Saturday, April 11, 2009
Maldives targets mass market with affordable hotels
The Maldives could become the latest mass market holiday destination, reports Charles Starmer-Smith.
The government of the Indian Ocean archipelago this week revealed plans to build dozens of mid-range hotels and guesthouses in an attempt to arrest the downturn in tourism.
Mohamed Nasheed, the newly elected president of the Maldives, said he would allow construction of two- and three-star hotels and cheap guesthouses on islands – including some of the uninhabited ones – to make the country a more affordable holiday destination. He maintained that any construction would be sustainable and new properties would be approved only if the developers were willing to invest in infrastructure and public transport links on the islands.
Last year the Maldives attracted about 200,000 British holidaymakers, but the number of visitors has slowed markedly. In February, British visitor numbers fell by 24 per cent compared with the same month last year and many travel operators and hoteliers have already reduced their prices.
Meedhupparu, a four-star resort, last month made half of its employees redundant after revealing that in February it was less than a third full. British tour operators are now offering week-long packages in the Maldives for as little as £649. Even some of the most luxurious resorts have halved their rates. Elegant Resorts this week was offering seven nights’ half board at the five-star One&Only resort of Reethi Rah for £1,795 per person – a discount of £3,240 per couple.
It is hoped the developments will attract an extra 100,000 Britons, including backpackers and gap-year travellers.
“The average British person should be able to come to enjoy the Maldives and see the sun, the sea and the sand,” said Mr Nasheed.
He said the Maldives originally catered to a wider range of tourists, but over the past decade the main focus has been on high-end holidays, making the islands a byword for luxury beach breaks. As part of the drive to introduce lower room rates, Mr Nasheed said small guesthouse operators will pay cheaper rents than the larger hotel chains.
It has also been proposed that the country, which is Muslim, should in future be allowed to host weddings between foreigners and that there should be an increase in charter flights to the islands.
In a separate move, the government has promised to make the Maldives the world’s first carbon-neutral country by switching to the use of renewable energy within a decade.
The Maldives is one of the world’s lowest-lying countries – its 26 atolls, containing nearly 1,200 islands (of which 250 are inhabited), lie just 5ft above sea level. Scientists believe most of the islands could be submerged by the end of the century. In response, Mr Nasheed has announced plans to purchase land elsewhere for his countrymen to live on – with India, Sri Lanka and Australia among the countries he has approached.