Maldives is the only place where you can see tall palms leaning towards the sea on white powdery beaches, crystal clear waters kissing crystalline white sands, shades of turquoise blending flawlessly with deeper hues of blue and some of the most incredible underwater life on our planet. But the natural beauty of this paradise remained undiscovered before the 1900s.
Before tourism emerged as a major industry in the early 1970s, the country did not foresee that any other industry could triumph fishing, which is still known as “the nation’s lifeline”. When plans for the development of a tourist resort in the Maldives first appeared, several international experts also claimed that the islands do not have the potential for a viable tourism industry. In fact, a United Nations mission on development which visited the Maldives in the 1960s also suggested that tourism prospects in the island nation were non-existent.
Nevertheless, tourism began in the Maldives with the arrival of the first group of tourists from Europe in February 1972. Since then, the industry has flourished rapidly with the number of resorts increasing to over 50 in a span of a few years. An industry that began with just 30 rooms that were hastily built from coral and palm leaves has now made a name for itself as one of the most prestigious tourist destinations in the world.
Over the years, foreign investors and hoteliers have been moving in to take advantage of the Maldives islands, known as garlands of the Indian Ocean. With the launch of several world-renowned hotel brands such as Hilton, Shangri-La and One and Only, the growth of the industry has been phenomenal. Consider that this was an industry that did not even exist before the early 1970s. But by 1985, it had supplanted fishing as the largest industry in the country. Today, tourism earns the Maldives about 70 percent of its foreign exchange revenues.
Tourism and related services contribute to over 29 percent of the country’s GDP. But, its indirect contribution is much higher. As a result, this industry is a catalyst for growth and new opportunities in a range of related industries.
With the introduction and expansion of tourism, the need for air transport became vital especially in the absence of a reliable public transport system among the atolls. The aviation infrastructure has expanded significantly since the inauguration of the Maldives’ first airport on April 12, 1966. Known as Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, it acts as the only gateway into the Maldives with thousands of tourists travelling through and out of the country each year.
Maldives also has the largest fleet of seaplanes in the world. These planes serve as the main mode of transport between the international airport and tourist resorts. Sea planes are easy to operate in a country where 98 percent of the territory is water. The recently merged Maldivian Air Taxi (MAT) and Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) are the only operators of sea planes in the Maldives, and have a combined fleet of more than 30 planes.
The stunning bungalows beside unpolluted beaches, sparkling aquamarine water, multi-coloured tropical fish in the reefs, water sports and breathtaking sunsets have made Maldives one of the most enticing tourist destinations in the world. What is on offer in the Maldives is unmatchable – in fact, what Maldives offers is complete serenity, in a setting of pure, unadulterated beauty: tall palms, white sand beaches, turquoise lagoons and blue skies.