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Maldives eyes expansion of tourism sector

BERLIN (eTN) - The Maldivian government has announced plans to build five new airports as part of an expansion of tourism to remote islands in the Indian Ocean। Speaking at world travel fair ITB Berlin, Tourism Minister Mahamood Sougee said 2006 had been a very good year for the Maldives and 2007 would be a further landmark year.“We want the benefits of tourism to go to all Maldivian people, particularly women and they need easy access to their home islands. We have put out tenders for five new domestic airports to supplement the two main international hubs, the capital Male and a new international airport to be opened later this year on the island of Gan in the south of the country.“Confidence in the Maldives is very strong and people are ready to invest. 35 new resort islands are being developed and each of the new airports will have a resort associated with it. This will make it easier to travel to all resorts. Along with this, we a developing a transport grid for the whole country, bringing resorts closer to the people, creating jobs and encouraging interaction between tourists and Maldivian people.Minister Sougee said the expansion of tourism services was part of a new five-year master-plan, due to be unveiled in full later this year. He said the Maldives had recovered well from the effects of the Indian Ocean tsunami and resorts attracted over 600,000 visitors last year, a better result than expected. Even outside the main seasons, resorts were experiencing over 90 percent occupancy which indicated that there was potential for expansion.Maldives’ main source markets are Italy, Great Britain, Japan and Russia, with an increasing amount of interest from China. “Maldives was built originally for Europeans and we are celebrating 35 years of tourism” the tourism minister said. “We are proud of our homeland and have 800 uninhabited islands still. We do not intend to develop them all, of course. Development must be sustainable. All our resorts are green, environmentally friendly, and we offer a wide range of products including water sports, diving, cruising and live-aboard yachts. We are seeing an increasing interest from the MICE market, for meetings and conferences to be held in Maldives resorts,” he said.Answering questions from journalists at ITB Berlin, Minister Sougee said inter-island boat travel in the Maldives was not sufficient and the government would be working with the private sector to develop scheduled services that would allow island-hopping and more efficient transport for tourists and workers. Phase one is under way in Addu Attol, at the southern tip of the Maldives archipelago, which is being developed as a new tourist zone. This is the site of the former British air force base, Gan, which is being transformed into Maldives’ second international airport, scheduled to open in November.“Tourism in Maldives is very resilient. The tsunami was a shock but its impact on tourism was very limited. We recovered very quickly. Our safety measures and emergency plans worked well. We hope nothing like this ever happens again, but we must be prepared.”
Source: Travel Video, By David Browne

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