At the beginning of October, I headed to the Maldives for the second time in my life, as part of a trip with Perowne International, which you can read more about here and here.
The first time I visited this country, was back in December 2017. I was new to the role of a Travel Specialist and was blown away that 2 weeks into my job, I was being flown to such a incredible place. I remember being shocked therefore, (as I think most people are) upon landing in the Maldives, as this high rise, mismatch of buildings appeared below me. Online, you only tend to see the beautiful islands with picture perfect beaches, when in fact, a whole society live here, of which the majority reside on the main island of Male.
The city itself, isn’t necessarily somewhere that tourists frequent, unless it’s for business, or due to an awkward flight time. There are hotels – in fact a few of my colleagues stayed at Hotel Jen earlier this year, but there really isn’t much to see, and all local islands are officially dry, in keeping with the faith of Islam, so an evening sundowner is out of the question. The city of Male is confined, meaning that residents have had to build up, rather than out. This has caused a city that has been built without, it seems, much thought regarding architecture or fluidity.
As well as this, recent financial support (whether this is a positive investment, is currently contentious) from the Chinese government has seen a drastic change in the Maldives landscape. A friendship bridge that stretches 2km, linking Male and the international airport island is now up and running, and a neighbouring manmade island called Hulhumale is now well underway. Most notably, this new island is seeing the construction of 16 high rise blocks, each with 25 floors, and containing around 11,000 new homes in total.
It is these new high rises, that I became acutely aware of the second time around. Previously, resort islands that were a short speedboat away from the airport, enjoyed only distant views of Male, a city skyline, well in the distance. However, with this new high-rise creation, islands that before felt castaway, now feel almost overlooked. I remember walking out of my villa at Baros, and being so disappointed that I could see these flats in the distance; soon to be 16 menacing structures. Other islands, such as Kurumba, Gili Lankanfushi, and even the Four Seasons have also been affected, and while it shouldn’t take away from the beauty of these islands, it unfortunately will. Many of my clients love the idea of a short speedboat to their island home, but as soon as they hear that Male is ever more visible, you can feel them retreating. Guests are still chasing the Robinson Crusoe escape that the Maldives markets, and unfortunately this is becoming ever more rare in reality.
I feel that the Maldives is currently at a real crossroads. It’s desperately trying to grow, in anyway it can. Domestically, residents and government are looking to create more of a hub around Male, while hotel chains and owners, seeing the success of tourism in the Maldives, are building new resorts here there and everywhere. However, there are now more rooms, than guests visiting. There has been a huge influx of 3 and 4 star all inclusives, making this once exclusive destination, available to the masses. Hotels are having to become more aggressive in their rates and offerings, the environment is being affected by the number of visitors, and the city is having to grow to support tourism. Ironically, all of this is destroying the whole reason people started visiting the Maldives in the first place.
It’s such a complex issue, and one that I hope won’t become the Achilles heel of the country. Unfortunately only time will tell, and by the time we know the answer, it may be too late.