Maldives to lease 19 more islands for development

Colombo, June 26:

The Maldives, one of the world’s most exotic holiday destinations, plans to lease 19 uninhabited coral islands to be developed as upmarket resorts.

The new resorts will add to the 44 islands that are either to be leased out this year or at various stages of development, Tourism Minister Mahamoud Shougee said.

“Once the new investors are identified, they have four years to build the resort,” Shougee said. The Maldives is famed for its exclusive tourists, where guests pay thousands of dollars a night to snorkle, dive and sleep in wooden cabins built over turquoise waters. In 2006, president Gayoom’s government leased 35 islands to foreign and local investors for resort development. Only two of them are currently in operation.

The government is also building 10 new regional airports to complement the booming resort development and allow locals to commute quickly between the 1,192 small islands, 91 of which have been converted into resorts.

The latest offer of new islands comes as the governor of the Maldives’ Monetary Authority. Abdullah Jihad, last week asked the finance ministry to look for alternative sources of revenue to prop up the nation’s coffers.

“Leasing new resorts seems to be the quickest option for now,” Jihad said. This year’s one billion dollar state budget is expected to be short of $190 million.

Tourism accounts for more than a third of the Maldives’ economy.

It has enabled the nation of 369,000 Sunni Muslims to emerge as the richest in South Asia, with a per capita income of $3,400.