038_Global12_Spotlight_MaldivesRS_V6

Global issue 12

SpotlightMaldives Tourists and citizens: worlds apart The more the tourist resorts in the Maldives thrive – at the same time as the domestic economy struggles under the weight of rising import costs and soaring budget defi cits – the more they become a target for new taxes J J Robinson In the early 1970s, the Maldives began hedonistic microcosms of Western excess, two completely different countries. The transforming its collection of barren-but- with Michelin-star dining in the ocean, ice- separation is not only physical and cultural, beautiful tropical islands into what has be- cold air-conditioned water bungalows in but also economic. The resorts are respon- come a prosperous tourism industry, now the tropical sun, booze, bacon and bikinis. sible for 70 percent of foreign exchange turning over $2.5–3 billion a year. As this is in one of the world’s top six most receipts, and charge guests directly in US It was a smart choice. What little land religiously restrictive countries, where the dollars. The money is funnelled to fi nancial was available on the country’s tiny islands import and sale of many commodities is hubs such as Singapore, in contravention of was sandy with poor agricultural potential, banned by both the Quran and the Maldi- local rules that the central bank, the Mal- and tertiary education opportunities for vian constitution, the contradictions are dives Monetary Authority (MMA), has so Maldivians were extremely limited, par- offi cially overlooked by designating such far failed to enforce. ticularly outside the crowded capital, Malé. islands as ‘uninhabited’. The local shortage of dollars is of par- Tourism was at fi rst driven by the Italian As a result, most tourists are completely ticular concern to importers. With little market and a small number of early Maldivi- insulated from the reality of the country. agriculture or local production, the islands an resort innovators. As infrastructure devel- Landing on the separate airport island of are dependent on imports for the most basic oped, foreign investment and the introduc- Hulhulé, they are collected at the gate and commodities, and importers must rely on tion of seaplanes opened the country further. whisked off to their resort, never so much volatile black market currency exchange to With its ‘One island, One resort’ policy, the as stepping on an ‘inhabited island’. Expo- purchase goods abroad. Maldives quickly drew the attention of high- sure to Maldivian culture is typically limited At least tuna fi shing still earns about end travellers seeking privacy. to an evening’s entertainment of boduberu $50 million a year and remains the larg- While famously expensive, the premium (drumming) music, or traditional mezze- est employer, but in the last three years has branding has given the Maldives an exclu- style ‘short eats’ in a corner of the buffet. contributed only 2 percent of the country’s sivity that appeals to aspirational middle- The resorts have thrived while keeping GDP. An 8 percent decline in catches in class types in search of a relaxing and un- the rest of the inhabited Maldives at a cau- 2011 was attributed to global warming and imaginative tropical holiday. The resorts are tious distance – they are, in most respects, increased competition from the advanced 38 lwww.global-briefing.org fourth quarter 2012global


Global issue 12
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