Can Maldives ever be more than sun, sand and sea?

The Maldives has been known as ‘The Sunny Side of Life’ for decades now, owing to the monsoon climate and the pristine beaches and clear blue waters. This image of Maldives as a haven for those who love sandy white beaches and being one with nature in the sea has put Maldives on the forefront of the tourism sector as a luxury destination on millions of bucket-lists.

Every administration has prioritised the development of resorts and maintaining the image of Maldives as a ‘place to visit before you die’. However, the recent years have seen the sector steer in the direction of local island tourism, with guest houses and tourist beaches being developed in the islands by local businesses and island councils. For the first time in a long time, Maldives also became a budget-travel destination, bringing in scores of visitors from across the globe. While this new initiative boosted the number of visitors per year, the island nation has had little to offer except for the beaches and the sea.

As one of the biggest industries in the world, the tourism sector has seen numerous countries adapt to various types of tourism to attract visitors. Malaysia, for instance, shows off Penang’s cultural and historical heritage from the colonial times, with the perfect balance of modern development built around the historical landmarks to showcase the perfect harmony of the then and now. With an equally rich culture, heritage, and history of colonisation, one must wonder where the Maldives went wrong in adapting its culture, heritage, and history into the tourism sector.

Everyone who knows about the Maldives knows about the British naval base and living quarters in southernmost Addu, remnants of which remain unattended and dilapidated today; silent witnesses of a different time in the Maldives. If preserved and well maintained, this is one of the many examples of historical and heritage sites in the Maldives that could be made part of its tourism. Imagine island tours that take you back in time to the British Army in Maldives during the Second World War - wouldn’t that be a refreshing change of scenery from the constant that is the beach and the sea?

With the new administrations’ Tourism Ministry and Heritage Ministry looking sharp and determined to make a change, there might still be hope for cultural and heritage tourism to take off in the Maldives. The question is, would the relevant authorities find preserving and integrating heritage sites within tourism a smart move for the sector, or would they remain unattended like before - with the only heritage sites being the ones in the capital.

There is a lot of hope riding on Heritage Minister Yumna Maumoon to rise to the challenge of preserving and showcasing Maldivian culture and heritage, with the help of like-minded youth. Whether or not the Maldivian heritage makes a mark in the tourism sector, only time will tell.