The Maldives are a collection of islands on the Indian Ocean, spread over 90,000km² and located South West of India. Around about 88 of these islands are resort islands and tourists come from all around the world to explore the beautiful waters around these islands around which most of their activities are largely based. Tourism began in the Maldives in 1972. A United Nations mission on development which visited the Maldives Islands in the 1960s did not recommend tourism, claiming that the islands were not suitable. Ever since the launch of the first resort in Maldives in 1972, however, tourism in Maldives has flourished. Nowadays there are over 90,000 tourists that visit the islands each year, this is can be through nature based tourism, economic reasons or for special occasions such as weddings and honeymoons.
What is sustainable tourism?
Tourism is a major economic driver in many small islands. However, the economic and environmental aspects of tourism need to be balanced (Henderson, 2001) to guarantee long-term benefits to communities (UNWTO, 2004).
The Maldives and Sustainable Tourism
A combination of a tropical climate, beauty, isolation and strategic marketing have contributed to the growth of the tourism sector such that it now dominates the economy, providing more jobs and far more foreign exchange than its closest rival, ﬁsheries. Tourism is projected to contribute almost 30% of the Maldive’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011, while ﬁsheries will contribute only 3% (Maldives Monetary Authority, 2010). The growth in tourist arrivals has paralleled the rapid development of new facilities and has remained strong over a long period of time. From just 42 000 tourists in 1980, numbers grew close to 800 000 in 2010.
The archipelago of the Maldives is the main source of attraction to many tourists visiting the country worldwide. Ninety-nine percent of the Maldives is made up of sea with the people of the islands widely dispersed across the atolls, with about 200 inhabited islands. About 90 of these islands are developed as tourist resorts and the rest are uninhabited or used for agriculture and other livelihood purposes.
The Maldives is heavily reliant on international tourism revenue. The industry brings in around 70% of foreign exchange earnings and provides half of all paid employment through a wide range of occupations including construction, transport, handicraft manufacture and sales, and employment in resorts (Abdulsamad, 2004).
In order to protect the human environment and avoid ‘cultural pollution’, resort islands are separate from islands inhabited by Maldivian people and should not be visible from inhabited islands, and tourists may only visit inhabited islands during daylight and under prescribed circumstances (Domroes, 2001).
The government has established a new marker for ecotourism in the Maldives, the ‘President of Maldives Green Resort Award’, which is designed to recognise the importance of environmental protection to ensure the sustainability of the Maldives. The award was developed to encourage local resorts to adopt green and sustainable policies in their operations and development, and is a distinct motivational measure to continue to challenge tourist entities to be responsible and engage in ecotourism.
Tourism groups are also helping to sustain the environment by trying to promote eco-tourism on the islands of the Maldives. The coral reefs are a big part of what the tourism companies want to protect because it is one of the biggest attractions of the Maldives. For example, Naturetrek Wildlife Holidays only takes a maximum of 16 people on a small chartered ship and is led by a marine biologist and naturalist. They only focus on whale watching and wildlife and by having smaller tour groups it can greatly minimise their impact on the environment and on the coral reefs. This company also helps make positive...