Maldives kicks off campaign to attract record tourists

Maldives kicked off a special campaign Wednesday to attract a record number of visitors amid slowing growth in tourist arrivals and occupancy of its upmarket resorts. The Visit Maldives Festival 2016 was inaugurated by President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

After the inauguration ceremony at the Dharubaaruge convention centre in capital Male Wednesday evening, a special music festival kicked off at the Alimas Carnival area. The two-day music festival will feature popular Pakistani singer Atif Aslam along with local singing sensations.

The campaign, to be carried out by the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), includes special activities both locally and abroad, including an underwater festival and an international surfing tournament.

Speaking at the ceremony, tourism minister Moosa Zameer said the government would carry out many initiatives next year to boost the island nation’s tourism industry. That, according to him, includes the construction of a new runway at the main airport and development of new domestic airports across the archipelago.

The minister also lashed out at those involved in campaigns aimed at boycotting the Maldives tourism, saying that tourism is the main source of revenue to the country. Any effort that hinders tourism would be a great loss to the nation, he said.

The tourism minister’s comments on boycott calls come a few weeks after President Yameen returned to the parliament for reconsideration a bill that sought to declare calling for sanctions against Maldives and boycott of the island nation's tourism as offences.

The government-controlled parliament adopted the bill on November 25.

Prior to its adoption by the parliament, the parliamentary economic committee passed amendments to the bill in a bid to change calling for sanctions against Maldives and boycott of the island nation's tourism from a criminal offence to one that carries a civil charge.

The amendment does not impose a cap on the compensation for calls for sanctions against the Maldives and boycott of the tourism. Under the amendment, the court can impose any amount as fine for such offences.

The bill submitted by Villufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed, from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), deals with direct statements made both in the Maldives and abroad calling for sanctions against the Maldives and boycott of its tourism, or any comment and action that encourages such action. The bill classifies endorsements and statements backing such threats as having had participated in the offence as well.

According to the bill, making any statement both locally and internationally that may create fear among potential visitors to the Maldives is also a crime.

The Maldives, an island nation with virtually no natural resources, depends heavily on its world-famous upmarket tourism for much its revenue. The industry also employs a sizeable majority of its workforce.

The original iteration of the bill allowed all those affected by such threats to seek legal action against the perpetrators. It stated that if convicted, the person would be sentenced to prison or house arrest for 2-10 years or would face a fine of MVR500,000 to MVR5 million depending on his role.

Those found guilty under the law would also have their business permits revoked. Any allowance or benefit offered by the state to a person convicted under the law would be stopped as well.

The proposal to criminalise calling for sanctions against the Maldives boycott of its tourism was submitted amid mounting international pressure on the government over the imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed.

The former president’s lawyers have stepped up their efforts to impose targeted sanctions against the Maldives and its leadership, following a UN panel ruling late September declaring his imprisonment as arbitrary.

Nasheed’s the legal team had refused to rule out pushing for a travel boycott.

The Maldives, meanwhile, posted a record 1.2 million tourists last year and is on course to welcome 1.5 million visitors this year.

However, the growth rate of tourism has seen a sharp drop recently with weaker than expected tourist arrivals and a significant fall in the occupancy of tourist resorts.

Statistics released by the government earlier this month showed that the occupancy of resorts dropped by 6.4 percent last month, whereas the rate for guesthouses had increased by 11.6 percent.

These rates were also an increase from the statistics released by the ministry earlier for September, which had shown that the occupancy of resorts had decreased by 3.5 percent for that month, while guesthouse occupancy had increased by 7.2 percent.

Statistics also showed that the number of tourists to the Maldives last month amounted to 90,218, which was an increase of 0.5 percent from last year.


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