Eco-tourism, an exciting new venture for remote islands
The Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, attracts over 900,000 tourists annually from all over the world. However, tourism activities are confined to ‘resort’ islands, and the participation of Maldivian communities in tourism activities – the economic backbone of the country – is limited.
For many in the community of Gaafu Dhaal Vaadhoo Island, eco-tourism was a concept unheard of. People were not sure whether the 400 year old banyan tree in the island’s dense woods, their ancient cemetery, or quaint mosque with intricate religious carvings and a deep well used to draw drinking water - could generate the interest of foreign visitors, and much less be a source of income for the island community.
- In many Maldivian communities, eco-tourism is an unheard of concept
- Partnership 4 Development (p4d) Forums presented the opportunity to explore prospects for eco-tourism
- The forums helped promote partnerships and economic linkages between local communities and the tourism sector
However, the Partnership 4 Development (p4d) Forums, an initiative of the Government of the Maldives, supported by UNDP, changed that perception.
“During the assessment prior to the Forum, a team found several historical and cultural sites on the island, and the youth community and Island Council saw the opportunity to develop Vaadhoo as an eco-tourism destination,” says Vishah Saeed, a member of the youth group ‘South Vaadhoo Association’, who was a part of the team from the island who presented the prospects for eco-tourism at the South p4d Forum.
Prior to the p4d Forum in the South, communication between resorts and islands in the region were limited and no formal business arrangements had been made between the two, despite possibilities of mutual benefit. The Forum - organised under the UNDP supported Employment and Enterprise Development for Women and Youth project, implemented by the Ministry of Economic Development, in collaboration with Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture and Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports - supported the government’s goal of sustainable tourism, and aimed to promote partnerships and economic linkages between local communities and the tourism sector.
Following the dialogue initiated at the Forum, high-end resorts such as Park Hyatt Maldives and Ayada Maldives expressed interest in arranging excursion trips to Vaadhoo Island for their guests, which will include visits to nine historical and cultural sites, as well as viewing unique flora, fauna and natural sites of the island.
Building on these opportunities, NGO’s and cooperatives from the island are engaging in discussions with the Island Council to develop proper facilities to drive the eco-tourism concept further.
“We are keen to find resources to develop restaurants, souvenir shops, rest areas, and implement proper waste management techniques to make this concept work well in the island. We are encouraged by the idea that a police station and harbour will be built soon in the island, and it will contribute to easier access and reducing security risks. We are also looking at providing interested individuals with trainings on becoming tour guides to facilitate these excursions for the visitors,” Vishah Saeed elaborates.
As the resorts get ready to send their guests to Vaadhoo Island, the project is looking to bring together partners to assist the islands develop proper business plans to facilitate the success of the eco-tourism concept. UNDP will also introduce the concept to other islands through follow-up forums planned to be held at different locations in the country, bringing together the myriad resorts and untapped islands, to educate travellers, to promote ecological and cultural conservation, and benefit economic development and empowerment of local communities in the Maldives.
- MEET THE TEAM TUESDAY “Care enough to make it right!” Mohamed Izman Suhail Intern – Low Emission Climate Resilient Development (LECReD) Programme "I was fresh out of high school in Male’, when as a United World Colleges (UWC) scholar, I had the opportunity to live with students from more than 90 different countries at boarding school in Norway. This was an eye-opening experience for me, as I got to participate in experiential learning activities like organizing First Aid training camps, managing Leirskule (Norwegian Primary School) events, and hosting cultural learning evenings. I enjoyed meeting new people and learning about things I have only seen on TV or read in books or heard from relatives who had travelled to distant places. One thing that surprised me after two years abroad, was how little I knew about my own country. I tried to educate myself about the place I call home from books and articles online. But I still felt something was missing. Seeing how beneficial the experiential learning activities were for me in Norway, I figured I would be able to learn more about home by being more involved while in my country itself. This is what first made me interested in interning with UNDP Maldives – the development arm of the UN. The programme I am interning under focuses on climate resilient development. I have been studying development-related courses for a while now, but I was eager to experience development work firsthand: I wanted to see the work that was being done to better the lives of this generation without compromising the next. One of the most interesting and rewarding components of the internship would be the field trip to Laamu Atoll. During this field trip, we visited 10 islands in the atoll, and monitored development project sites assisted by my programme – ranging from installation of rainwater harvesting tanks to setting up of waste management centers in the islands. Almost all the projects were initiatives taken by the communities themselves, meaning that these projects are very likely to last a long time since it is the communities that are looking after them. I was also able to see mangrove ecosystems and visit heritage sites in Laamu. This experience within my own country has made me realize all that our island nation has to offer. Would I intern at UNDP or another UN organization in the future? If given the opportunity, definitely. Did I learn about everything I wanted to? Not nearly enough but a lot more than I had hoped for. If my internship taught me anything it’s that while it is important to identify problems in the world, it is even more important to come up with ways to solve them. If you care about what is wrong with the world, then you should care enough to make it right." Tuesday AT 11:36 AM
- Happy Independence Day from all of us here at UNDP Maldives. Tuesday AT 05:07 AM
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