Interview with Ahmed Nazeer, Secretary General, Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI)

Interview with Ahmed Nazeer, Secretary General, Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI)


Given the dynamic nature of the Maldives’ tourism industry, could you provide insights into the current state and recent developments within the sector? Additionally, what are the key achievements and challenges that the tourism industry has encountered, and how will you address these challenges in the future?

It is essential to understand how the Maldives emerged as a tourism destination. The industry began its journey in 1972 when three young entrepreneurs initiated what has since become the backbone of our economy. I joined the industry in 1984 and have been around for all the highs and lows. Over the past 50 years, we have encountered numerous challenges, but the industry has flourished, evolving into a world-class brand.

Our tourism offerings range from guest houses and safaris to luxury resorts that are often frequented by international celebrities. We have also been successful in establishing the first resort that runs on 100% renewable energy and have pioneered innovations like underwater spas and restaurants. We now have more than 170 resorts and over 880 guesthouses, with several of the very high-end resorts managed by global hotel chains like Hilton, which entered the Maldives in 1997 and is now a major player in the resort industry. Other leading operators include Marriott International and Four Seasons.

Tourism has reached a point where the government and the private sector must work together to develop new products and build sustainability into everything we do. We are a small country spread over a wide area, which poses a challenge. That forces us to use the one-island-one-resort concept, since transportation within the country can be complicated. However, we have addressed these issues by, for example, establishing the biggest seaplane service in the world, a thriving business that is now owned by a US company. It is one of the most successful businesses in the country. The weather is also a challenge, with some very windy and rainy monsoon seasons, but despite these challenges we have thrived by making sure that our guests are happy.


Could you share insights into the strategies or initiatives that have contributed to this influx, and how the Maldives plans to diversify its marketing efforts to attract a growing number of visitors from the US? Are there specific attractions or campaigns tailored to resonate with the preferences of travelers from the US?

Over the last decade, we have seen a surge in visitors from new parts of the world, notably India and China, largely due to geographical proximity. However, Europe has traditionally been our main market, and remains so despite increasing numbers of Asian tourist arrivals, and most of our offerings are geared towards the preferences of Europeans. In recent years, there has been a notable increase in arrivals from Brazil and the US, partially thanks to loyalty programs provided by US-based companies and our participation in dive fairs to drum up interest from people who travel specifically for diving.


President Mohamed Muizzu has expressed the ambitious goal of attracting a record two million visitors to the Maldives in 2024. Could you elaborate on the key strategies and plans in place to achieve this milestone, and how the tourism sector is gearing up to handle such a substantial increase in arrivals?

Historically, our industry has grown at an annual rate of around 7%, with a recent surge of 10% in arrivals. Based on this trend, surpassing two million visitors seems very feasible. We anticipate continued growth between 7-10% this year, which would take us past that threshold, although all the instability in the world right now makes it difficult to make predictions. As arrivals increase, we focus on expanding infrastructure and job opportunities to ensure a seamless visitor experience.


President Muizzu’s announcement about plans to open 20 new resorts in 2024, creating around 3,000 jobs, reflects a significant expansion in the Maldives’ tourism infrastructure. Can you provide insights into the specific areas or islands where these new resorts will be located, and the impact they are expected to have on both the local economy and the overall tourism experience?

The announcement is ambitious, and the process of adding several thousand beds could take years. Each new resort undergoes meticulous planning, construction, and environmental assessments, and it takes a whole year of preparation before a project enters the construction stage, and then another 24-36 months to complete it. We know from experience that we can only bring online around 1,000 beds per year. The economic benefits are significant, creating thousands of jobs and boosting local economies. However, it is crucial to balance growth with environmental preservation to maintain the integrity of our unique ecosystem.


In late 2023, Sri Lanka’s President called for closer collaboration between his country and the Maldives, envisioning a unified Tourist Area. What are your views on the potential of regional integration initiatives and how these could benefit the tourism sector?

While the concept of combined tourism, where travelers spend, for example, one week in Sri Lanka and one week in the Maldives, sounds promising, there are not many tourists who have that sort of flexibility, and our tourism offerings are quite different from those of Sri Lanka. It is essential to recognize the distinct tourism products each country offers, and that the number of tourists seeking a twin-destination experience is limited. Our focus remains on enhancing our individual tourism offerings while maintaining friendly relations with neighboring countries.


The Maldives recently hosted The Sustainable Tourism Forum, emphasizing a commitment to eco-friendly practices and investments in the tourism sector.  Considering this forum, how does the Maldives plan to integrate and promote eco-conscious tourism without compromising the overall visitor experience?

Climate change poses significant challenges, especially in the form of unstable weather patterns, and sustainable practices are paramount to protect our islands. We enforce strict guidelines for new resort construction, ensuring that fragile ecosystems are not impacted and that sustainable standards are met for years to come.

Our sustainability strategy includes ensuring our coral reefs are healthy and our islands are protected from storms, and preserving other assets that are central to our tourism industry. By incorporating eco-friendly initiatives, we aim to preserve our natural beauty for future generations while providing unforgettable experiences for visitors.


What is your final message to readers of USA Today?

Tourism is the biggest contributor to the economy of this country, accounting for around 25% of GDP and 90% of foreign currency receipts. That makes the health of the tourism industry a priority for all resort owners, the government, and the average Maldivian, who are all stakeholders in this industry. The sector is privately owned and there is no government involvement, beyond acting as a regulator.

We are a free country with a free flow of capital, so anybody wanting to invest here is assured of these privileges, meaning the Maldives is a great investment destination. We have drawn a lot of investment from countries as diverse as Singapore, Thailand, India, and the Czech Republic.

The Maldives is a great holiday destination with superb beaches and underwater features that are worth exploring.