The Oft Forgotten Boduthiladhunmathi in Maldives Tourism


The Maldives Minister of Tourism Dr. Abdulla Mausoom recently claimed the best suited tourism segments for both Haa Alif and Haa Dhaal atolls are guesthouse and homestay ventures.

This might sound like an affirmative encouragement towards local tourism boost in the upper-north. But for some, it might come off as a slap on their cheek.

Till this date, the two atoll combined do not have more than 05 tourist resort properties in comparison with the rest of the tropical island nation. While Haa Alif can ‘rest easy’ with three notable properties, Haa Dhaal to this date has only Angsana Velavaru.

The minister made the remarks during his visit to Haa Dhaal recently. He visited HDh. Nellaidhoo, where he was welcomed by frustrated locals who presented a play that depicted the lack of tourism facilities in the atoll.

This was perceived as a mockery to the minister by some. But this was Nellaidhoo locals spilling their sentiments out in bold letters, if not through actions.

But What About Us?

During his visit, the minister understood the desperation among upper-northern atolls to boost tourism in the region. While addressing various challenges in creating tourist resorts in the area, Dr. Mausoom presented the solution of fostering local tourism within residential islands.

He further claims the state’s policies for the area is prioritized on boosting local tourism, rather than the enclave resort concept. Speaking in this regard, he drew parallels with upper-southern atolls where resort tourism is lacking.

Dr. Mausoom addressed on the plight of the northerners, having to travel to central atolls for tourism industry employment.

It was through this, he highlighted the potential for homestays and guesthouse ventures in the area.

According to the most recent statistical update from Ministry of Tourism, Haa Alif consists of 21 guesthouse properties while Haa Dhaal consists of just 14; the most in Hanimaadhoo, where Hanimaadhoo International Airport operates, while the atoll’s capital Kulhudhuffushi City has only two such establishments.

Moreover, the minister addressed transportation as the main challenge in boosting tourism across upper-northern atolls.

“In every other respect, the area is ripe for tourism. Harbors are getting constructed, basic infrastructures are in place. Water and sewerage systems in intact, so are electricity and internet services,” he said.

The World is Your Oyster, Not Ours!

In the recent Green Fund report, it was highlighted that Male’ atoll was one of the major areas that generated Green Tax revenue to the state. Other major areas included Alif Alif, Alif Dhaal, Dhaal and Baa.

The noticeable element here is that most of the atolls outside of Male’ atoll, are geographically blessed to have close proximity with the country’s capital – it has better reach with the island nation’s main air gateway.

Transportation between the atolls from Male’ City is easier, compared to travelers having to course through near 12 hours on the sea to reach an atoll at either of the extreme ends of the country. Thus, atolls that are closer to the central hub reaps the bigger rewards.

When it comes to Haa Alif and Haa Dhaal, Hanimaadhoo from the latter consists of an airport that has the capacity of accommodating commercial airlines. However, if the airport operations are not developed enough to connect with foreign destinations directly, tourists will opt to land at the country’s main airport.

There have been several discussions and talks on how to capitalize the airport in Hanimaadhoo, and expand its operations. This includes a project to expand the airport venue itself.

For now, they all look more like pipe dreams for the locals living in the area.

What is for Them, can be for Us

Minister of Tourism made emphasis on the feasibility of homestay and guesthouse tourism in upper-northern atolls. He also spoke about land use plans, and allotting lands for tourism purposes.

All talks, say most locals living in upper-northern atolls. For now, who can blame them for being unconvinced.

Governments have changed. Presidents have come and gone. But the fact remains that when it comes to the broader tourism inclusivity across all atolls, the upper-northern; or Boduthiladhunmathi, remains largely forgotten.

The play from Nellaidhoo is just one of the few enactments of the plights. There is no denying that the sentiment is almost unanimous among others in the region.

What remains now, is to observe. Observe how it pushes tourism development in the area.

But the question is, if the same issues that affected the integration of tourist resorts exist today, what chances for survival can homestays and guesthouses have?

International Airport; Make It Functional

The main highlight of Dr. Mausoom was transport, when it comes to tourist travel. An issue that can be fixed by expanding the operations at Hanimaadhoo International Airport.

Instead of channeling all efforts into expanding flight routes and destinations at Velana International Airport (VIA), Regional Airports Company Limited (RACL) can benefit from Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) in diversifying aviation routes.

MACL may create strategies that harmonize a balance in international aviation operations; by encouraging airlines to travel directly into other international airports.

For starters, if a Qatar Airways flight is carrying near 100 tourists on it traveling to upper-northern properties, then it can make landing at Hanimaadhoo International Airport first. Once the tourists disembark from the flight, it can head to VIA. There will be arguments about fuel consumption as a major setback; but an issue that can be solved with installing fuel farms at Hanimaadhoo International Airport.

The Bottom Line

People in the upper-northern atolls have heard countless talks over the very, many challenges in boosting tourism in the area.

It has continued for decades, that by now, for most, it feels more like cheap excuses. An argument can be made on central government’s strong efforts to combat issues and overcome them, if they in fact willed – seen during Nasheed’s administration to introduce local tourism in the Maldives.

Local tourism was a comparatively unfriendly concept before its inception. Most industry stakeholders spoke against it. There were ardent protestors, with claims of loss of business potential from tourist resorts should local tourism be allowed.

Then in 2010, the legislation was passed. It brought with it a new age of tourism growth to the nation. This was a policy that was close to the heart of the head of the state, and it was put to action despite the notable challenges and hindrances. It was introduced despite the backlash from tourist resort owners.

If it proves anything, it is that the government has all the resources and strength to push beneficial policies if it tries hard.

The same conviction, the same indomitable will is not to be found whenever the talk of boosting tourism in the northern atolls comes up.

Perhaps it will change, the day the central government pushes the same conviction and will as it showed in policies it intimately cared about.

So, who can truly blame the locals of the upper-northern atolls for their frustration. It is owed to them, after all.