Male’, Maldives, 15th May 2022 – Dr. Abdulla Mausoom, the Minister of Tourism in the Maldives, participated in the High-Level Thematic Debate on Sustainable Tourism on 4 May 2022. Organised by the United Nations President of the General Assembly (UNPGA), in association with the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), this debate was centred on the theme “Putting sustainable and resilient tourism at the heart of inclusive recovery”.
The thematic roundtables discussed strategies and shared knowledge on the best policies and practices, focusing on three topics: the people – leaving no one behind through inclusive tourism; the planet – accelerating a climate-friendly transformation; and prosperity – reinvigorating investments in sustainable tourism.
Minister Mausoom delivered a statement during the second roundtable, highlighting the importance of environmentally-friendly community-based tourism. For a country such as the Maldives, tourism is heavily dependent on the protection of the environment and eco-systems as it is famous for its stunning geography and marine life. It hosts some of the richest biodiversity in the world, and it is this beauty that attracts so many visitors from all across the globe to this island nation. The tourism industry plays a vital role in protecting the environment in the Maldives. Over the years, it has implemented measures to ensure its tourism policy, practices, planning and development are aligned with environment protection, conservation and sustainability.
Referring to the “precipitous drop” in tourism during the pandemic mentioned in UN General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid’s speech, Minister Mausoom shared how the Maldives coped with the impact of COVID-19. It successfully vaccinated 85% of the population, including 97% of employees in the tourism sector. This enabled the country to safely re-open borders and embark on the road to economic recovery.
UN General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid called on all stakeholders “to seize every opportunity to transform the tourism sector, and target a more sustainable, inclusive and responsible approach”, emphasising we “must not reboot global tourism in a business-as-usual manner”. Now is the time for renewed political commitment for fresh and bold action to revitalise and rebuild a stronger industry.
Minister Mausoom also noted how the global situation has proved it is crucial for the international community to seriously reflect on how they do their business. In order for our communities to progress effectively towards our ambitious climate change and environmental protection goals, it is absolutely critical that governments and stakeholders work together and make a combined effort to achieve climate-friendly transformations. The Maldives is committed to playing a pivotal role in the transition to net-zero emissions and in creating a climate-resilient tourism infrastructure.
Furthermore, governments and stakeholders must not only work towards maintaining their tourism destinations but also focus on providing decent and stable jobs for the people and protecting the natural environment. In line with this, the Maldives moves to increase engagement with local island communities and women in tourism. The government has set a goal to facilitate community-based local tourism in all inhabited islands in the country by 2023. This move will integrate the culture, heritage, and ecosystems of these islands to the tourism product base, thereby allowing island communities to reap benefits of tourism directly.
Following the debate, Minister Mausoom met with some of his fellow Tourism Ministers, noting that platforms like these provide important opportunities to network as tourism is very much a global industry. He met with many Ministers, including Massimo Garavaglia, the Minister of Tourism in Italy. Italy is one of the Maldives’ top markets, ranking 5th as of March 2022. Mr. Garavaglia mentioned the Maldives’ Golden Jubilee Year and expressed his delight in the Italians’ engagement in the commencement of tourism in the Maldives in 1972. During their discussion, Minister Mausoom assured the Minister that the Maldives is moving towards more balanced product development to attract more Italians as majority of them prefer mid-market resorts. Additionally, he addressed facilitating travel between both countries, particularly in terms of visa for Maldivians to travel to Italy.
Minister Mausoom also engaged in discussions with Reyes Maroto, Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism of Spain, regarding tourism cooperation between the two countries. Spain is one of the most open countries at the moment, with direct flights to the Maldives. They touched on increasing tourist arrivals and investment opportunities for Spanish hotels in the Maldives. Currently, RIU Hotels & Resorts is one of the Spanish hotel chains in the Maldives, and there are talks to introduce new Spanish investors to the Maldives, who would either collaborate with Maldivians or make separate direct investments.
Similarly, avenues for investment in sustainable tourism development were discussed with the Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy of Indonesia. This year, Indonesia is hosting World Tourism Day on 27 September 2022, in Bali.
Furthermore, Minister Mausoom also met with UNWTO Secretary General, Zurab Pololikashvili, to discuss this year’s UNWTO Global Summit that will be hosted by the Maldives in June.
Tourism is indeed the driving force behind many small island economies, such as ours. Small islands have been leading the way to protecting the climate and oceans. This debate emphasised the importance of the international community to transform the tourism sector into a positive force in implementing the SDGs. As Minister Mausoom stated boldly, “it is not a choice but an obligation” to protect the environment for future generations.