Good afternoon. And thank you.
I was given a speech to read. But I hope you don’t mind if I speak.
We come from Paradise. We want to remain in Paradise.
We had a dictatorship that was there for a very long time. Not many Muslim countries have been able to do this, but we have been able to come up with a home grown democratic movement. We have been able to have multi-party elections. We have been able to have a smooth transfer of power.
We think that if democracy can be consolidated and can be sustained in the Maldives, it can happen in Egypt, it can happen in Saudi Arabia, it can happen anywhere in the middle-east or any Islamic country.
We have similar ingredients in the Maldives; we have radical Islam, we have more conservative Islamic political parties and we have more secular outlook like ourselves. But we feel that to manage radicalism and Islamic fundamentalism. There is no other process other than democracy. You cannot bomb people out from Islamic fundamentalism. But you can have a democratic process and then, you can manage it.
We think that Maldives is an example, in this sense. We understand that it is very small, but it’s an experiment.
Please believe me; democracy is very important for the good life, for your holidays. You won’t have a good holiday if there is trouble in Paradise. There won’t be trouble as long as democracy is sustainable, as long as we can consolidate democracy. So, it’s very important for us to ask our Italian friends; we have so many Italians who have travelled to the Maldives. It is very important for us to ask them to be observant and vigilant about democracy and governance in the Maldives.
When we think about tourism in the Maldives, we are again indebted to the Italian people, because tourism in the Maldives is very much Italian imagination. The first tourist in the modern sense was an Italian gentleman, a couple, rather, students. The whole concept, the whole process of the resort, the whole concept of what you see in the Maldives in fact came from the Maldives and it came through a lot of Italian imaginations. They started it.
In the 1970 the United Nations did a report on tourism in the Maldives, and they decided that it’s useless, you can’t do it and it’s quite pointless to go on about it. But I can still see in the fair here, the first people who came and had their holidays and since then it has been growing.
During the last ten years, or rather 6 – 7 years, we have seen a small decline in Italian arrivals. I’m not an expert in this, but Italian arrivals have come down by about 11 percent. This is probably because Maldives has become very expensive and very exclusive. This is not the concept or the plan this government would want to have. We want to make the Maldives available for every Italian. Not just some Italians, but all of them to be able to come to the Maldives.
So the government would assist tour operators and resort owners with tax breaks and concessions so that they can go back to their three star, four star hotels that they used to have in the 70s and 80s and in the early 90 as well.
We would also like to point out that there are a lot of environmental changes that is going on through the world - Climate change and global warming. For us to understand the scientific process, coral is very important, so I’m told. We don’t know much about corals. We don’t know how it grows. We don’t know the species. We don’t know the biodiversity of it. We don’t know a lot of things about corals.
For the last 10 years, every year, an Italian scientific expedition has come to the Maldives and studied coral. Now, with Biccoca we are able to permanently establish a research centre to study coral diversity and the species.
We are also very pleased to have Dr Mancini from Rome with us. We have had a number of exchanges, discussions with the local government in Lazio. We are very grateful for the local government in Rome. I also met the Italian Trade Minister who has very kindly agreed us to introduce us to more Italian companies. You must understand that presently we have more than 1 billion dollars of Italian investments in tourism in the Maldives. They have been paid back handsomely. The return on investment is good. We also want to safeguard and protect their investments. In this regard, we have requested Italian legal firms to be established in the Maldives. We also want Italian companies to diversify their investment portfolios from tourism to other areas lie utilities, water, energy, transport, health and education.
Before I finish, I want to stress that if you consolidate and sustain democracy in the Maldives, please come there. We are not asking for aid, we are asking for trade. So we are requesting Italians to visit the Maldives. I understand that these are hard times but doom and gloom won’t do you any good. Please come on holiday again. Tell your people to just make the effort and come on this holiday. This summer is very important for us.
I just met your beautiful Tourism Minister and she said she would also like to assist in trying to attract more Italians to the Maldives.
Please come to the Maldives. You have to do that – you have to get the Italian people to come to the Maldives. We need Italians in the Maldives. They have already been there for so long and so many people have come and please keep coming.