As the Minister of Tourism pointed out, last year has been challenging for us all. Tourism or travel trade dipped with the recession. That happened at a moment in time when our country was going through a very substantial transition that we have never seen before.
During the past year of or rather during late 2008, we had our first multi party elections and we also were able to have a smooth transfer of power. During this period, while we were moving away from authoritarian rule to become a free country – a democratic country – we were suddenly facing with the challenges of the recession.
That certainly wasn’t easy for the new government. But thanks to you all, we have been able to hold on; we have been able to move on. By the last quarter of 2009, Maldives tourism was able to bounce back again – arrivals started getting better – we now are, I hope on the road to recovery.
Tourism dipped, I am told, by some 4 percent. But during the early 2009, it was looking very bad. We were facing with serious challenges, the country; the people wanting to have the dividends of democracy. They wanted the new government to lay their sewerages, lay their revetments and embankments, water breakers, water systems, schools, hospitals. But we were, at that instant, faced with all sorts of financial difficulties.
No country since 1950s has turned to democracy with such bad economic outlook. So therefore, the challenges that we faced last year was indeed very bad. But now, I stand here today, very happy to see you all here in Berlin. We hope that the coming year would bring us better results and better trade.
Maldives tourism always bounces back fairly easily and quickly. We are fortunate to have a very resilient industry. This, I am sure, is mostly because of the good work – thoughtful work – done by everyone here.
It has nothing to do with government at all. Maldives tourism has been able to flourish mainly because this was the only concern in the Maldives, the only industry in the Maldives where the government has stayed away from being engaged in the actual business of the trade.
If you look at Maldives economy, fisheries are heavily dominated by the government. Therefore, that industry has so many imbalances and it is always unable to bounce back after recessions and after fall in demands.
We want the government to be out of the business of business. We believe that it is not the business of government to be in business. The government should only regulate, the government should only show direction and nothing more than that. We will adhere to these principles. We came to government saying that we will move away from entrepreneurship. Having seen what is available in our country, there is actually no reason why the government should be at all in business.
So, I will assure you again, that this government has no interest in any part of being engaged or being in the tourism industry or the tourism business.
I want to assure you all that your investments in the Maldives now would be much more safer than it has ever been before.
We have a vibrant democracy that is going through, its of course tiny problems. But we have been able to come up with political parties. We have been able to have free and fair elections. We have also been able to have free and fair parliamentary elections as well as presidential elections. Powers are now separated – the judiciary is independent.
I believe that it is much more corruption free than it was ever before. If there is anything that this government will not tolerate, it is corruption. None of you would have to offer anything to any government service to get things done in the Maldives. The rules are clear, the guidelines are pristine clear, and I believe that we can have a very successful partnership. We do consider you as our development partners as much as we consider the United Nations or the World Health Organization or any other such multi-national organization.
You are very welcome to the Maldives and we value your support and your investments in our country.
I will tell you when you should clap.
During the last year, even in the lapse of the recession, intelligent people, intelligent entrepreneurs, have found that last year was the most attractive time for refurbishment and for new investments.
During the course of last year a number of new international chains have come up. I have opened a new Hilton property in the Maldives – in fact two; one last year and another this year.
We’ve also opened a Tata, Indian company property last year. We’ve also come up with a new Shangri-La in the south of the Maldives. We are now in the process of opening a number of new resorts in the Maldives.
One of the most new resorts that were opened early this year was the most famous Robinson group in the Huvadhu Atoll. That is a German group. A German hotel chain that is more akin to club tourism.
We believe that these diverse products or diverse tourism ideas can flourish in the Maldives.
We will bring the necessary structural changes to regulations. As a government we will be very willing to listen to you all as we move along and as we improve our industry and as we go along with the development efforts of our country.
As we are here today in Germany, I am extremely thankful for the German government for the support that it has rendered us not only during my visit now, but also when we actually needed support in Copenhagen. The German Chancellor was one of the very few heads of state who was bold enough to support small islands during the very difficult negotiations and the very small hours in Copenhagen, last year. So again, I thank the chancellor from the bottom of my heart.
I am sure climate change is an important issue for all of us, especially for tourism. For us to keep the beauty of the Maldives, for us to keep the reefs intact, the beaches intact, we need to keep the earth intact.
For us to be doing that we have to be bold enough to understand that climate science is real. There is nothing false and nothing untrue or cloudy about what is available in science. It would be extremely unsafe, stupid for us not to believe in science.
We have to take care of our islands. We have to take care of our reefs. We have to take care of our beaches. We have to take care of our oceans and trees.
For us to be able to do that we need international support, we need international collaboration. I believe that later, or rather, in May there will be a further meeting here in Germany, in Bonn, and then later on, at the end of the year in Mexico.
I hope that the international community can come up with a new deal, with a new understanding that would save our planet. I, of course do not want to be standing here lecturing you tonight. We have good food; I hope that we can have a good night tonight.
Please keep coming to the Maldives as you have been during the past so many years – during the past forty years, and you can continue coming to the Maldives.
Thank you very much.