The white sandy beaches, the crystalline waters, and the waving palms, under clear blue skies makes Maldives the ideal tourist destination for the modern holidaymaker. Tourism was introduced to the Maldives in the early Seventies. The first two resort islands had a capacity of 280 beds. The first tourists arrived mostly as individuals or small groups. Very soon, however, Maldives began to be recognized as an international tourist destination.
The first tourist resort, Kurumba Village, (a five star hotel today), was pioneered by two Maldive entrepreneurs, in association with an Italian investor, in 1972. A second resort was opened the same year on the island of Bandos. Despite the basic facilities and services, 1,096 tourist arrivals were recorded that year.
At the beginning, the country’s tourism and its development was for the most part dependant on private initiative. In 1979, the tourism law was enacted, requiring all foreign investments to be registered at the Department of Tourism and Foreign Investment. A tourism master plan was formulated in 1983, setting up guidelines for the overall development of tourism, and identifying tourism zones in different parts of the country. In 1984, the tourism advisory board was created. The department of tourism was upgraded to a ministry in 1988.
The opening of Male International Airport in 1981 was an important milestone in the travel business. At the early stages, tourism in the Maldives was a seasonal industry. As the country opened up further, this seasonal nature of tourism changed. Today, almost three decades on, tourist arrivals are recorded throughout the year.
In 1987, a school of hotel and catering was established to meet the manpower requirements of the burgeoning industry. Both government and private sector provide overseas training to those employed in the industry.
The private sector and the government are actively involved in the promotion and marketing of the tourism product. Maldives is represented in all major international travel fairs by both the government and the private operators. The tourist information counter at the Male’ International Airport hands out leaflets and other information about the country. The Tourist Information Unit was formed in 1989, to further disseminate information.
The development of tourism has fostered the overall growth of the country’s economy. It has created direct and indirect employment and income generation opportunities in other related industries. Today, tourism is the country’s biggest foreign exchange earner, contributing to 20% percent of the GDP. With 86 tourist resorts in operation, the year 2000 recorded 467,154 tourist arrivals.