They are located in the Indian Ocean, about 400 kilometres southwest of India. They comprise some 1,192 islands, of which only about 15% are inhabited. They are home to less than 350,000 people, but their mystical marine location attracts close to one million tourists every year. They are called the Maldives, and if you wish to visit them you ought to do it sooner than later: the rising sea level is threatening the long-term vitality of the archipelago.
Tourism in the Maldives
In the early 1980s, the Maldives were on the not-so-uplifting list of the world’s 20 poorest nations. Three decades later, the small republic is considered a middle-income country, its inhabitants earning over $6,000 per year. Signs of rapid economic progress are manifest: in less than 10 years – to be more precise, between 1997 and 2004 – poverty rates have fallen from 40% to 28%. How did the Maldives overcome chronic misery to offer decent standards of living in less than 30 years? The answer lies in tourism, for the most part.
When the first resorts opened their doors in the Maldives at the beginning of the 1970s, the archipelago was largely unknown to the outer world, except for the fact that it used to be a British protectorate which had recently earned its independence. From only two in 1972, the Maldives’ total number of resorts soared to 98 in 2010. Tourism now accounts for 50% of the country’s employment force, and its total contribution to the archipelago’s GDP reached 70.6% in 2011. No wonder, then, that the Maldives rank third in the world for the country in which tourism accounts for the biggest share of GDP.
Despite the indisputable success the Maldives have enjoyed up to this day with international tourists, the country keeps up the effort to further promote tourism on its islands. Just between 2006 and 2010, the Maldives total bed capacity increased by 25%. And tourists keep responding to the call. Although Europe still accounts for the bulk of international arrivals in the Maldives with 64% of the some 900,000 visitors, the Asian and Pacific regions are sending more tourists every year. In fact, Chinese visitors to the Maldives were the most numerous in 2010, outnumbering the British. The Italians, Germans and French came respectively in 3rd, 4th and 5th positions.
The environmental threat
The main driver of the Maldives’ economic progress could suffer from climate change in the decades to come. Still recovering from the 2004 tsunami which caused damage worth two-thirds of the country’s GDP and which left only nine islands free of deluge, the Maldives have to face a serious problem: climate change. With 80% of its islands only about one metre above sea level – the capital, Malé, which comprises half the country’s population, is only about 2 metres above it – floods are likely to become more frequent under the influence of global warming.
As reported by the February edition of Quebecois magazine L’Actualité, erosion brings water further inland with every passing year. Moreover, many scientists fear that a significant portion of the archipelago will be under water by 2050. Despite the threat, entrepreneurs keep believing in tourism’s future in the archipelago and hotels are still mushrooming. Why? The luxury hotel business can make an investment profitable in just about five years in the Maldives, according to the manager of a $75-million hotel.
But the jeopardy remains. With more sea territory than land territory, the Maldives is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries in the face of potentially rising sea levels. With future sea levels expected to be between 10 and 100 centimetres higher by 2100, the face of the Maldives could drastically change, and so could its economy. Although not every Maldivian feels threatened or directly concerned, travel addicts who dream of alternating between sunbathing on fine sand beaches and snorkelling in the heavenly Maldivian waters one day should do it sooner than later.
Hopefully this article won’t be a bad omen but since the Maldives are said to be more vulnerable to climate change than the vast majority of the world’s countries, why wait to go there if that is what you have been dreaming of? The best-case scenario, of course, is that people keep going to the Maldives in great numbers and that we all wake up on the first day of 2050 telling ourselves, “Hey, the Maldives haven’t changed one iota! Let’s go there again!”
Island In The Maldives – Wikipedia Creative Commons
Male – Wikipedia Creative Commons
Guest Author Bio
Alexandre Duval is a freelance blogger who writes about cars for a Chrysler and Dodge dealer in Canada. He also writes about travel, insurance and other topics of interest. He is currently completing his master’s degree in political science at the University of Quebec in Montreal.
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