Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bangalore’s Orange County Resorts looking to offload 20% stake

Bangalore-based Orange County Resorts and Hotels Ltd that currently owns two holiday resorts in Coorg and Kabini and manages another in Hassan, Karnataka, is in discussions with New York-based investment firm Trikona Capital Ltd, private equity (PE) firm ICICI Venture, and a few others to sell up to a 20% stake for around Rs60-70 crore.

This money will part-fund the Rs220 crore the firm plans to invest in upgrading existing properties and opening four more resorts in the next three years. Orange County is also looking to expand to locations in Vietnam and the Maldives.
“We expect our valuation to go up to Rs1,000 crore by 2012. We want a strong investment partner that will not onlybring in expertise in finance, marketing and operational management, thus giving that value-addition to our brand, but also invest with us in our future and overseas expansion,” said Abe T. Ramapuram, vice-chairman and director (finance) at Orange County in a phone interview from Bangalore on Wednesday. He added that an investor would be identified within the next two months.
Ramapuram said that the company has already acquired land for its four new Indian resorts that will open for business by 2011.
Aashish Kalra, co-founder and managing director of Trikona Capital, said his company does not comment on future business initiatives.
“We have, however, said we will invest $10 billion (Rs46,300 crore) in India over 10 years in real estate and infrastructure,” he added.
An ICICI Venture spokesperson declined to comment.
The Indian hospitality business has grown 25-30% annually in revenues over the past three years on the back of an expanding economy that encouraged more business travel and put more money in the hands of domestic consumers. The concept of short weekend breaks has gained popularity.
Almost all of Orange County’s existing resorts are located within driving distance from Bangalore, India’s information technology hub.
An expert said that after infrastructure, PE firms would likely prefer to invest in any area that involves consumer spending.
“It is the right time for a one-two resort company like Orange County to bring in financial partners because they have been around for long, have well received properties, and will be able to replicate their model anywhere,” said Arun Natarajan, chief executive officer of Venture Intelligence, a research firm focused on PE and venture capital activity.
Orange County, which is privately held, claims its valuation is around Rs300-350 crore.
The company is part of the Ramapuram group, promoted by a family of seven brothers that also owns coffee and rubber plantations in Karnataka spanning 2,000 acres and valued at more than Rs200 crore.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Cinnamon Island Alidhoo wins grand PATA award

Cinnamon Island Alidhoo in the Maldives a resort managed by the John Keells Group was conferred the Grand PATA award for the ‘Education and Training’ category at a sparkling presentation luncheon held in Hyderabad, India recently.

The project was titled ‘We Shared and We Cared’; the Cinnamon Island Alidhoo award-winning project is a new School of Hospitality at its premises. The initiative began as an energetic local recruitment drive and gradually snowballed into an unprecedented opportunity for the women and young people of the Barah and Utheem islands in the Maldives, to transform themselves into well-trained hoteliers. Starting this year, the resort’s parent company, Keells Hotel Management Services Limited, invested to operate a hotel school in which the curriculum is focused on providing the youth of the islands neighbouring Cinnamon Island Alidhoo with skills that would equip them to enter the industry.

Commenting on the award, Jayantissa Kehelpannala, Sector Head – Resort Hotels and Executive Vice President- John Keells Group, said, “We are delighted to receive this PATA award, for it is a reflection of the strength and spirit of the brand. The School of Hospitality is the off-spring of our foray into truly sustainable development, which lives by a win-win ethic. This is an initiative that benefits the people as much as the industry and I am glad we have been instrumental in making a difference.”

He also expressed his thanks to Masters DDB, who did an excellent job in preparing and presenting the application, helping it to stand out amongst the many received – a total of 258 entries from 108 travel and tourism organisations.”

Cinnamon Island Alidhoo is the flagship resort of Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts – the John Keells Group’s premier hospitality brand – and was the first Cinnamon branded resort in the Maldives. Unveiled on the July 1st, 2007, it is the first of its kind established in the widely undiscovered atoll of Haa Alifu which is in the northern most part of the Maldives.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Global payments launches mobile payment processing solution in Asia-Pacific

Global Payments Asia-Pacific Limited has rolled out a secure GPRS-powered mobile payment service, which provides card acceptance capabilities for merchants in the Asia-Pacific region, said the company in a statement released here on Friday.

Called Global Mobile Pay, the service is now available in Malaysia, Brunei, China, India, the Maldives, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Taiwan, Global Payments said.

Global Mobile Pay is a sophisticated card acceptance solution that uses GPRS wireless communication network for merchants who need to accept card payments beyond fixed locations or when traditional line communications do not meet business needs.

"This new offering is ideal for merchants who need to accept card payments away from a retail countertop, such as cash-based delivery service providers or trade show exhibitors," it said.

With the new service, mobile merchants can now accept electronic payments to improve customer service and reduce the cost of handling cash significantly, the company said.

"Global Payments has always been trusted with superior payment processing. Now, with Global Mobile Pay, our merchants are empowered with the best-in-class solution for card payments virtually anywhere," it added.

Through Global Mobile Pay, the company now provides a comprehensive package that includes a mobile payment terminal, SIM card and GPRS network connectivity as well as convenience processing services.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Win a trip to an exotic retreat in the Maldives

On the remote South Nilandhe Atoll lies Angsana Velavaru, Maldives. This is a perfectly placed holiday resort, which blends contemporary design and marine biodiversity, with private beach villas and the acclaimed Angsana Spa.

So that you have the opportunity to visit, The Times is joining with Angsana Velavaru to give readers the chance to win a trip to the resort. The prize includes a seven-night stay for two people in a beachfront villa, including breakfast, and economy flights to Malé International Airport, which is a 40-minute journey by seaplane from Velavaru.

For your chance to win, just answer the following question here.

In what ocean is the Maldives?

Submit your answer here

Competition closes at midnight on Thursday, October 9.


India, Maldives to sign MoUs on Maldivian hosp, foundation

India and Maldives would be signing two MoUs related to manpower requirements of Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (Male) and for the establishment of India-Maldives Foundation, during the two-day official visit of Maldivian External Affairs Minister Abdulla Shahid starting on Thursday.

Shahid will meet External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who will also host a dinner in his honour. The Maldives foreign minister would be here between September 19-20.

India is engaged in the development of infrastructural facilities in Maldives through its technical and economic assistance programmes. The Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital set up in 1995 with Indian assistance is an example of close ties between the two countries. The MoU will help meet much of Maldives manpower and training needs in the areas of health and medicine.

The MoU on the establishment of the India-Maldives Foundation envisages a corpus of Rs two crore, which would be used by the two countries to undertake a range of activities aimed at bringing the two countries together.

India is also helping in setting up a faculty of hospitality and tourism studies in Maldives.


India: Cabinet okays Air Services Agreement with Maldives

"The revised agreement signifies an important landmark in the civil aviation relations between the two countries and has the potential to spur greater bilateral trade, investment, tourism and cultural exchange," Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi told reporters after the meeting.

The Cabinet, which met here this morning, also approved signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between India and Bahrain on labour and manpower development which will benefit the Indian emigrant workers, especially the unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers and housemaids, he said.

In another decision, the Cabinet cleared signing of a social security agreement between India and France. The Social Security Agreement provides Indian nationals working in France the following benefits -- "of avoidance of double social security contribution by the detached Indian workers in France, portability of social security benefits on relocation as also totalisation of period of contribution in the second contracting state for determining the eligibility for social security benefits," the minister added.

Further, approval has been given for signing of the agreement between India and Latvia for Avoidance of Double Taxation and Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to taxes on income The agreement will stimulate the flow of capital, technology and personnel from India to Latvia and vice-versa. It will provide tax stability and reduce any obstacles in providing mutual cooperation.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Yemen to host regional meeting on combating piracy

Yemen will host the second regional meeting on combating piracy which to be held on 27-30 October in participation of representatives of 20 countries .

Diplomatic sources pointed out that the 20 countries would sign a memorandum of understanding to combat piracy and armed robbery against ships sailing in the Gulf of Aden.

The Gulf of Aden has witnessed an increasing piracy in the past few months which posed dangers against the international navigation movement in the region, according to official reports.

An official source in Transportation Ministry said to the state-run that Yemen had decided to set up three centres for monitoring the international waters in the Gulf of Aden as part of efforts to fight piracy and human trafficking in the Horn of Africa.

"The centres would be established in the port cities of Aden and Mukalla on the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea port of Houdieda", added the source.

The sources affirmed that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Djibouti, Jordan, Somalia, Comoros, France, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Madagascar, Maldives, The Seychelle Islands, South Africa, Tanzania, Eritrea, Mozambique and Yemen would sign the memorandum of understanding.

Since July, 12 ships have been hijacked in the narrow waterway separating Yemen and Somalia by heavily-armed pirates operating high-powered speedboats, according to the International Maritime Bureau. Eleven are still being held for ransom.

Two rockets were fired at a French tuna fishing boat some 700 kilometres (435 miles) off the Somali coast on Saturday, in a sign the pirates are moving further out to sea to evade military patrols in coastal shipping areas.


Maldives presidential poll now set for Oct. 8

The Maldives will hold its first-ever multi-party presidential poll on Oct. 8, the Indian Ocean island nation's electoral commission said.

"The elections date is confirmed for Oct. 8," Elections Commissioner Mohamed Ibrahim told a news conference late on Tuesday. "The results will be announced at 11:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) on Oct. 9."

The poll was originally set for Oct. 4, but postponed after delays to parliamentary approval of key elections bills.

A second round must be held if no candidate secures over 50 percent of the initial vote.

The election on the archipelago of 1,200 islands off India's southern tip will be the culmination of reforms established by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has held the reins of power since 1978 and is Asia's longest-serving ruler.

Gayoom in August signed into law constitutional reforms urged for years by pro-democracy activists. He had faced international pressure after a heavy-handed 2004 crackdown on demonstrators by security forces.

Seven other candidates have said they will challenge Gayoom to rule the archipelago of 300,000 mostly Sunni Muslims, which is known for luxury resorts, world-class diving and expensive honeymoons. (Reporting by Judith Evans; Writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Valerie Lee)



Sri Lanka has been rated as the top South Asian reformer in an annual business regulation study by the World Bank group, with a new company law and credit information improvements boosting its scores.

'Doing Business 2009', a study by the World Bank's private sector financier, International Finance Corporation, said that Sri Lanka had strengthened the rights of creditors with a new company law.

"When a company goes into liquidation, the claims of its secured creditors are no longer Frozen," an IFC statement said.

"Secured creditors now have the right during liquidation to seize or attach their collateral or appoint a receiver."

Sri Lanka's Credit Information Bureau had also started an online system to upload credit information and eliminated minimum thresholds on loans recorded.

The 'Doing Business 2009' study covered the 12-month period ending June 2007.

It examined the ease of starting a business, paying taxes, getting construction permits, employing workers, getting credit, registering property, investor protection, cross-border trade, enforcing contracts and closing a business.

"South Asian countries are increasingly committed to agendas for business-friendly reforms," Sabine Hertveldt, a co-author of the report said.

"They are also getting inspiration from other economies that have made regulatory reforms and by benchmarking local best practices."

Singapore led the global rankings on the overall regulatory ease of doing business for a third consecutive year.

New Zealand was runner-up and the United States, third.

"Economies need rules that are efficient, easy to use, and accessible to all who use them," says Michael Klein, the World Bank and the IFC's vice president for financial and private sector development.

"Otherwise, businesses gets trapped in the unregulated, informal economy where they have less access to finance and hire fewer workers, and where workers lack the protection of labor law."

Among regions, Eastern Europe and Central Asia led in reforms of business regulation for a fifth consecutive year, with more than 90 per cent of its countries making improvements, the IFC said.

East Asia and the Pacific was second, with China leading the way, by making make it easier to access credit, pay taxes and enforce contracts; whereas the Middle East and North Africa tied at second.

Sri Lanka, however, scored badly in taxation, with a legitimate business having to make 62 payments, compared to one in the Maldives, South Asia's richest economy.

Sri Lanka's effective tax rate was found to be 63.7 per cent compared to 9.1 per cent for the Maldives, 28.9 per cent for Pakistan and only second to India.

The IFC study said that Bangladesh had slashed property registration by half and simplified business start-up. Bhutan has made contract enforcement through the courts easier.

India continued to make import and export procedures easier. No reforms were recorded in Pakistan this year.

The top 10 economies for reforms of business regulations were Azerbaijan, Albania, the Kyrgyz Republic, Belarus, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Egypt.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Maldives Health minister’s visit India

The Maldives minister of foreign affairs, Mr Abdulla Shahid, arrives here tomorrow (19 Sept 2008) on a two-day visit during which two memorandums of understanding (MOUs) are expected to be signed.
During his visit, Mr Shahid would meet the external affairs minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, who would be hosting a dinner in his honour.

One of the two MOUs concern the manpower requirements of Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), Male, and the other is for the establishment of the India-Maldives Foundation. n SNS


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Indian Government gives approval for air services agreement with Maldives

With a view to attracting more foreign passengers, the Government today (18 Sept 2008) gave approval for signing an Air Services agreement with Maldives.

The approval has been given at a meeting of Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

"A revised agreement signifies an important landmark in the civil aviation relations between India and Maldives and has the potential to spur greater trade, investment, tourism and cultural exchange between the two countries," Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi told reporters.

The decision comes in accordance with the policy of liberalisation in the civil aviation sector. It also reflects government's liberal approach in the matter of granting traffic rights under bilateral agreements with various foreign countries.

The signing of a new Air Services Agreement is the first milestone to achieve for the purpose of establishing air connectivity with new countries. Recently, a number of new Air Services Agreements have been initialed/signed based on modern practices in civil aviation sector.

Air Services Agreements with some countries were signed some time back and required updating in view of the changing circumstances and developments in international civil aviation, and with respect to newer standards and recommended practices. These countries include the US, UK, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Tunisia and Qatar. PTI


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

ADB, IsDB sign landmark US$4 billion cofinancing agreement

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) signed on 16 September a landmark cofinancing agreement, which will allow them to work together on projects in common member countries (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Maldives, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan).

The agreement calls on both institutions to provide up to US$2 billion equivalent each over the next three years to finance projects in their common member countries.

The agreement — which is the first of its kind — is based on a 3-year business plan that includes a common vision, strategic framework, and best practice ideas in development financing.

The cofinancing will mainly target transactions in the infrastructure (including irrigation), utilities, and urban sectors. However, it may also cover education, health and other sectors in selected countries.

"This agreement is unique, timely and in line with the Accra High Level Forum and other international declarations on development effectiveness and harmonization", said Vice President Cisse of the Islamic Development Bank.

"In addition, this agreement provides a new platform from which both institutions will attempt to raise third party funds for investments in the common member countries. This is a breakthrough in collaboration between international financial institutions", said Juan Miranda, Director General of the Central and West Asia Department of the Asian Development Bank.

"The agreement takes us into a long-term partnership mode and it is consistent with the Strategy 2020 of the Asian Development Bank and Vision 1440H of the Islamic Development Bank", said Walid Abdelwahab, Director of Country Operations (Asia) of the Islamic Development Bank.

Werner Liepach, Principal Director of Cofinancing Operations of ADB, added: "Cofinancing is a precondition for effective development work these days and what is particularly enriching in this case is that we have two multilateral development institutions working together on a common platform for the benefit of their common clients."


Monday, September 15, 2008

Promoting tourism in South Asia

South Asian tourism has operated at sub-optimal levels for a long period of time. With the exception of the Maldives and more recently India, all other countries need to work harder towards achieving more conducive operating environments for the tourism industry. Accounting for only 1.1% of the global visitor arrivals, South Asia's recent growth levels indicate promise of the region's ability to move forward, harnessing the vast potential that exists.

Home to marvels such as Taj Mahal, Ajantha, Sigiriya, Timpu and Takshila, the heritage and cultures of the region dates back thousands of years and is talked about everywhere. It has been a hot spot for several of the seafaring nations looking for spices and riches for several centuries in the past. It then became the play ground of several colonial powers. It is now home to almost all of the world's religions.
Yet with some 400 million people remaining below the poverty line and 71 million people affected by violence or its threat, most of South Asia remains a conflict-ridden region in the world. Poverty, health, child and gender related issues are still pulling the region's image positioning down. While the resource-base for tourism is available in abundance, the constraints have been the uncertain political climates, infrastructure and access limitations.

Two significant breakthrough initiatives that has helped tourism growth in the region in the recent past is the relative liberalisation of the Indian aviation industry and the visa on arrival travel initiatives implemented by Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives for SAARC visitors. The phenomenon of economic prosperity for the region vis-à-vis 'Chindia' is another motivator creating hope for the future.

In order to fast forward the movement of tourist visitors to and within the SAARC region the following initiatives are recommended for implementation:

  • Further liberalise air access between countries of SAARC, facilitating any SAARC airline to operate to other SAARC countries without restriction
  • Facilitate ocean and other water based, road and highway and railway transportation of people of the SAARC (to serve tourism as well) through the liberal operation of fast ferry services, shipping services and cruising operations and exploring road and rail transport options
  • Undertake joint programmes at both regional and bi-lateral levels to jointly develop infrastructure and institutions needed for setting in place tourism operations and investments driven in the main by the private sector or as public/private partnership ventures
  • Commence joint initiatives at both governmental and private sector operator levels to enhance the current Buddhist circuit, the Ramayana Trail and other regional and bilateral thematic tour circuits
  • Undertake the publication of an annual South Asian Tourism Events Directory (to be published an year in advance to enable tour sales for the events)
  • Commence a twinning of cities programme within the SAARC region Establish a SARRC joint Climate Change Response using Sri Lanka's pioneering 'Tourism Earth Lung' initiative as the platform.

In 2007, the South Asian region had only less than 1.1% (9.7 million) of the total visitors from around the world of 898 million, coming over to the region. In comparison, Europe had 53.5% of the global arrivals, with the Asian region including East and Southeast Asia having 19.3%. Volume of arrivals to the Asia-Pacific region also more than doubled from 2000 to 2007 from 85 million to 198 million. Within this growth scenario regrettably, most of South Asia only saw marginal growth with the exceptions of some significant growth from India and the Maldives.

We have for several decades now, promoted regional tourism. As far back as the early 1980's the World Tourism Organisation (now UN WTO) set up a secretariat for South Asian Tourism Promotion based in Colombo and attempted to promote the region. This initiative failed as there was inadequate support and interest from the individual nation's state tourism organisations for its sustenance.

In the 1990's The SAARC Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FCCI) began a Nepal based initiative to promote tourism to the region. A special Tourism Committee was formed and several rounds of meetings were held. A promotional tagline of 'Magic that is South Asia' was coined and talk of a regional tourism year was initiated. It was thought that the ice would melt if private sector business and tourism stakeholders took the lead in taking regional tourism initiatives forward. Several South Asian Tourism business and trade marts have been held since then.

On the formal inter-governmental sphere, tourism occupies an important position and in the official website of the SAARC Secretariat. The First Meeting of the Working Group on Tourism was held in Colombo on 16 to 17 August 2004. In addition to the SAARC Member States and representatives of the Secretariat, representatives of the SCCI Tourism Council and the ASEAN Secretariat also attended the Meeting.

Besides reviewing the implementation of programme of activities relevant to its mandate, the Working Group made a number of recommendations for promotion of tourism in the SAARC region e.g. printing of a SAARC Travel Guide, production of a documentary movie on tourism in SAARC, promotion of sustainable development of Eco-Tourism, Cultural Tourism and Nature Tourism, collaboration in HRD in tourism sector by having programmes for exchange of teachers, students, teaching modules and materials, Promoting Cooperation in the field of tourism with other relevant regional and international tourism organizations. It also proposed a number of activities to celebrate the South Asia Tourism Year – 2005 in a befitting manner".

If one were to compare, the progress made on the ground and by other regional tourism initiatives that began its thrusts much later than the SAARC region, such as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Pacific Tourism Commission, European Union (EU) Tourism and most recently The Mekong Tourism Initiative, progress made must be classified at best as wanting.

Within the backdrop of the frustration of the SAARC region's under performance, in 1997, a separate initiative was undertaken led by several governments of the South Asian region titled the South Asian Growth Quadrangle (SAGQ) consisting of Bangladesh, Bhutan, 13 of the North, East and Northeast States of India and Nepal. The Asian. Development Bank (ADB) supported the initiative under the programme 'South Asian Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC), where a tourism component exists. This is an ongoing programme within the South Asian development framework of the Bank.

The dichotomy that is South Asia
South Asia can indeed be described as a dichotomy. While it has not lived up to expectations as a regional grouping, at the individual country level, tourism development in the SAARC region presents several unique models, containing some successful best practices.

Bhutan, has presented to the world a model of tourism development where its operations are based on the model of a kinked demand curve in creating premium value for the destination. Upon limiting access to tourists to Bhutan to a few tens of thousands, a premium charge is made for the visit, placing the per capita yield from a tourist at a high level. A business model aimed at conserving Bhutan's heritage, cultural and natural resources, it is also in keeping with the unique development indicator of 'Gross National Happiness' this 'Thunder Dragon' nation has presented to the world, as against the key conventional development measurement of 'Gross National Product'.

Maldives, known today as one of the most successful island destinations in the world, works on a business model of establishing strong partnerships with foreign investors and tour operators. Beginning with investments from Sri Lankan conglomerates in the early 1980's (still accounting for about 20% of all hotel rooms), Maldives Tourism, offering the 'sunny side of life' as its positioning platform, is driven in the main by some of the best international and regional brand names in the island tourism business.

Nepal, on the other hand is an example of pioneering a brand of unique community based tourism initiative. With its early model of the Annapurna Tourism Development Project and the Bhakthipur Conservation Project of the 1980's, Nepal introduced a good tourism operational model to the world with its unique nature and heritage conservation, community benefit and sustainable funding features. Sri Lanka, in addressing the challenge of global warming and climate change faced by all nations of the world, has ventured to extend its conventional positioning as a tourist destination of a treasured island with a warm people and a nature, culture, adventure offering to taking advantage of its extensive green cover to strive to be a 'Tourism Earth Lung' working towards being a carbon neutral destination by year 2018.

In my mind, South Asian Tourism could not take off in the past, as a result of three problems. They are:

1. Lack of a pragmatic approach of our political and bureaucratic leadership towards identifying and exploiting socio-political and economic opportunities and the prevalence of an environment of mistrust between India and Pakistan in the past,

2. Self-imposed limitation of access to and within the region as a result of an introvert attitude and

3. Resultant political instability, absence of rapid economic growth and ways of distributing even the growth achieved to minimise poverty.

Outlook for the future
India presents the region's largest economy as well as the largest tourism operation. India has also been the principal trendsetter in determining the region's future, whether it was to be negative or positive. With her economy growing at 9.2% in 2007 and 9.6% in 2006, it is cited as one of the most promising prospects of the world for the future. Growth is supported by market reforms, huge inflows of FDI, rising foreign exchange reserves, both an IT and real estate boom, and a flourishing capital market. India reduced her poverty levels by 10% and achieved a growth in the service sector of more than 11% and the sector forms about 53% of the economy.

The concept of 'Chindia', where the growth dynamics of both China and India will complement as Asia's newest prospects for economic super power status, augers well in positioning India away from the mindset of a poverty stricken country to that of a modern growth economy with a proud heritage and culture.

As a result, India's tourism industry is experiencing a strong period of growth, driven by the burgeoning Indian middle class (for domestic and outbound travel) and growth in high spending foreign tourists. The tourism industry in India is substantial and vibrant, and the country is fast becoming a major global destination and an outbound visitor generating market. India's travel and tourism industry is one of the most profitable industries in the country, and also credited with contributing a substantial amount of foreign exchange. This is illustrated by the fact that during 2006, four million tourists visited India and spent US $8.9 billion.

Several reasons are cited for the growth and prosperity of India's travel and tourism industry. Economic growth has added millions annually to the ranks of India's middle class, a group that is driving domestic tourism growth. Disposable income in India has grown by 10.11% annually from 2001-2006, and much of that is being spent on travel.

Thanks in part to its vibrant IT and outsourcing industry a growing number of business trips are made by foreigners to India, who will often add a weekend break or longer holiday to their trip. Foreign tourists spend more in India than almost any other country worldwide. Tourist arrivals are projected to increase by over 22% per year through till 2010, with a 33% increase in foreign exchange earnings recorded in 2004.
The tourism authorities at the centre and at state levels have also played an important role in the development of the industry, with promotional campaigns such as the "Incredible India" campaign, which promoted India's culture and tourist attractions in a fresh and memorable way. The campaign helped create a never before positioned image of India in the minds of consumers all over the world, and has directly led to an increase in the interest among tourists.

The tourism industry has also helped growth in other sectors as diverse as horticulture, handicrafts, agriculture, construction and even poultry. Recent increased growth in tourism in India has created jobs in a variety of related sectors. The numbers tell the story: almost 20 million people are now working in India's tourism industry.

Recent trends of terrorism, food security, poverty still at undesirable levels, increasing fuel costs and the still looming security issues will continue to pose challenges to unleashing the full potential of India as well as the region. The silver-lining for tourism though is an evident breakthrough in thinking and a strong desire to breakthrough the shackles of the past of protectionism and introvert attitudes of individual nations and the collective psyche of the leadership of the region.

Removing barriers for entry
While it is critical that air, sea and road access is expanded and enhanced if regional tourism development is to take off, it is equally critical to ensure that most artificial barriers in terms of visa facilitation is made as easy as possible for visitors to the region and for each of the countries in the SAARC alliance.

Currently, except for the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal for the rest of the countries of SAARC, visa formalities are cumbersome. If one is to analyse the measurers taken in the ASEAN region almost all countries within the region allow visa free or visa upon entry facilitation for intra-regional travel. The ASEAN grouping goes one step further to offer an ASEAN Air Pass, where travelling to one ASEAN country qualifies a traveller to visit other countries at a concessionary airfare.

There is also in effect an ASEAN Hotel Pass (Hip-Hop Pass) with similar incentives. In the EU most countries of the union may be visited with a common EU Visa, obtained from one of the member countries. ASEAN is aiming to have a common ASEAN visa by year 2009. The South Asian region is far from achieving such levels of freeing formalities between countries of SAARC and for visitors to the region.

Promoting South Asian Tourism is not about promotion
It must also be stated that intra-regional tourism promotion to be a precursor to promoting the region for international visitors, as taking that route, will strengthen the capacity within the region to develop better structures and institutions to correct some of the problems that are endemic in the body polity of the region.

Following are a series of process-based actions that are proposed to achieve the objective stated above:

  • Further liberalise air access between countries of SAARC, facilitating any SAARC airline to operate to other SAARC countries without restriction
  • Facilitate ocean and other water based, road and highway and railway transportation of people of the SAARC (to serve tourism as well) through the liberal operation of fast ferry services, shipping services and cruising operations and exploring road and rail transport options
  • Undertake joint programmes at both regional and bi-lateral levels to jointly develop infrastructure and institutions needed for setting in place tourism operations and investments driven in the main by the private sector or as public/private partnership ventures
  • Commence joint initiatives at both governmental and private sector operator levels to enhance the current Buddhist circuit, the Ramayana Trail and other regional and bilateral thematic tour circuits
  • Undertake the publication of an annual South Asian Tourism Events Directory (to be published an year in advance to enable tour sales for the events)
  • Commence a twinning of cities programme within the SAARC region Establish a SARRC joint Climate Change Response using Sri Lanka's pioneering 'Tourism Earth Lung' initiative as the platform

Tourism promotion is compared to the likes of dream selling. To sell dreams of people, the dreams sold must be beautiful and believable. In promoting and branding South Asia as a tourist destination area, the challenge faced by the marketer is to ensure hat the three key characteristics of brand identity are assured. They are quality, consistency and integrity. To assure that these characteristics are maintained, an intense and continuous effort need be made both at the destination and at the regional levels.
(Excerpts from a presentation made at the recent South Asia Economic Summit in Colombo.)


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Maldives can maintain dollar peg if budgets improve: IMF

The Maldives can maintain its dollar peg despite a steep rise in inflation if budgets improve and the island's newly re-constituted monetary authority does not print money to finance fiscal deficits, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said.

IMF said the main challenge facing the country was to contain the islands budget deficit which has "reached extraordinarily high levels by international and historical standards."

"The 2008 budget continues to entail a large increase in current expenditures in an election year financed by extraordinary revenue measures with significant implementation risks," the IMF said in a public information notice released this week.

"An over 50 percent increase in the wage bill and quadrupled subsidies, mainly because of administered electricity prices, pushed up overall expenditure to nearly 70 percent of GDP (gross domestic product)."

Foreign Debt

The government was planning to finance the deficit with a "too ambitious" sale of 30 islands, and had decided in Augusts to cut expenditure by 20 percent.

The deficit was financed mainly through a large increase in private capital inflows, including foreign borrowing by commercial banks, which was then on-lend to resort developers.

As a result, external debt increased sharply to near 70 percent of GDP in 2007, increasing external risks.

IMF says "external vulnerabilities will need to be monitored carefully," due to the recent rise in external debt and debt service. Though the debt was largely due to private sector activity, a close eye should be kept on risks to the banking sector.

Inflation was projected at 15 percent for 2008 up from 7.4 percent, but IMF said the country's dollar peg could be maintained if budgets improved.

Dollar Peg

"The Maldives appears to have adequate room to maintain competitiveness under the peg despite the recent rise in inflation, provided imported inflation is not exacerbated by fiscal slippages," the monetary watchdog said.

Exchange rate pegs are broken when governments use large volumes of central bank credit (printed money) to finance budget deficits.

Attempts to maintain pegs (defend the currency with foreign reserve sales) without raising interest rates could then result in a full-blown currency crisis and very high levels of inflation, as had happened in Pakistan and Vietnam in 2008.

Central banks are prevented from raising interest rates and forced to print money by finance ministries. The lack of central bank independence is known as fiscal dominance of monetary policy.

The IMF said a new central bank governor was appointed following the amendment to the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) law which separated the positions of finance minister and governor.

"MMA was also empowered to set interest rates and put a ceiling on the amount the government can borrow through its Ways and Means Account," the IMF said.

The government was committed to zero domestic financing of the budget. Analysts point out that any domestic financing should be conducted through the sale of bonds to the public and not the MMA to preserve the peg and low inflation.

Any MMA borrowing - even temporary - would pressure the peg and drive inflation up, undermining the long-term viability of the peg. In the past Maldives peg has been broken several times.

Fixed exchange rates also known as 'hard pegs' can be maintained indefinitely if there is no government financing or bank liquidity financing (discount window operations) by the monetary authority.

Such stable institutional frameworks, known as currency boards, are found in countries like Hong Kong, Singapore and many small islands which are financial centres, which have very high standards of living and small or effective governments.

Sustainable Budgeting

IMF said sustainable measures needed to be found to raise revenue for government, such as corporate tax and value added taxes on sales and tourism and only spend on useful areas.

IMF's executive directors in their assessment said authorities should "develop a realistic medium-term expenditure framework to prioritize spending within the available resource envelope."

The Maldives had seen more democracy in recent years, though the islands have historically reported lower levels of inflation.

Her neighbors like Sri Lanka, India have seen greater democracy, more populist vote buying spending, which has brought very high levels of inflation and abject poverty of parts of the population.

In Sri Lanka large volumes of money is spent on expanding and maintaining the civil service who are an important vote-base.

Analysts say the Maldives could be increasing vulnerable to populist spending on subsidies and civil service salaries which could result in falling living standards of especially of the poorer segments of the population.


Dilrukshi and Rolike in the Maldives

Dilrukshi and Rolike, husband and wife duo is now a popular attraction in the Maldives. They celebrated their first wedding anniversary in the Maldives recently.

The duo is performing at a popular Resort for a little over eight months and already gained a name for them. Dilrukshi Galappaththi was the frontline singer of the band 'Ebony' and Rolike was with a band called 'Family Affair'


Friday, September 12, 2008

Maldives Wins Best Island Award 2008

The Maldives has won the Condé Nast Traveller’s Readers Best Island Award for the year 2008. Maldives scored well in all 10 scoring criteria including the top mark for beaches.

The Maldives won this milestone award from the readers’ poll by successfully competing against Greek Islands, Mauritius, Barbados and Hawaii etc. This is the third consecutive year that Maldives won this award.

In addition, six Maldives resorts were among the best hotels in Overseas Leisure Hotels in the Middle East, Africa and the Indian Ocean category. They are One & Only Reethi Rah, One & Only Kanuhura, Soneva Gili, Fourseasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa, Cocoa Island Resort and Huvafenfushi.


Maldives wary of Indian labourers with TB, HIV/AIDS: Health minister

The tiny island nation of Maldives is now wary of Indian labourers who could spread tuberculosis (TB) and the dreaded HIV/AIDS among its people.

‘There are around 70,000 labourers in our country and the majority of them are from India. The problem is some of them coming to our country are infected with HIV/AIDS and TB,’ Maldives Deputy Minister of Health Abdul Azeez Yoosuf told IANS in an interview here.

‘In the last couple of years we have detected 90 cases of HIV/AIDS among these labourers and a few hundreds with drug resistant TB. We did not permit them to work in our country, as there is always a chance of their infecting our small population,’ said Yoosuf.

The health minister was in New Delhi to participate in the 61st meeting of the WHO Regional Committee for Southeast Asia.

The Maldives, which has a population of just 300,000, has a huge Indian presence. ‘We do screening of people but there is always a chance of others getting infected,’ Yoosuf said.

India contributes semi-skilled as well as skilled workforce to the the Maldives. Sixty percent of its doctors are Indians and nearly 70 percent of the country’s nursing staff is from India.

The minister said the Maldives lacks in skilled human resources and so could not stop the flow of workers from other countries.

Talking about the nation’s health indices, Yoosuf said it was set to achieve all the millennium development goals set by the United Nations before the 2015 deadline.

‘Unlike India, we spend seven percent of our GDP on health. The government sponsors at least 80 percent of health expenditure of our countrymen. The per capita health expenditure of the country is $300.

‘The maternal mortality ratio is 65 per 100,000 live births and the infant mortality ratio is 12 per 1,000 live births. We eradicated polio in 1981 and malaria in 1982. We have just 13 HIV/AIDS patients,’ the minister said.

In contrast, India is home to 2.5 million HIV/AIDS patients and 320,000 people (20,000 more than the population of the Maldives) die of TB every year in India. Mosquito borne diseases like malaria, dengue and chikungunya kill over 2,000 Indians and it’s among the top three countries in polio prevalence.

The government spends one percent of GDP on health, and nearly 83 percent of health expenditure by people are from their own pockets. The per capita health expenditure is less than $10 in India for a year.

The infant mortality ratio is 57 and maternal mortality is 301 in India. In Uttar Pradesh, which has one of the worst maternal mortality ratios, at least 517 women of every 100,000 die during pregnancy.

While in the Maldives there is a doctor for every 500-550 people, in India the ratio is 1: 16,000.

‘Practically, we know India is a big country and a global power. It has a huge population. But to improve its health indicators, it must invest more in the sector. It must give due priority to health, which at this point it does not look like doing,’ Yoosuf said.

Source: IANS

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ishmeet’s kin reiterate demand for a CBI probe

Family members of Star Voice of India 2007 winner Ishmeet Singh reiterated their demand for a CBI probe into the singer’s death with the assistance of Interpol thrown in.

The demand was raised by the family members who have just returned from Male, Maldives, after their investigations at the beach resort where Ishmeet died while swimming.

Leading the pack, Ishmeet’s uncle, Dr Charan Kamal Singh recounted his observation during the Maldives trip, at a press conference held today.

Dr Singh said that, “During our visit to Maldives from September 3 to 6, the family members met the Indian High Commission in Maldives, the police investigation team, officials and workers of the resort and the main organiser of the show for which Ishmeet had gone to the island nation.”

Picking holes in the eyewitness accounts of Vyom and Arunima, Dr Singh charged that not a single person - out of more than 250 odd employees of Chhaya Island Dhonveli Beach Rresort — had seen Ishmeet going or being at the swimming pool alive with them.

Dr Singh said, “Moreover, the statements given by both to the Indian High Commission and the police investigators are contradictory. While Vyom told the High Commission officials that he went along with Arunima and Ishmeet inside the pool whereas in his statement given to police investigators, he said, “I went to the resort’s swimming pool with Ishmeet”.

Similarly, said Dr Singh, the statements of Sanjit Shah of the Indian troupe and the local organiser, Hassan Ishan, in Maldives were also found to be contradictory.

Dr Singh also raised the issue of the head injury suffered by Ishmeet, which he claims remains unexplained. Dr Singh said, “Our main concern is how the injury was inflicted as neither the so-called eyewitness statement nor the preliminary investigations have been able to throw light on it,” he said.

The family also displayed an SMS which it claims is very strange and which Ishmeet had received it on July 22. The SMS says, “VOI bn ne ka itna ghamand mat kro ue jyada din tak tumhara nhi rhega (don’t be proud of being VOI so much won’t last long).” “Exactly a week after that Ishmeet was no more,” said Ishmeet’s uncle, raising another angle to the conspiracy theory.


Maldives elections 'are delayed'

he first multi-party presidential polls in the Maldives will not be held on time because of parliamentary delays in passing reforms, officials say.

They say that the new date for the vote is yet to be decided.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has already said he will stand in the poll, seeking a seventh term in power.

The announcement of an election follows reforms introduced after Mr Gayoom was accused of crushing pro-democracy protests in 2004.

"The date will be delayed. It depends on which day next week they pass the bills. It's hard to say if we can have an election by 10 October," Mohamed Tholal, assistant director-general of the Elections Commission, told the Reuters news agency.

Under the terms of a new constitution that President Gayoom signed into law last month, 10 October is the date by which the vote must be held.

"If there were a failure to meet the deadline, the country would go into a constitutional void," Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed told Reuters.

He blamed members of parliament for the delay.

Source: BBC

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Maldives Promoted Via United Kingdom Radio Stations

Male’, 02 September 2008; Maldives has initiated a radio promotional campaign on four major radio stations in the United Kingdom. The main objective of this campaign is to promote and portray the Maldives as an affordable luxury destination. The promotion will be aired from Maldives as a breakfast show in UK.

The partnering resorts and radio station broadcasting from those resorts are as follows.

Broadcasting date: 1 – 5th September 2008


Station / Region

Broadcast time in UK

Royal Island Resort & Spa

Hallam FM (Sheffield)

6 a.m. – 9 a.m.

Kurumba Maldives

Key 103 (Manchester)

6 a.m. – 10 a.m.

Broadcasting date: 8 – 12th September 2008


Station / Region

Broadcast time in UK

Bandos Island Resort & Spa

Invicta FM (Kent)

6 a.m. – 10 a.m.

Coco Palm Dhunikolhu

Metro FM (Newcastle)

5 a.m. – 10 a.m.

This campaign is expected to reach to an audience of over 1.3 million people. The listeners to each of the stations have an opportunity to win a holiday for a couple in Maldives by participating in a quiz. This radio campaign is supplemented with a parallel online campaign on the radio stations website. The live show from Maldives can be listened by visiting to their website in the above mentioned times.,,,

Maldives welcomed 69,715 visitors from UK during the first half of this year. UK emerged as the largest generating market for the Maldives in 2007 with 125,158 visitors and a market share of 18.5 percent.

Source: MTPB


Welcoming Trident onboard was a strategic decision as the move itself is expected to usher in greater competitiveness within Microsoft’s partner community, with benefits eventually cascading down to the consumer. Sriyan de Silva Wijeyratne, Country Manager of Microsoft Sri Lanka, said: “We are delighted to welcome Trident onboard as only our Second Distributor for Sri Lanka and the Maldives. We are confident that the depth of the experience and wide reach they bring to our business will benefit us and consumers as well. We are especially impressed by Trident’s distribution capabilities and well established partner network. Trident has proved its mettle in the IT market in the Maldives and Sri Lanka and we look forward to a winning partnership.”

Established in 1999, Trident Corporation Pvt. Ltd. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Singapore-based Thakral Group. The group operates in 34 countries and has a diversified and balanced mix of business interests in these countries. Trident has enabled partners to create and broad-base their IT offerings through periodic skills, enhancement programmes and incentive-driven sales initiatives. This resource availability and the geographical spread have helped the IT business to grow faster than existing market growth rates for both the Group as well as their partnering principals.

Commenting on the landmark occasion, Bikram Thakral, Chief Executive Officer Thakral Group, said: “Trident Corporation, a subsidiary of the Singapore-based Thakral Group, has pioneered the IT distribution business in Sri Lanka in 1999. The company has grown steadily in strength and stature, and has added a portfolio of products and services to address the growing IT needs of customers. The Group considers Sri Lanka to be a strategic market and today we are proud to have been appointed as a Microsoft Distribution Partner. This will enable us to bring our regional experience and expertise to the local market. We are very optimistic about the prospects of the local market.”

In Sri Lanka, Trident will bring its established leadership in the IT distribution field to bear on its partnership with Microsoft. Trident will be in a position to extend a wide gamut of Microsoft related services to clients in the Microsoft partner network and fulfil the increasing demand for such offerings.


Centara’s First Hotel Outside Thailand to open in the Maldives

Centara Hotels & Resorts is to invest in and manage a new property in the Maldives, it will be the first property for Centara Hotels & Resorts outside of Thailand.

Scheduled to open in May 2009, Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa, located on South Ari Atoll, will deliver a Premium 4 star resort experience. The resort is relatively close to Male Airport with an air transfer time of just 25 minutes or transfer by speed boat in 85 minutes.

For diving enthusiasts the resort enjoys an excellent house reef complete with a sunken ship wreck and is within easy reach of the top dive spots in Ari Atoll.

Adults will enjoy premium levels of service with a variety of dining options, pools, recreational activities, sports and fitness options, bars and lounges with nightly entertainment, and Centara Hotels & Resorts very own 5 stars Spa experience - Spa Cenvaree. Children will benefit from the new Centara Hotels & Resorts Kids Club concept offering 2 venues - Kid Camp and E-zone for ages 4 to 9 and 10 to 17 respectively.

Guests will be able to choose from 7 categories of beach front and over water accommodation which will range from 76 sqm Beach Suites complete with separate living room, large terrace and indoor and outdoor showers, up to 146 sqm Luxury Beachfront Pool Villas which come complete with their own private pool and membership of the exclusive Island Club – which offers guests in selected categories of accommodation a “resort within a resort” experience specially designed for discerning travelers.

Based around the small pool, Island Club guests will be able to enjoy premium levels of attention and service including access to the exclusive Club Lounge with daily servings of complimentary meals, snacks and drinks including complimentary evening cocktails and canapés. The private pool features refreshing Spa Cenvaree mist sprays, complimentary mineral water, pre-lunch cold towel service, afternoon fruits and sun bed concierge service.

Mr.Gerd Steeb, President of Centara Hotels & Resorts, said, “This is our 14th property and we aim to grow to 25 properties within the year 2010. We signed the management agreement in July and we are very excited with this outstanding Resort. It is a completely newly built project entailing an investment of US$49 million (1.7 Billion baht) and our first outside of Thailand but with others to come.”


With millions under threat, inaction is unethical

In a world preoccupied with issues of national sovereignty, global security and human rights, it is surprising that the international community remains so ambivalent in the face of a phenomenon - climate change - that threatens to rewrite borders, cause conflicts, and violate individual fundamental rights on a scale at least comparable with the major wars of the 20th century. It is also curious that in a world order built upon concepts of international law, solidarity and justice, the international community sits idly by while the Earth's greatest natural resource - the shared global ecosphere - is being critically undermined by the actions of a few privileged countries at the expense of the underprivileged many.

Oxfam International's groundbreaking report on "Climate Wrongs and Human Rights," published Tuesday, highlights these contradictions and couches them in demands for greater climate justice. The report demonstrates how climate change is violating the rights and freedoms of millions of people around the world, especially in vulnerable countries like the Maldives that bear almost no responsibility for a problem that threatens to consume them. In so doing, the report also responds to a call made this year in a United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution, sponsored by the Maldives, for information on how human rights such as the right to food, the right to water, the right to a culture, the right to housing, the right to work, the right to self-determination and even the right to life itself, are being undermined by climate change in communities around the world.

The Maldives is in a position to realize better than most the malign power of global warming. Our beautiful island nation comprises 1,190 tiny coral islands that stretch like a string of pearls across the Indian Ocean. Yet, the beauty of the Maldives is undermined by our acute vulnerability to climate change. As well as being small, all our islands are very low-lying, meaning that sea-level rise poses an existential threat to our civilization - a civilization that has existed for at least three and a half millennia. The fact that the sea is now perceived as a slowly encroaching threat to the Maldives is a tragic paradox when one considers that throughout our history, the sea and the life that it supports has been the life-blood of the nation. Yet today, rising sea temperatures and increased salination are slowly killing our coral reefs as well as the diverse ecosystems that they support.

For the last 20 years, other leaders of small island nations and I have tried to warn the world about the threat posed by climate change. Yet today, emissions, temperatures and sea levels continue to rise at ever faster rates. Soon we will pass a point of no return, and yet this colonial-style "rush for the ecosphere" shows no sign of abating. World leaders - especially leaders of the rich industrialized nations - appear content to allow countries like the Maldives to disappear beneath the waves, while they continue to make a deeply unethical trade-off between human lives and rights on one hand, and economic growth.

I hope that Oxfam International's new report will help to move the world from this tragic status quo to quick action in order to achieve a better future based upon international and intergenerational solidarity and climate justice.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Investment in new Maldives resorts falls

The Maldives Ministry of Tourism has cited a lack of interest by potential investors for the small number of bid proposals that were submitted for two proposed new resort islands.

Bidding closed on 3 September for resorts on the two islands of Haa Alif atoll Kelaa and Laamu atoll Gadhoo, with only two firms submitting bids for Kelaa, and none submitting bids for Gadhoo.

The ministry says that financing difficulties are the reason for the lack of proposals. With the rise of construction costs, investors of existing projects are going back to their funding sources for additional monies. It was also noted that none of the 64 resort properties currently under construction will be completed on schedule.

On top of the financing issue, there has also been a decline in tourist numbers, which were down by 6.6 per cent for July of this year, as compared with July of 2007. This is the largest drop that the Maldives has experienced since the months following the tsunami of 2004.

“There has been a decrease in the number of bid proposals,” noted the executive director of the Tourism Ministry, Mohamed Waheed. “Developers are saying it is difficult to get investments in this sector…All current projects are delayed.”

In the last two tenders received by the ministry, both submissions were for the development of Kelaa, but not for Gadhoo, even though three bid packets had been purchased.

Mahmoud Shaugee, the tourism minister who resigned his post in July, commented that the “lack of investor interest… [is] associated with the economy and number of projects under way.”


Monday, September 8, 2008

Maldives election 'on 4 October'

The Maldives will hold its first multi-party presidential election on 4 October pending parliamentary approval, the election commission says.

A vote is due by 10 October. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has already said he will stand in the poll, seeking a seventh term in power.

The election follows reforms introduced after Mr Gayoom was accused of crushing pro-democracy protests in 2004.

A key opposition leader and two former ministers are also expected to stand.


"If they complete the supreme court and bill on presidential elections this week, on 4 October we will have the elections," Elections Commissioner Mohamed Ibrahim told a news conference, Reuters reports.

Last month President Gayoom ratified a new constitution bringing in key democratic changes after years of autocratic rule.

He is Asia's longest-serving leader, having held power since 1978.

Hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists are attracted to the luxury atoll resorts in the Indian Ocean archipelago every year.

Their spending power has transformed the economy, leaving average incomes well above the South Asian average.

But Mr Gayoom has been criticised over the islands' human rights record.

Last week terrorism charges were dropped against one of his longest-standing critics, Mohamed Nasheed.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) leader was accused of using a speech in July 2005 to urge the forcible removal of President Gayoom.

Mr Nasheed is among those expected to stand for president, as is former Finance Minister Gasim Ibrahim and former Attorney General Hassan Saeed.


British tourists turn their back on the Maldives

There has been a sharp decline in the number of Britons visiting the Maldives, according to the islands’ minister for tourism.

Figures from July show a drop of 18.9 per cent compared with July 2007, part of an overall fall of 6.6 per cent in tourist numbers.

This is the largest slump since the aftermath of the tsunami in 2004, which killed at least 82 people in the Maldives and flooded the capital, Male. The decline has been blamed on construction delays, rising fuel surcharges and worldwide economic woes.

The Maldives, popular with honeymooners, usually attracts 100,000 Britons per year.

Abdulla Mausoom, the Maldives minister for tourism, said he was optimistic that the downturn would not last. He added that the number of Russian and Chinese visitors had increased by 63 and 24 per cent respectively over the past year. Last week, tour operator Kuoni named the Maldives as its second most popular destination, with bookings up 20 per cent on 2007.

Several new resorts have opened in 2008, with a further 63 resorts under construction. But a plan announced in June to lease another 31 islands for development will not go ahead, according to the ministry of finance.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Alila Hotels and Resorts sets new Eco-Luxe Standards in the Maldives

Alila Hotels and Resorts is pleased to announce its first sustainable tourism resort development in the Maldives - Alila Villas Hadahaa. Slated to open in 2009, it is the first resort in the Maldives to commit to the standards of Green Globe throughout its design, construction stages. It achieved the prestigious Green Globe 'Building Planning and Design Standard' Certified Status in August 2008.

"By joining the internationally-recognized Green Globe program and committing to having both its design and operations certified, Alila Villas Hadahaa is raising the benchmark for others to follow," said Andre Russ, Head of Global Markets for Green Globe.

Green Globe is the international benchmarking and certification programme for the travel and tourism industry based on the Agenda 21 principles for Sustainable Development endorsed by 182 Heads of State at the United Nations Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Green Globe is managed by EC3 Global, a subsidiary of the Australian based research body Sustainable Tourism Co-operative Research Centre, the world's largest source of tourism research.

Alila Villas Hadahaa is set on the pristine tropical island of Hadahaa in the Gaafu Alifu Atoll, surrounded by a vast expanse of sea, stunning coral reef, abundant fish life, and stands of the native Sea Trumpet and Sea Hearse. In developing the island, Alila kept to Green Globe's rigorous 'Building Planning and Design Standard' benchmarks and its own long-standing philosophy of luxury living in natural environments, while treading lightly to preserve the essence of a destination.

Reflecting Alila's vision of integrating commerce, conservation and community, the appointed architect, Yale-trained and Singapore-based Chan Soo Khian of SCDA Architects, creatively blended architecturally innovative designs in keeping to strict environmental standards. His design and construction blueprints were guided by Alila Villas Hadahaa's environmental impact studies.

Chan's sustainable design goals were to protect the environment and be as energy efficient as possible. To achieve these objectives, Chan orientated buildings to best deal with the tropical climate and natural environment of the island. Other innovations include rainwater harvesting, waste treatment plants, high roofed areas and open ceilings, cross ventilation in all indoor spaces, deep roof overhangs and windows shading. His concept of the resort, while contemporary in nature, makes use of many natural materials, including coconut, timber and coral stones found in the region.

Notably, the resort site will have a very low building and infrastructure coverage area. Only approximately 20% of the property will be built-up. Large areas of the site are designated for biodiversity protection, where native species will be selected and reintroduced to help maintain the existing gene pool. This will result in biodiversity replenishment, something vital to the area.

The $40 million resort will feature 14 Aqua Villas and 36 Island Villas, 20 of which come with a private pool. In-resort facilities and services include the Leisure Concierge, a dive centre, a tropical island garden spa, a fully-equipped gym, a Maldivian specialty fine dining restaurant, a rooftop lounge, the Alila Living boutique and a library with a star-gazing roof. All resort villas and facilities, strongly accented with Maldivian culture, are designed to integrate into the site as carefully as possible to preserve the natural beauty of the destination.

Sustainably planned and designed from the ground up, great care is now being taken in every detail of the construction of the resort to preserve the unique Maldivian experience and to ensure that environmental footprints are kept to a minimum. A local civil, building and labor contractor who is undertaking the major construction works will source construction materials locally wherever possible. Specifically, all building works of the jetty and Aqua Villas will only be carried out only during extreme low tides to minimize silt disturbance. There will be minimal site clearance as well, and to date, several villas were re-positioned during construction to preserve existing trees.

"I applaud Alila Villas Hadahaa for their commitment to a long term sustainable future with Green Globe and we take this opportunity to congratulate all those involved for their dedication and hard work," said Stewart Moore, Chief Executive Officer of EC3 Global.

By this commitment, Alila Villas Hadahaa is taking a leading role in helping to address the issues surrounding climate change and sustainability. It takes on a social responsibility beyond the design and construction stages to progressive operations. It will continuously monitor and assess the resort's operational efficiency, ultimately achieving the Green Globe Company Standard. Alila intends to bring the Maldivian destination experience to an unparalleled level.

Alila Villas Hadahaa represents Alila's next generation of luxury villa resorts that blend the ultimate in luxury with innovative lifestyle. Designed in harmony with its environment, Alila Villas are selectively developed to grace some of the most spectacular destinations in the world. Alila Hotels and Resorts is currently developing Alila Villas in Bali, India, Vietnam, Indochina, Oman and the Gulf regions.

Alila Hotels and Resorts currently manages seven hotels and resorts in Bali, Jakarta, Laos, Thailand and the Philippines. Many of these properties, including Alila Ubud and Alila Manggis, are well-known for their contributions to environmentally sustainable tourism. Both Alila Ubud and Alila Manggis achieved the Green Globe Certified Status in May 2007 and were conferred the inaugural Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards in November 2006 for their efforts and support towards responsible tourism in Asia.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Maldives drops charges against opposition leader

The Maldivian government on Thursday said it had dropped terrorism charges against one of the top contenders in the archipelago's first-ever multi-party presidential elections, due by early next month.

The charges against Mohamed Nasheed, one of the longest-standing opposition critics of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, were criticised by rights groups as politically motivated when they were instituted more than three years ago.

"We have requested withdrawal from the courts and to drop the charges," Hussein Shameem, deputy director at the attorney general's office, said. "There doesn't seem to be enough evidence to convict for those charges."

Gayoom, Asia's longest-serving leader after 30 years in power, is up for re-election to a seventh term at the vote due before Oct. 10. Election officials have yet to give a date.

It is seen as the biggest test of his pledge to bring democratic reform to the idyllic chain of more than 1,200 islands located off the tip of India, known worldwide more for luxury beach vacations than political intrigue.

Gayoom initiated a raft of reforms after facing international criticism for a heavy-handed crackdown on 2004 protests demanding his resignation and constitutional changes.

Nasheed, a longtime Gayoom critic and then head of the leading opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), was at the centre of those.

The government jailed him in August 2005 and accused him of telling a political rally that Gayoom should be violently deposed. He had faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Nasheed, who was released in September 2006, has always denied the charges and remained defiant.

"There was never anything to the charge. There is never anything to it. It was always understood to be politically motivated as with 26 other charges brought against me over the past 30 years," Nasheed told Reuters.

Nasheed's MDP is the largest opposition party, but the second-largest in parliament after several defections to the new Republican Party led by former finance minister Gasim Ibrahim.

Ibrahim, Nasheed, Gayoom and former attorney general Hassan Saeed and are tipped as the top contenders among eight in the race to lead the nation of 300,000 mostly Sunni Muslims. (Writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Bill Tarrant))

Source:By Olivia Lang (Reuters)

Ishmeet's family leaves for Maldives

The bereaved family members of Ishmeet Singh, winner of Voice of India reality show, are alleging foul play in their son's death. His father Gurpinder Singh and uncle Charan Kamal Singh, a pathologist, are leaving on Wednesday to the Maldives to conduct a personal investigation.

Ishmeet, 19, died mysteriously in a swimming pool at a beach resort in Maldives July 29. He was there for an event.

Kamal Singh revealed that ADK hospital in Maldives where Ishmeet was taken from the resort said in its report that "drowning seems to be a secondary cause of death" in Ishmeet's case.

"If drowning was supposedly a secondary cause, then we would like to know the primary cause of his death," said Kamal Singh.

The late singer's family has been urging the central and the Punjab governments to order a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into his death. They are now heading to the Maldives on their own Wednesday to find the facts.

His family says the post-mortem and forensic laboratory reports state the reason of his death was drowning, but his body had severe injury marks on the forehead and temple.

"We want a proper enquiry from CBI. We are not against anyone nor are we pinpointing someone. Our visit to Maldives is in the knowledge of the Punjab chief minister, the prime minister and the Maldives government. We just want to know the reason for the injuries on Ishmeet's head," said Gurpinder Singh.

"If the investigation results are able to convince us about the injury, we will quit the matter then and there but till then we are not sitting quietly," added a bleary-eyed Gurpinder Singh.

Explaining the severity of injuries suffered by Ishmeet, Kamal Singh said: "The injuries on his head are being downplayed. Ishmeet suffered a hematoma that is a blood-filled cavity on the temple and a linear cut on the forehead. We are ready to believe that he died due to drowning as per the lab reports, but we just want to know the reason behind the injuries."

Kamal Singh also informed that Ishmeet suffered a blood flow out of his nose and mouth during drowning, which is not normal in drowning cases.

"When I contacted the pathologist, who conducted the post mortem in Ludhiana to find out about the same, we were told that the air sacs in his lungs burst so there was a blood flow out of the two possible outlets - nose and mouth.

"According to medical science, when a person drowns, his alveoi (air sacs or cavities) in the lungs get filled with water and expand and burst but do not allow any outlet for blood from either the nose or the mouth as the person dies of suffocation," he explained.


Maldives resort debuts “Underwater Nature Trail”

Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa, Maldives, opening in the fourth quarter of 2008 in the Addu Atoll, will feature the first “Underwater Nature Trail” in the Maldives, as well as a snorkelling garden “seascaped” with transplanted corals. As part of the resort’s marine initiatives, guests will also be invited to help track some of the archipelago’s largest manta rays found in the Addu Atoll waters.

The Underwater Nature Trail, designed by the resort’s marine specialist, will lead out to the resort’s house reef on the northern end of Villingili Island. Submerged signage will identify resident marine life along the way, including branching corals, sea anemones, Maldives anemonefish, clams, moray eels and the colourful juvenile Oriental Sweetlips. The marine specialist has also created snorkel gardens close to the southwest shoreline of the resort. In addition to offering a marine adventure for less experienced swimmers, the shallow-water snorkel gardens will provide a nursery for corals and reef fish.

Experienced divers will be invited to participate in the tracking of manta rays. Addu Atoll is one of the few places in the Maldives where giant manta rays with wingspans of more than five metres can be found year-round. Divers will be encouraged to photograph manta rays and contribute to the photo database that will be shared with other such centres around the world to help monitor the movement and population of these sea creatures. The resort will also set up a programme to educate and encourage guests to sponsor the satellite tagging of sea turtles and support organisations working on conservation on a larger scale.

This will be the first resort in the Maldives to offer nature trails – both above and below water. With lush vegetation providing the backdrop for trails through the coconut trees and ancient Banyan trees on the three-kilometre-long island, guests will be able to enjoy all the natural wonders of Villingili Island, on land and sea.

Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa, Maldives is the first luxury resort in Addu Atoll. The resort, which is currently under development, will feature 142 villas with views of the ocean or the island’s natural lush vegetation. The Maldives’ second international airport, Gan International Airport, is an eight-minute boat ride away from the resort and Male International Airport is 70 minutes by air.


Two companies approach Maldives for oil exploration

Two companies have approached the Maldives government about the possibility of prospecting for oil on the Indian Ocean archipelago, where the last survey in 1992 came up dry, the government said.

"We have had proposals from two parties. It's at an early stage," Deputy Trade Minister Abdulla Salih told Reuters. "It is going slowly at the moment because of a lot of changes at election time."

He declined to name the companies.

The archipelago, ruled for the last 30 years by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, is due to hold its first multi-party presidential elections by Oct. 10.

The Maldives is a chain of 1,200 mostly uninhabited atolls 800 km (500 miles) off the southern tip of India, known for luxury beach vacations and its environmental consciousness in developing the tourism that sustains its $1.05 billion economy.

Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) was the last to explore the Maldives, but found no trace of hydrocarbons after surveys and drilling an exploratory well to 900 metres (3,000 feet).

Ahmed Naseem, who headed the Shell survey on behalf of the Maldivian government, said companies had carried out exploration because the islands were formed in the same volcanic activity that created India's Bombay High offshore oilfield.

"It was a huge investment. They would not have left unless they were sure the structure did not allow for oil. But that may not apply throughout the Maldives," Naseem said.

Exploration in the country dates from the early 1970s, when several two-dimensional seismic surveys were carried out in the lagoons of the country's 22 coral atolls and the country's Inner Sea and four exploratory wells were drilled.

The prospect of oil exploration on the islands may strike some as jarring, since Gayoom has been one of the most vocal leaders speaking out against global warming.

His nation is seen as among the most under threat from rising sea levels with three-quarters of its islands standing no more than 1.3 metres sea level.

A U.N. climate change panel predicts seas will rise 59 cm (2 feet) by 2100, which means many of the Maldives' islands would be uninhabitable.

Gayoom, Asia's longest-serving leader, told Reuters in April that he wanted steeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, but not from the polluting international flights upon which the Maldives' tourism industry relies. (Writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Jason Neely)

Source: By Judith Evans (Reuters)