Friday, March 19, 2010

Encouraging sustainable tourism for development in Maldives

Most of the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) are avoided or overlooked by tourists. However, tourism can make valuable contributions to the economic growth of a country, and many LDCs have amazing things to offer their visitors. For those who wish to help make a difference in the world, there are great options for adventure and relaxation all while helping a developing country’s economy grow in a sustainable and eco-friendly fashion.

Impact on economic development

The Maldives already has an impressive rapport with travelers worldwide, and lists its main economic industries as tourism and fishing. The World Travel and Tourism Council ranks the Maldives travel and tourism sector 4th in the world for its relative contribution to the national economy. In 2009, this sector made up 63.4 percent of GDP, provided 54.8 percent of total employment, and accounted for 60.5 percent of total exports. So while the tourism industry in the Maldives is already a huge contributor to its economic growth, the challenge now is how to continue to reap the economic benefits without furthering the countries environmental issues.

At its highest points, the Maldives is no more than 6.5 feet (2 meters) above sea level, and is currently at risk of being totally annihilated from the effects of global warming. Therefore the Maldives has been one of the leaders in advocating global binding agreements on carbon emissions and other steps to fight climate change. Also looking to lead by example, it has voluntarily set the goal of eliminating all of its carbon emissions by 2020.

Already there are many great eco-friendly accommodations for tourists, and there are restrictions in place to help preserve the local environment and culture. For example, the country is made up of about 1,200 separate islands, of which 200 are inhabited, and all abide by the “one island, one resort” policy, which limits one resort being built per island. Furthermore, all resort structures may only occupy 20 percent of the islands’ land area, and are not to be built higher than the tallest palm tree.

Going forward, it will be difficult to figure out how to transform the Maldives into an emissions-free country without loosing the economic revenue from tourism. Taking all this into consideration, the most important thing now when traveling to this country, is to make as many eco-friendly choices as possible so as to support their emissions reduction goal while still making a crucial contribution to the economy.

Why you should go

Maldives is the Mecca for divers, snorkelers, and anyone who loves beaches. Its reputation as one of the best places in the world for ocean lovers is almost undisputed. First-time snorkels paddling around in the shallows and lifelong divers exploring the Maldives Victory Wreck will be equally amazed at the reefs, biodiversity, clear warm waters and white sand beaches. Some of the most famous diving and snorkeling sites in the world are in the Maldives, such as Girifushi Thila, Kuda Haa, and Lion’s Head, as well as many lesser-known yet equally impressive locations. Many of these dive sites are also off spectacular beaches. Cocoa Island, Nika, and Banyan Tree Island are all recommended, though if you choose to go explore some of the islands that do not have tourist accommodations on them, you will probably be the only one there, except maybe for some local fisherman. Windsurfing and fishing are two other popular water sports that can be found.

Apart from what the ocean has to offer, there are many cultural aspects to explore. The National Museum in the capital Male boasts a trove of the countries treasurers. Many beautiful mosques can be found here as well, including the 17th century Huskuru Miskily or “Friday Mosque.” The central fish market is always bustling with tourists and locals alike, and is filled with all sorts of goods well beyond fish. If you are looking to test out the nightlight, Male is also a great and authentic place to explore. The island of Isdhoo also has great old architecture to explore, as does the site of great Maldivian Buddhist ruins, which includes one of the largest stupas in the country that precedes the Islamic period.


Being a responsible traveler is key to aiding development. Here are a few recommendations on travel companies, hotels, guide groups, and other travel aids that focus on sustainable tourism through being eco-friendly and operating in synch with local communities to raise living standards while preserving local culture.

World Hotel Link

This Website is great for searching all sorts of activities in almost any country, and for a few destinations, there is a section on responsible accommodations. This section for the Maldives has a wide range of ecologically and socially sustainable lodgings, and each has a description of how their establishment helps the local community and ecosystem. While some places listed are better than others, World Hotel Link is a great place to begin your search.

Responsible Hotels of the World/Responsible Travel
Responsible Hotels of the World is part of the group Responsible Travel, which has been recommended so many times in these series of articles. While Responsible Travel offers full tours, with planned activities and accommodations, Responsible Hotels of the World reviews and suggests accommodations, and helps with booking. Though the site also provides information about nearby sites and activities, it leaves the guest to plan it on their own. Like its parent site, each review includes a lengthy section on how their accommodation makes a difference. This is a great site for people wanting a good place to stay, but wanting more freedom in planning their own activities.

Banyan Tree Madivaru & Vabbinfaru

These two resorts are from the same parent company, but are on different islands. Villas on Vabbinfaru were built on footprints of old buildings, so as not to further damage the environment, while on Madivaru, the buildings were built clearing only the exact area needed for the villas, and all trees that were removed were replanted elsewhere on the island. All the boats used at these resorts have special engines that prevent fuel leakage. The parent company, Banyan Tree, has also challenged all its resorts to plant 2,000 trees per year, for the next ten years, and has set a goal to reduce its energy consumption and emission by 10 percent each year. The Vabbinfaru site also supports the Green Sea Turtle Conservation Program, as well as a variety of coral and reef preservation and restoration projects.

Angsana Resorts-Ihuru & Velavaru
The parent company of these two resorts is also associated with the Banyan Tree Company, so many of the environmental goals are similar. The Ihuru resort supports the Ihuru Barnacle project, which helps restore reefs by transplanting coral onto man-made structures and stimulating growth by subjecting the coral to small electrical currents. The parent company of these resorts also partnered with local committees to establish a preschool on a neighboring island, and also helped to provide the needed administrative and educational tools.

A free visa valid for 30 days is issued to visitors upon arrival so long as they have a valid passport from any recognized country, and proof they plan to leave (for example a return ticket). There was a bombing incident in 2007, where people were wounded, however this was determined to be an isolated incident and all suspects were arrested. No security problems threatening tourists have been experienced since. Other than petty theft, the Maldives is a very safe place to travel. Recommended immunizations include all routine shots, as well as hepatitis A and B and typhoid.

For more information on safety, visit:

For more general information about visiting the Maldives, please see the following sites:


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