's rarely possible to drive faster than 20 miles per hour. Global warming, meanwhile, has many people fearful that the low-lying city will be swamped by rising tides in a matter of years.

Problem is, many people don't want to leave. Down a 4-foot-wide alley off Narrow Land Street on Malé, 61-year-old Abdul Aziz and nine other relatives live in a 730-square-foot dwelling with corrugated tin roofs. A discarded toilet tank and cement buckets litter the space outside his door.

"I want to stay here -- it's the capital city," he says. Besides, with Hulhumalé, "people are just being shifted from one island to another -- it's not a long-term solution."

Mohamed Ishan Saeed, an architect who helped design some of Hulhumalé's apartment blocks, also has turned against the project, especially after disagreeing with the island's administrators over design elements.

Today, he describes the idea of engineering a whole new town as "moronic" and refers to the Hulhumalé's hulking apartment blocks as "a prison" because they don't have enough community space. When he thinks of the island, he says, "it's just kind of sick, because it's like, 'What the hell is this?'"

Hulhumalé's supporters say the project is still in its early days. They note that a local development company is signed up to build one hotel and private developers are expected to build oceanfront residences.

Still, even Mr. Shujau, the government's administrator of the projects, seems discouraged. He studied in Australia before returning to the Maldives to help solve its infrastructure issues. "It was good fun" at first, he says. But now, "our honeymoon period is over."

The government is now short of funds for construction. It used up loads of cash -- including much of a $30 million development package -- to help residents buy the first apartments and now must wait for people to repay their loans, which could take 20 years or more. "For us, that's a lot of money," Mr. Shujau says. Meanwhile, absentee landlords have bought many of the apartments and jacked up rents.

It has also been difficult to attract investors to one of the ugliest places in an island nation full of beautiful ones. Despite all the available land in Hulhumalé, Holiday Inn is planning to open a 120-room hotel in late 2008 -- in Malé. A spokesman for Holiday Inn says Malé is attractive because it is close to the main airport (as is Hulhumalé). Holiday Inn is "unlikely" to consider Hulhumalé in the future, he says.

Not everyone dislikes Hulhumalé. Abdul Samad, a 52-year-old fish cleaner at the Malé seafood market, recalls a magical three months at Hulhumalé after he married a woman who lived there. They spent time in the few local cafes and occasionally went to the beach, he says. But the two were divorced, and he quickly found a new wife in Malé. Still, he'd like to go back. "Can you please find me a place there?" he asked as he gutted a plump tuna.

Even if Hulhumalé does find a way to fulfill its planners' ambitions, it's unclear how long it will survive. Although it is being built on higher ground to outlast Malé as the tides rise, it, too, is vulnerable. Mr. Shujau says that if worst-case scenarios come to pass, Hulhumalé itself could be submerged by 2050.

Source: Wall Street Journal, Written by PATRICK BARTA

Friday, January 11, 2008

Boy Scout a Hero in the Maldives

For the Boy Scout who dreams of becoming a policeman, grabbing the knife of a would-be assassin lunging for the president of the Maldives was a crash course in cop-like heroics.

That the attacker may have been an Islamic extremist is only adding to the tale of the 15-year-old's bravery, even as it threatens the Maldives' reputation as a peaceful tropical paradise for well-heeled foreigners.

"The Scouts saying is 'Be prepared'," Mohammed Jaisham Ibrahim told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. "I was prepared."

The lanky teenager smiles as he says it — he's clearly been practicing the line in the two days since the attack turned him into a big deal in this small country of nearly 1,200 islands that stretch south from India.

Officials have so far played down the Islamic extremism angle in the attack, saying Tuesday's attempted assassination of President Maumoon Gayoom may have been politically motivated but offering no other details.

Police arrested the alleged assailant and on Wednesday picked up four suspected accomplices.

Ibrahim said he had no doubt the alleged attacker was a militant or inspired by an extremist vision of the world, a view seconded by people who know the suspect.

"He had a long beard; he shouted 'God is Great' when he took out his knife. He kept shouting it," Ibrahim said from the hospital in Male where he is recovering from wounds to his left hand sustained in the attack.

Wearing his khaki Maldives scout uniform with a blue kerchief, Ibrahim and the 20 other members of his Boy Scout troop were among scores of people who turned out Tuesday to greet Gayoom when he arrived on Hoarafushi, a remote island that is home to about 2,800 people.

Ibrahim said the attacker was behind him, jostling to get closer to the president.

"He pushed me, and I pushed him back," said Ibrahim, sprawled out on a bed in a small hospital room crowded with his six brothers and sisters, his parents, a few cousins and a handful of well-wishers.

"Then I saw him take out the knife. It was wrapped in a flag, a Maldives flag. He took it, he unwrapped it, and started to move for my president. I tried to grab it," Ibrahim said.

The knife sliced open his hand — "blood was shooting out!" — but Ibrahim said he was never scared.

"This is what I wanted to do when I became a policeman," he said of his lifelong ambition. "I now know that I can do it if I have to act again. I won't be afraid."

The brave talk is being lapped up in Male, a cramped but laid-back city of modest, pastel-colored apartment blocks — think Robinson Crusoe meets South Florida.

"Every person in the world knows about our Boy Scout," gushed Rilwan Tholal, a 36-year-old shop owner. "We are all talking about him."

But with word spreading that the alleged attacker, 20-year-old Mohamed Murshid, may have been an Islamic extremist, the attack also has threatened the Maldives' reputation.

In September, a bomb blamed on Islamic militants exploded in a park in Male, wounding 12 tourists.

A week later, police and soldiers raided an island that was a reputed insurgent stronghold, sparking a battle with masked men armed with clubs and fishing spears that wounded more than 30 security officers.

And then there was Tuesday's attack. Murshid was nabbed by police at the scene, the knife in his hand. He repeatedly shouted "God is Great" as he was hauled away.

His mother said her son had long been pious and often listened to Islamic CDs, according to Thursday's edition of the Haveeru newspaper.

Another person who knew Murshid — a former teacher who asked not to be further identified for fear of attracting attention — told the AP he had in recent years become more interested in the more extreme elements of Islam and frequently watched videos made by militants in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Islam was brought to the Maldives in the 12th century by Arab traders, and a traditionally moderate brand of the religion has dominated here ever since — alcohol can't be purchased outside the resorts but many women walk the streets of Male in form-fitting T-shirts and pants.

Tourism has helped make the Maldives, home to about 350,000 people, the most prosperous country in South Asia, with a per capita annual income of $2,700.

But in the last decade or so, as the Internet has brought the world to these remote islands, extreme elements schooled in Pakistan or the Middle East have made inroads. They've preached about the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and played on the divisions among Maldivians, many of whom eke our relatively modest livings in the cramped towns and villages.

"Each time people in Europe, America read about fundamentalism some of them say to themselves 'Why go to Maldives?" said Abdullah Rasheed, a 28-year-old who works at a travel agency.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Four more arrested over murder bid

POLICE in the Maldives have arrested four more people in connection with an unsuccessful attempt to kill the Indian Ocean archipelago's president.

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has ruled Maldives with an iron fist since 1978, escaped assassination while touring the atoll's northern islands on Tuesday thanks to a teenage boy scout who wrestled back a knife-wielding attacker.

"The attacker is being questioned. We don't know the exact motive yet, but four more people were also arrested in connection with this attack," police spokesman Sergeant Ahmed Shiyam said.

Local media reported that two of those arrested were former classmates of Mohamed Murshid, 20, who tried to stab Mr Gayoom with a kitchen knife while he shook hands with residents at Hoarafushi Island.

The 15-year-old rescuer, Mohamed Jaisham Ibrahim, cut his hand while grabbing the knife. He was brought to the capital Malé for further medical treatment amidst cheers from residents who turned up at the jetty to greet him.

Murshid had shouted 'Allahu akbar' (God is greater) before lunging at the president.

Authorities have accused Islamists of trying to turn the islands into a safe haven for them and wreck the country's vital tourism industry, which accounts for a third of the nation's economy of just under a billion dollars.

Despite the attempt on his life, Mr Gayoom is going ahead with his pre-election tour of the northern islands, as he prepares to face multi-party presidential elections in August, his spokesman, Mohamed Hussain Shareef said.

Home to 330,000 Sunni Muslims, some 199 islands are inhabited, with 87 developed as tourist resorts.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Maldives: World Bank Launches New Assistance Strategy

The new World Bank Group Country Assistance Strategy (CAS) for the Republic of Maldives envisages lending around US$45 million in highly concessional funds from the International Development Association (IDA) over the next five years to support the country’s development program. The strategy was prepared jointly by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

The Board of Executive Directors of the Bank discussed today the FY2008-2012 Country Assistance Strategy (CAS), a document that both describes the Bank’s strategic approach to helping Maldives achieve its development goals and indicates the level of financial and technical assistance that will be provided over this time period. The CAS is designed to support the government’s Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP) which aims to improve the standard of living for all Maldivians and which serves as the country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.

The strategy will deploy both lending and advisory services, as well as private sector investments, in selective interventions. These interventions seek to contribute to development outcomes including: (i) a well-managed economy attracting increased investment; (ii) improved quality of education to provide a better skilled workforce; and (iii) enhanced capacity to manage the country’s natural environment.

Across these three pillars—economic and fiscal governance, human development and social protection, and environmental management—special attention will be given to developing institutions so as to strengthen fiduciary management and to supporting the government’s plan for population consolidation. Adapting to the possible effects of global climate change, creating opportunities for diversified economic activities, and lowering the cost of public services across the many disparate islands and atolls underlie Maldives’ voluntary population consolidation policy.

“Maldives has made impressive development gains over the last three decades and has moved from being one of the 20 poorest countries in the world in 1978 to become a middle-income country which has the highest per capita income in South Asia,” said Alastair McKechnie, World Bank Country Director for Maldives. Maldives has already met all but one of the Millennium Development Goals and has drastically reduced poverty. Past development has been founded on sound fiscal policies, political stability, and highly successful tourist industry, based on the country’s extraordinary natural assets. The new World Bank Group country assistance strategy comes at a time when the country faces new issues—constitutional change, pressures for unsustainable fiscal deficits, and vulnerability to economic shocks and global climate change—that could offset or potentially roll back some of these development gains. We will work closely with the authorities and other donor partners to ensure continued effectiveness of our development work in meeting these challenges.”

Maldives faces some significant short-term challenges. The Country Assistance Strategy identifies three in particular: political instability, fiscal uncertainties, and potential issues associated with project implementation. Flexibility is built into the CAS for the Bank to adjust its program accordingly. For new investment projects, project design will be adapted to ensure sustainability even if short-term fiscal problems emerge. Finally, to address potential project implementation risks, projects will be kept simple with tightly focused outputs and outcomes and will include institutional development components where these are needed.

The Bank’s interventions to be funded by IDA will focus on results established by previous operations, for example, in the areas of human development and environmental management, as well as some new areas that include environmental management, mobile phone banking, and a new pensions system. Since 2000, IFC has committed $47.8 million in Maldives, consisting of four projects in the finance, tourism, logistics, and telecommunications sectors. Further investment and advisory work during the upcoming CAS will be focused in the areas of infrastructure, access to finance, and tourism.


India allows 17,000T wheat flour exports to Maldives

India has allowed export of 17,000 tonnes of wheat flour to Maldives, an exception from the current prohibition on exports of wheat and wheat products.

The exports will be through state-run MMTC Ltd and State Trading Corporation of India Ltd, Director General of Foreign Trade said in a notification dated Jan. 7, on its Web site.

India is a net wheat importer and doesn't allow export of wheat and wheat products.


Boy scout saves Maldives president from assassination

Maldivian president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom escaped assassination in his Indian Ocean archipelago thanks to a teenage boy scout who wrestled back a knife-wielding attacker, officials said.

"The president was greeting people" when the would-be assassin, a 20-year-old unemployed man, "pulled out a knife and tried to stab him in the stomach," Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed told AFP by telephone.

The attack took place on Hoarafushi in the north of the Maldives, a Muslim-majority nation on a chain of 1,192 coral and white sand islands off the southern tip of India.

Gayoom, who has ruled the islands since 1978 and is Asia's longest serving president, was unhurt but the scout sustained cuts to his hand. The assailant was arrested and was being questioned, police said.

The Maldives, a top destination for well-heeled tourists and honeymooners, has been tense since a September bomb attack in the capital Male injured 12 foreign tourists.

Since then the president has been leading a crackdown against Islamic extremists.

The attacker, identified as Mohamed Murshid and said to have no previous criminal record, had hidden the knife wrapped in a paper national flag, the president's spokesman Mohamed Hussain Shareef told AFP.

"He was an idling youth," he said.

"He had shouted 'Allahu akbar' (God is greater) before lunging at the president. The knife grazed through the president's shirt, but he was unhurt."

Luckily for the president, 15-year-old boy scout Mohamed Jaisham grabbed the knife which cut his hand -- and some of his blood ended up on Gayoom's shirt, giving the initial impression that the president was also badly hurt, officials said.

Gayoom, who likes to mingle with islanders during his visits, was talking and shaking hands with people when the attack took place.

"We are now looking at intensifying his security. The president prefers to mingle with his people, but we can't afford to have another attack," Shareef said, adding that Gayoom has faced at least two attempts on his life during his 29-year tenure.

Assistant Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz told AFP the attacker was being questioned.

"Investigations are still going on. It is too early to say if he has links to any Islamic militant groups."

Gayoom said in a nationwide address after the attack that he had survived "thanks to Mohamed Jaisham (the scout) and Allah."

Authorities have accused Islamists of trying to turn the islands into a safe haven for them and wreck the country's vital tourism industry, which accounts for a third of the nation's economy.

Three men convicted of carrying out the September bombing were last month each jailed for 15 years.

Police are also looking out for foreign militant groups after press reports said some of the suspects had links to a Muslim separatist group fighting Indian rule over part of the Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Gayoom's crackdown has included bans on women wearing the full veil and foreign preachers as well as unlicensed Muslim prayer groups.

In a recent interview with AFP, the president said the bomb attack targeting foreign tourists followed by violent clashes with police and security forces had alerted the country to the "very serious threat of extremism."

The opposition New Maldives Movement condemned the attack on the president and called for "an independent and speedy investigation," spokesman Ahmed Shaheed said.

Source: AFP

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Inner Maldives Holidays is "Indian Ocean's Leading Travel Agency"

Inner Maldives Holidays has been awarded the "Indian Ocean's Leading Travel Agency" at the regional World Travel Awards (WTA) Ceremony at The Leela Palace Kempinski in Bangalore, India, where the winners of the Asia, Australasia & Indian Ocean Awards were announced.

The Managing Director of the company, Mr. Mohamed Firaq accepted the award on behalf of the company at the ceremony.

Inner Maldives Holidays Pvt Ltd., was founded in 1998 with the main objective of providing travel and tourism services to the booming tourism industry in the Maldives. And, over the last 9 years, Inner Maldives Holidays has grown to become one of the market leaders in the industry with annual turnover of over USD $ 6 million in 2006. Inner Maldives represents over 500 global travel brands in the Maldives.

This is the first time that a Maldivian travel agency or tour operator has attained such status at the World stage. Hence, this distinguished endorsement of the Maldivian tourism industry by the World Travel Awards is a national triumph and achievement.

The management of Inner Maldives Holidays takes this opportunity to thank all its stakeholders and partners for their unreserved support and assistance over the years.


Investors seek adventure across Asia's new frontiers

Recent months have seen a burst of interest in Asian "frontier markets" – countries where stock markets are so small they fail to qualify as emerging markets, and that are difficult for foreign investors to buy into, but have potential to grow rapidly.

Countries such as Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Mongolia, and even Indian Ocean island states such as the Maldives and Mauritius, are on Asian investors' radar. (Mauritius may be physically closer to Africa but its population is largely Indian, and the economy is increasingly integrated with Asia.)

Many may suffer political upheavals, weak corporate governance, unstable economic growth and illiquid capital markets.

But such risks could mean big rewards, say supporters of frontier market investing.

The term "frontier market" is not new. Twenty years ago, the terms "frontier" and "emerging" were often interchangeable.

Now emerging market investing is mainstream, and many of the risky looking bets then, such as South Korea, are relatively mature and developed. They have also become increasingly correlated with big markets, and that makes them less attractive as a way to diversify risk.

The S&P/IFC Frontier Index, which tracks 22 frontier countries, is a decade old. It showed a total return of 40.8 per cent in dollar terms in the first 10 months of 2007.

"As long as global markets do not spend all year in a nervous state, 2008 could be the year when Asia's frontier markets come of age," says Garry Evans, Asia-Pacific equity strategist for HSBC in Hong Kong.

"It is true these markets remain small. The largest of them, Pakistan, has a market cap of only $73bn [£37bn], compared with more than $200bn for both the Philippines and Thailand.

"Liquidity for some of these markets is not bad: Pakistan has an average daily turnover almost three times bigger than the Philippines, and Vietnam is not far behind Manila. However, the smallest markets are laughably tiny."

Nevertheless, Mr Evans says, Asian investors are becoming more adventurous and are prepared to look outside the 12 main markets in the region. He expects several launches of frontier funds in the first half of the year.

Big players are increasingly interested. MSCI Barra last year gave the idea of frontier markets more credibility when it launched a family of tradable frontier markets indices covering 19 countries, including Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

"There is so much liquidity in the world, and much of it is trying to find new investment opportunities," says Rajendra Nair, one of the managers of JF Asset Management's Asia New Frontiers Fund. It was launched in Hong Kong in November, and is aimed at retail investors. So far, it is investing in five markets: Pakistan, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

"In many cases they have underperformed mainstream markets and are trading at a substantial discount to them - with good reason. But regardless of that, we believe there is an opportunity in these markets," Mr Nair says. All of them have relatively steady economic growth and attractive demographics, he adds, which can insulate stock markets from political instability.

"Take Bangladesh," he says. "Last year the democratic government was overthrown by a military coup. There's martial law and political uncertainty. But guess what: [by November] that market was up 80 per cent. It has outperformed MSCI Asia Pacific indices by a wide margin."

Franklin Templeton has attracted more than $320m to its emerging markets smaller companies fund since its launch in Hong Kong in October. (There is also a US version.) The fund is not marketed as a frontier market fund, but most of its investments are in such countries.

"One must not get carried away with the hype and pay excessive prices," says Mark Mobius, executive chairman, who has been involved in emerging markets for two decades. "Take Vietnam, for example. While we believe that the market has good potential, its valuations are currently high."

But Peter Bartlett, managing director of Exotix fund managers in London, is sceptical. "Some might say Asia, Vietnam and Mongolia are frontier markets. But they're not in our terms. We are looking to set up an account in Vietnam," he says. "But it's not very exotic any more. It's quite mainstream."

Exotix manages about £6m of funds and is investing in places such as Cuba, North Korea and some of the smaller Pacific islands such as Nauru and Fiji.

Mr Bartlett thinks "frontier" is just a buzzword for fund managers trying to differentiate themselves from emerging market, long-only and hedge funds to attract customers.

"Frankly, a lot of people who are using the phrase are paying lip-service to their investors," he says. "They don't really know what they are talking about."


Boost for Lanka-Maldives ties

Maldivian Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Shahid who arrived in Sri Lanka on Thursday on a two-day official visit, called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka and Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama.

The discussions with the Sri Lankan leaders centered on a range of bilateral issues including further strengthening of the growing bilateral ties between the two countries.

Further, matters of common interest within the framework of SAARC and 15th SAARC Summit to be held in Sri Lanka also featured in the discussions.

The leaders expressed satisfaction over the rapidly increasing interaction between the two countries, especially since President Rajapaka’s state visit to the Maldives in 2007, which was followed by a number of Ministerial and officials’ level visits between the two countries.

Dr. Abdullah Shahid was appointed as the Foreign Minister in August 2007 and this is his first official visit to Sri Lanka as Foreign Minister.


Pakistan is the 2nd best performer after the Maldives

Among South Asian countries, Pakistan is the second best performer after the Maldives. It is ranked at 76th in the world and 11th in all Asian economies, according to the report released by the State Bank of Pakistan on Saturday.

Pakistan’s ranking in the ease of doing business from regulatory perspectives, though deteriorated slightly during 2007, is still better than most of the economies in the region.

The ranking is based on 10 indicators of business regulation that follows the time and cost to meet government requirements in business start-up, operation, trade, taxation and closure. However, a detailed analysis suggests that the reversal was brought about by the improvement in ranking of other countries as the regulatory indicators of Pakistan either continued to improve or remained largely unchanged, SBP report said.

For instance, starting up business used to entail 21.3 percent of per capita income in 2006; however, in 2007 it costs only 14 percent. Similarly, the total tax rate (as percent of profit) has declined to 40.7 percent in 2007 as compared with 43.4 percent in 2006. Indicators where the Pakistan’s ranking has improved during 2007 include trading across borders and enforcing contracts.

SBP report explained that the improvement in trading across borders followed from the reforms in 2006 that included introducing the electronic data interchange systems, applying risk management techniques and introducing customs administration reforms. In enforcing contracts, however, the ranking remained still quite low at 154. In fact, globally the time to enforce a contract is lengthiest in South Asian countries with India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh amongst the 10 countries with most difficulties in enforcing contracts in terms of time and cost to resolve commercial disputes.


Maldives: Water is worth loving

“Water is worth loving” is a Finnish advertising slogan, but it also describes how precious water resources can be in the Maldives. The surface area of the country of close to 1,200 islands is 99 per cent seawater and almost all of the about 200 inhabited islands are dependent on harvested rainwater as the principal source of drinking water.

During the dry season that runs from January to April, fresh water resources can run drastically low leaving people in acute need of additional supplies.

The International Federation, with funding from the Australian Red Cross, is completing a supplementary water system project on 15 islands in the Maldives to ensure secure access to safe water for the island communities. In practice, the supplementary water supply is a system which desalinates seawater into drinkable, safe water. Even though optimizing rainwater harvesting is the preferred way to meet the water needs of each island, the supplementary water supply provides additional security for times of low rainfall.

The value of this system has already been shown. During this year's dry season, seven of the ten completed water systems were used to supply water to communities in need. The communities manage the system themselves with trained operators in charge of the day-to-day operation of the unit.

Ismail Solih, a trained operator and a member of the Maduvvari Island's Water Management Committee confirms the usefulness of the water supply system: “We are very thankful knowing now that we can have safe water at any time,” he says.

Ismail's comment is very relevant keeping in mind that even though Maldives is not the most disaster-prone country in the region, it still suffers from regular flooding and tidal surges, two hazards that are expected to increase because of climate change.

During tidal surges and flooding the ground water often gets contaminated by seawater and in some cases the rainwater harvesting tanks can be damaged. The limited amounts of stored rainwater are quickly exhausted and the islands are left in urgent need of clean drinking water.

This situation played out in May of this year when heavy tidal surges swamped several islands particularly in the country's south, explained Kathryn Clarkson, the International Federation's water and sanitation coordinator.

“The supplementary water systems were used to produce drinking water for islands that were short on water because of the sea surges,” said Ms Clarkson.

Community water tanks were also filled using the desalination units and water was provided to evacuated island communities. “This experience highlighted the value of the system in terms of meeting emergency needs during disasters,” she said.

In addition to using the desalination units during the dry season and small scale disasters, the units give the island communities the ability to manage a community water supply system and create additional income for themselves. In the case of Maduvvari Island the island Water Management Committee is selling the water to fishermen working nearby.

With the installation of the desalination plants and the rainwater harvesting kits coming to an end, the focus of the Red Cross Red Crescent is now on ensuring that the programme's results are sustainable.

“Our challenge is to make sure that communities have the skills and resources to maintain these systems,” concluded Ms Clarkson.

Source: Valpuri Saarelma, International Federation information and reporting delegate in the Maldives

Friday, January 4, 2008

Holiday Inn Hits Problems Again

Construction of Malé's Holiday Inn ceased again yesterday amid conflict between developers, local government and residents over the building.

The project has repeatedly been halted and resumed as it raises questions over the quickfire pace of development in the capital.

Minivan News received mixed messages about the immediate future of the project, unveiled last February.

And government departments gave conflicting accounts of their commitment to review the legal loophole allowing construction work in Malé without a prior Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).

Stalled Again

The 15-storey Holiday Inn will be owned by Maldives-based Malé Hotel Associates Private Limited and managed by InterContinental.

When plans were unveiled the deputy Tourism Minister said it would show the Maldives to be a “destination offering world-class infrastructure and service.”

The hotel is the first building on Malé's coral island to be built using the “deep piling” method in which metal load-bearing piles are driven to depths of 30 to 40 metres.

Work was first postponed in October, when the Environment Ministry instructed Malé Municipality to carry out an EIA after neighbours complained of tremors and cracks in their house walls. Yesterday it was halted again just two weeks after re-starting.

The Environment Ministry cited problems with vibration monitoring devices, but developer Abdul Sattar Ali told Minivan News he felt the real reason was residents’ reluctance to accept the “deep piling” technology.

Though the technique creates “scary” vibrations, he says, it reduces the weight of the finished building, offering an environmentally friendly solution.

Sattar also complained the letter ordering construction to stop was available on a local newspaper’s website before it reached him. [Read More on Minivan News]