Maldives Tourism Rebounces After Tsunami

Last update: 26/12/2018

By Rohani Mohd Ibrahim

MALE (Bernama) -- The scenic tropical island of Maafushi in the Maldives was a busy tourism hub before it was badly affected by the killer Indian Ocean tsunami that struck on Dec 26, 2018.

Now, 14 years later, this island paradise has rebuilt its tourism infrastructure and has started attracting tourists again.

The Maldives, an archipelago of more than 1,200 coral islands amidst 26 atolls that are known for their white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, begun developing its tourism industry during the 1970s.

However, post the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which claimed 83 lives and left 12,000 people homeless in the Maldives, its tourism industry recorded extreme drops in tourist arrivals as most of the infrastructure, including resorts, were badly damaged.

TOURISM PICKS UP

Located south of the island's capital Male, Maafushi island – measuring 1, 270 metres by 265 metres and with a population of 2,700 – received funding from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent for its post-tsunami recovery activities.

The island was also the first in the Maldives to secure investment for the development of tourism accommodation after the tsunami.

The first proper guest house in Maafushi opened in January 2010. Now the island boasts more than 60 guest houses of different categories.

It has been reported that the Maldives' tourism industry has been picking up since 2011 with 931,333 tourist arrivals that year. In 2012, tourist arrivals numbered 958,027; 2013, 1.1 million; and 2014, 1.2 million.

In 2015, 1.23 million tourists visited the island nation; 2016, 1.28 million; and 2017, 1.3 million. Tourist arrivals this year are projected at 1.5 million.

Most of the tourists to the Maldives are from China, Germany and the United Kingdom, followed by Italy, India, Russia, France, Japan, the United States and South Korea.

Today, 14 years after the tragic tsunami, the Maldives' tourism industry has indeed bounced back.

FEW CARS

This writer headed to Maafushi island during her vacation in the Maldives earlier this month to find out for herself how well the island has recovered from the devastating tsunami and whether it was as beautiful as it looked in glossy photographs.

From Male, it is a 45-minute ride by speedboat to the jetty at Maafushi. Setting foot in the island, one would never imagine that it was badly hit by the tsunami until you read about it on the information board located between the jetty and the Maafushi prison.

The island is so small that from the jetty, one can just walk to one's guest house – as the hotels in Maafushi are known as – or even all over the island to get a glimpse into the local life.

There are only sandy roads in Maafushi and the most popular mode of transportation among the locals are motorcycles or bicycles. Most of the tourists just walk from one place to another. There are very few cars on the island, I noted.

SUNSET FISHING

After checking into my guest house and relaxing for a while, I went out for sunset fishing. It was my first fishing experience but I ended up enjoying the view of the sunset more than the fishing.

There were about 20 people, including the crew, on the boat at that time and we were provided with long fishing lines in a coil. For those of us who were not really into fishing, the crew tried their best to get us to experience the activity.

The next morning, I strolled down the beach to enjoy the morning breeze and get some early morning sun.

Suddenly I heard water splashing and looking at the direction where the sound came from, to my delight, I saw several baby sharks swimming near the shore.

Snorkelling is a must when one is in the Maldives as the countless reefs in the atolls house a diverse variety of marine life. Among the top snorkelling spots are Banana Reef and Maavelathu where fish of all colours and sizes swim.

During a snorkelling trip, tourists are also taken to a sandbank for lunch. After lunch, the boat will take the visitors on a cruise before stopping at a certain spot to watch dolphins jumping up and down and moving about in groups.

The most exciting snorkelling point in the Maldives is probably Turtle Reef, where snorkellers get to see turtles and take photographs with the creatures swimming in their natural habitat.

DAY VISIT TO PRIVATE RESORT

Tourists staying in Maafushi can also opt to make a day visit to a luxurious resort or club located on an idyllic island at US$100 (about RM417) per head.

I chose to make a day trip to Adaaran Club Rannalhi, an upscale island resort located in the South Male Atoll area. Spread over the entire island, the resort has its own tropical garden and water bungalows – a one-night stay here can set you back US$500 (about RM2,086).

Some of the resort's well-heeled guests can be seen engaging the services of professional photographers to take photos of them with the picturesque water bungalows in the background.

What the day visitors usually do is relax on the sunbed or hammock by the beach whilst reading a book or gazing at the blissfully beautiful surroundings.


Edited by Rema Nambiar


-- BERNAMA