Tourism synergies between Sri Lanka and the Maldives
The Maldivian tourism industry, riding on its slogan ‘The sunny side of life’, is booming. The country has made giant strides and is now a leading destination in the Indian Ocean. Last year, 602,000 tourists stayed an average of 8.4 days in that country and spent US$ 115 per day (excluding payment for the hotel). Officials expect arrivals to increase by 10-15% during 2007.
Culture, nature and adventure are the mainstay of tourism in Sri Lanka, while beaches are the prime attraction in the Maldives. Besides, the Maldives attracts a more premium leisure tourist, exactly the kind of traveler that Sri Lanka has been attempting to woo recently. Hence, there is ample scope for a symbiotic relationship between the tourism sectors of both countries.
Addressing a press briefing in Colombo on Tuesday, Abdul Hameed Zakariyya, Maldivian Deputy Minister for Tourism & Civil Aviation, emphasized, “We are not competing destinations, we are complementary destinations.” He described tourism as a very dynamic industry and said that his visit was intended “to explore further opportunities for investors and industry on both sides”.
Immediately prior to the briefing, the Sri Lanka – Maldives Joint Task Force on Tourism (JTFT), consisting of representatives from the public and private sectors, discussed ways and means to protect each country’s tourism turf. The task force also decided to work on jointly promoting their countries to travelers from China.
Faiszer Musthapha, Deputy Minister of Tourism, seemed upbeat at the prospect of collaboration. He announced that Milinda Moragoda, Tourism Minister, had offered 25 scholarships to Maldivian students in the Sri Lanka Hotel School. In a move that is perceived as significant, the hotel school will provide certificate- or diploma-level training to these students. They will then form the nucleus for the skilled labour needed to staff the 44 new resorts opening in the Maldives.
Sri Lanka is inextricably linked with Maldivian tourism, playing a significant role in transporting passengers. Zakariyya pointed out that 35% of his country’s leisure traffic prefers flying SriLankan Airlines. Musthapha drove home the point, saying, “Through John Keells and Aitken Spence, Sri Lanka owns 12% of the Maldivian hotel sector.” Interestingly, of the 22,000 employees in Maldivian resorts also, 12% are Sri Lankans. Besides skilled labour, Sri Lanka also supplies fruits and vegetables.
Thus far, Maldivian tour operators have been pushing inbound tourism but will start promoting dual destinations soon. Last year, 26,500 Maldivians visited Sri Lanka - on holiday, to study or for medical purposes, making it the fourth largest source market.
The JTFT first met during 2004 in the Maldives but, with both countries suffering from the impacts of the tsunami, it has taken three years before this second meeting. It was decided that the JTFT would meet twice a year henceforth. An Action Committee will also be created – with six representatives from each side - to address any impediments. A smoother process for Maldivian investments in Sri Lanka and vice versa was also considered.