Gov't will fulfil pledge to add 35,000 tourist beds: minister

Tourism Minister Dr. Abdulla Mausoom has said the government would successfully fulfill President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's presidential pledge to increase the number of tourist beds available in the country by 35,000. He made the statement while speaking on AVAS Online's 'Suvaalakahfahu Suvaaleh' talk show on Friday.

The minister said the COVID-19 pandemic rendered 2020 a loss, causing significant challenges in its wake. Despite these challenges, the government is confident that President Solih will successfully fulfill his pledge to take the tourism industry to greater heights.

The minister said President Solih targeted to add 35,000 tourist beds in five years and boost the tourism sector by introducing homestay tourism. With the introduction of the concept, the upcoming year will be a golden year for tourism, bringing benefit to all Maldivians, he said.

'Although we lost 2020, we are confident we can add 35,000 beds over the next two years. During last August, September, we were able to produce 1,000 beds. When we introduce homestay tourism, it will bring wealth to this country; the tourism sector will bring joy to the country's citizens. That is the direction we are heading towards,' Mausoom said.

The government announced islands and land areas for sale for tourism development purposes late last year but only sold one island. Mausoom spoke on the criticism aimed at the government's failure to close the deals. He assured investors are still interested in Maldives tourism and reiterated that their keenness has not wavered over these two years. The sales were not closed not because the investments were not promoted, he added. He further said that although the government could sell only one island, it received adequate response and proposals for the announcement.

'When we announced the islands for sale, do you know how the circumstances were? People could not travel, interested buyers could not come to survey the islands, there was no communication with the banks. This was why we lost that opportunity then,' the minister said.

While more islands have been put on the market once again, the minister said the islands were announced at an appropriate time and with adequate publicity and promotion. He expects significant demand for the 18 islands put up for sale during the Dubai Expo.

Mausoom also spoke on the selling price of the islands. Although some believe simultaneously putting several islands on the market is not a wise move, Mausoom disagreed and said more islands should be put on the market, and it is not an issue. Acknowledging that there are challenges to investing in the Maldives, Mausoom noted that the lack of an investment bank is a cause for concern. Despite this, it is not an excuse not to put islands on the market, said the minister, adding that investors are very interested in the deals.

The minister said more resorts must be developed to add tourism beds, which is the road to developing tourism. However, the minister said that the government would still maintain its 'One island, One resort' concept, which contributes to the tourism sector's success.

As for the price tag on the islands, Mausoom said it is not a small amount and that there was no loss for the state with their current price tags. Revenue generated by the tourism sector is not dependent on island sales, he added. Instead, the revenue depends on the currency that enters the country when resorts are operated, in addition to tax and job opportunities. The fact that 85 resort islands remain undeveloped is more reason to put more islands on the market, he said.

'Some say Mausoom and team are selling these islands at such a low price. We are speaking of a bid here. A competitive bid. Those that offer the highest price win the bid. The islands will sell for a good price,' Mausoom said.

Some claim the price tag on the islands was lowered with the intent to award the bids to certain parties. More doubt and questions were cast on the matter when the list of local business people interested in the initial sale of islands was revealed. However, Minister Mausoom said there would be no opportunity for such deceit and that a special system had been established at the Tourism Ministry to avoid it. There would be no opportunity to award the islands to specific parties through corruption, he assured.

'All interested parties will have equal opportunity to participate in the bid, and as there will ultimately be only one winner, there would likely be a debate on the matter', he said.

'Even previously, I have stated that influence can be exerted on myself as well as the Tourism Ministry. But this influence will be from laws and regulations only. I am not stating this fact because I am the minister. There is already a system in place [at the ministry], and as per that system, it does not matter whether the minister is capable or not, the tourism sector will continue to move forward as per rules and regulations. It is not because Mausoom is the minister; this is just the way it is,' he said.