Based on utilizing these resources 40 years later, we are fortunate to be the most effluent society in Sothern Asia. Maldives women development index, the Maldives literacy rate, the Maldives nutrition levels, the Maldives gross National product the Maldives GND and everything to measure the strength of your society has increased, And that only by using, mainly by using tourism as the main trade.
While we do this, what we have one thing we have always come to find is that, from time to time the world trade or world tourism trade goes into recession in line with other economic recessions. When that happens we are fortunate to have an industry that is able to bounce back fairly quickly to normal levels. In a sense our trade and industry is very resilient to international shops.
Now why is this? That is mainly because government, in my mind, this is mainly because government has kept away from this industry. There is no government ownership of tourist resorts or tourism production or any thing to do with the hotels. Of course the government is there to build infrastructure, to set guidelines, to set standards and to provide and make sure that the best quality is dispensed to the public. But because it is in the hands of private sector, they are able to restructure and adjust and then very quickly bounce back to normal operations.
We have gone thought black Mondays, Gulf wars, tsunamis and recessions. But we have always been able to bounce back rather well, thanks to the private sector involvement and less government involvement in the ownership of this industry. So our lesson means that we want to have a stable strong industry that government better keep away from.
Tourist arrivals last year fell by 4%, but early last year we thought this might actually go into free fall and it might fall by something like 15 to 20%. We were fortunate that this did not happen and it stopped at the end of the year, during the last quarter arrivals picked up and we were home with just 4% decline compared to 2008.
I predict that we would fully recover by the end of this year. Already our arrivals are up and demand is good. Many of our resorts are completely and fully booked up for months in advance. This, we believe, demonstrates the strength of the tourism market and that industry in our country.
Demonstrating this strength last year, I was fortunate to be party to opening 3 new international chains in the Maldives. The Hilton Hotels and Shangri-La and also the German group, Robinson opened up in the Maldives this year. These international chains come to the Maldives because they know it is a resilient trade and industry in the Maldives.
We are also in the process of opening up new markets elsewhere in the country and in the process we would want to expand the industry, but always being mindful that nature has its limits.
What we are selling is nature and therefore, climate change becomes a very, very serious issue for the people of the Maldives. We believe that it’s not just a Maldives issue. If you cannot defend the Maldives today, you will not be able to defend yourself tomorrow. What is happening to the Maldives today will happen to the rest of the world tomorrow.
Climate change is a real threat. It is not someone’s imagination. It is not full of lies, but it is based on solid scientific proof.
Recently, soon after the Copenhagen summit, the momentum in climate change has been, I would say, coming down. We have been losing the momentum, mainly because doubters have been able to come up with arguments to cloud the scientific basis of the vision.
The leaked emails, the issues in IPCCC reports, they have no substance what so ever. If you look at the e-mails you will see that it does not make any material difference. If you look at the thousand page IPCCC report, you would understand that just one mistake in it does not necessarily mean that other 999 pages of it are full of lies.
There is vested interest organizing it self to cloud the issue. I have not seen any newspaper or media channels who have actually asked for question – why are the e-mails making grounds? Who hacked it? Where it was first placed? Who then retrieved it? And though which mechanism, through what network are we seeing them on our daily newspapers? Does it have any scientific substance? No, it doesn’t. But everyday we are losing the battle because the doubters are organized, and they have been able to cloud the scientific strength and the evidence of it.
I will call upon everyone to come out against it, show what is real and what has been proven by science. The science is very sorted. Climate is changing – the rains are not coming at the times they used to, the winds are different, the ocean currents are different, the sunshine is different, the fish is swimming at wrong depths. Everything is changing, if you ask any local Maldivian fisherman, any local Maldivian, you will see that these issues are real and it is changing.
To think or to believe that business can go as usual, in my mind, would be the height of ignorance and we cannot choose to live in the age of stupid. We all know that when Galileo Galilei said that the sun was in the centre of the universe, the Pope wanted to do away with him saying that heaven was in the centre of the universe. We are no longer in the middle age or the dark ages. We cannot be choosing, again I would say, to live in the age of stupid.
Maldives as a tourism destination will have to be protected and we will protect it. Actually, protecting it as a destination is rather is easy, than protecting it as a country. Already, much of tourism infrastructure is built on oceans, it’s not on land. More that 30% of all Bungalows, rooms in the Maldives are, all water rooms, they are not on land. So loosing land for a tourist destination is not such an issue, because it is already build over the water. But the beauty of the Maldives is not just the sea but the garden beneath it – the reef systems, its eco system, the fish, all the life that is building, that is working all its way up through the ecosystem.
We have to be able to protect that. We have to be able to protect ourselves and for us to protect ourselves, we have to be able to protect our ecosystem, the food chain. So for us, protecting Maldives is not just a job that we are trying to do for ourselves, but it is also with the belief that, if we cannot find ways and means to protect the Maldives now, we will not be able to protect the rest of the world tomorrow.
Climate change has also thrown in very many opportunities. Most importantly the Maldives has chosen to go carbon neutral and we believe that this is quiet feasible – financially and economically sound and feasible.
Resorts produce all their energy by diesel or though burning fossil fuels and resorts are now willing to switch their energy source to renewable. Already some resorts have become carbon neutral through solar, through wind and through wave.
The country has a solid program of becoming carbon neutral in the next 10 years. When I say this, always there is the allegation, the accusation that this cannot be squared, it doesn’t add up, air travel emits more carbon than any other industry. Which is true, but we will become carbon neutral first and then in our mind and in our understanding, the best form of adaptation, the best measure for adaptation is actually development. For us to develop, we need our thriving tourism industry. So therefore, what would be kept for us to do would be, offset our air travel and also intensify our efforts to find alternative sources of energy.
I was told last night, that it would take 24 hours to visit the Maldives in a balloon. Right now it is taking 9 hour; it’s not so bad actually. I believe in the human ingenuity, human capacity to change and to find ways to survive. We have seen glimpses of it, we are seeing more investments in research and development in renewable energy than any other industry or any other concern at all. But it’s bound to produce results, that is bound to give us good results that through which we would be able to become truly and truly carbon neutral.
In my mind this is not going to take that long. Tourism is an industry where the tourists are very conscious of the quality and the beauty. After all what we are selling is the beauty – the sand and the sea and the sun. So it would become an intricate part of any tourism development plan on saving the environment. The Maldives has so far been able to save our reefs, not only because of tourism but because traditionally, historically and even now, the reefs are first line of defence. The reefs has protected us from pirates, the reefs had protected us from waves the reefs has also protected our shores. Resorts are now in the process of trying to find or experimenting with coral growth. May institutions and many concerns in the Maldives have started growing corals. It is now we believe, quite possible to plant a reef and see it grow in a very short period of time. So we welcome these changes and we get strength from these innovative ideas that we will be able to endure and that we will be able to change.
You would also have known that Maldives is a Muslim country, and a very rare Muslim country, where we have been able to have, build up, galvanize the public for political activism. We have been able to build political parties. We have been able to have free and fair elections. We have been able to have a smooth transfer of power. We have a new Constitution that separate powers, the judiciary is independent. And therefore, the industry is that much more capable.
The Maldives is no longer the pressure cooker it used to be. It has found ways of evolving itself to become what is wants to be, and in that process we have been able to establish our democratic frameworks. Of course, we need to strengthen and consolidate democracy.
Investments are safe in the Maldives. Money is safe in the Maldives and the returns are good in the Maldives. Many investors who had invested in the Maldives will agree to this. Many came to the Maldives with few thousand dollars back in the 70’s and now we see them as huge hotel chains and big travel operators. They have all, a fare amount of them, made there money from the Maldives.
In my mind, and I think you will agree, the whole concept of resorts or the idea of one-island-one resort and one-island-one hotel, and the desert island idea to be extended to be a holiday, was I must say developed by the concepts of Maldivian tourism. We will continue to protect that brand of tourism and we are also mindful that we have to bring few changes to the structure of the market.
The government through its very high land lease rent has kept resorts or has kept bed rates very high. The government has now has brought changes to the taxation system and therefore, we believe that midmarket would soon develop. The fears of a midmarket are that it takes a little bit more time to bounce back from a recession than the very top niche market. But then an entry to a midmarket is also far easier than a top very high market, the level of investments required are lower than what is recently required in the Maldives.
We will asses these issues, we will listen to the industry, we will listen to the guest and we will listen to the others, and we will continue to keep the Maldives as it is for everyone to visit and everyone to get there pleasures from it.
Before I finish, I would like to thank the ITB fair operators, the German government and everyone who has helped us in having a very wonderful three days here in Germany.
Thank you very much.