Maldives gets tourists to clean-up before leaving
The midday tourist rush is just
beginning at the island airport of the Maldivian capital, Male.
Germans are queuing up at security check for their flight back to
Dusseldorf after a week's vacation in this archipelago of atolls
in the Indian Ocean and trundle trolleys piled high with scuba
gear and duffel bags.
On top of the heap of luggage, each tourist carries an identical
white plastic satchel. In it are used batteries, empty bottles of
sunblock cream, disposable razors, and other garbage that they are
taking home to Germany.
Nothing is quite so symbolic of the importance that the
Maldives attaches to its environment than tourists lugging all
their trash back home with them. Indeed, 1997 is 'Visit Maldives
Year' and the slogan is: 'Sustainable Development Through
With a population of just above 250,000, the Maldives received
about 350,000 tourists last year and they are the backbone of the
country's economy -- forming 40 per cent of the annual revenue for
The country has 1,190 islands and 26 atoll formations enclosing
azure lagoons, a stupendous variety of marine life and pristine
beaches. Atolls are the tops of submerged mountains and the word is
derived from the Maldivian language, Dhivehi. Uncontrolled
tourism could have devastated the fragile lagoons and coral reefs.
By deliberately pricing itself at the upper end of the market,
the Maldives has made sure that it gets the maximum monetary
benefit without the negative environmental impact. It has also
minimised the social and cultural side-effects of mass tourism by
confining tourists to resort islands where there is very little
interaction with the local population.
''There is tremendous awareness of environmental issues at the
highest levels of government,'' says Narinder Kakar, resident
representative in Male of the United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP), co-sponsor with the World Tourism Organisation of
an Asia-Pacific ministerial meeting that began in Male last on Sunday.
Kakar hopes the conference will underline to top planners from
the region that ''tourism must be ecologically bearable,
economically viable and socially equitable.'' The UNDP has been
helping the Maldivian government with hotel training and resort
management. The Maldives has also been the training ground of
tourism instructors for South Asia's leading hotels.
This week, the Maldives has shown off what it has achieved to
the visiting delegates so that other Asia-Pacific can learn from
the country's tourism development model.
''We want to ensure that tourism brings long-term benefit to the
country so that the natural resources for tourism do not
deteriorate. We want to promote tourism in such a manner that a
sustainable future for tourism is ensured,'' says Maldivian
Tourism Minister Ibrahim Hussain Zaki.
Tourism ministers from most of the 22 Asia-Pacific members of
the WTO attended the Maldives meeting, which was titled: 'Tourism
2000 -- Building a Sustainable Future for Asia-Pacific'. On Wednesday,
delegates announced their "main declaration on tourism and
environment," the development strategy for the region.
''Tourism will need to increasingly adopt a more ecologically-based approach, particularly on islands and fragile destinations,
if it is to ensure its own long-term sustainability,'' said
Francesco Frangialli, secretary-general of the WTO. "Otherwise,"
Frangialli said, ''we may continue to be surprised by events and
developments beyond our control.''
Tourism experts have hailed the Maldives as a model of just
this kind of sustainable tourism development, and they say that
is why they chose it as the venue for this meeting.
Resort development is allowed on only 75 uninhabited islands,
although 14 more licenses are about to be granted. Only one-fifth
of the area of any island is allowed to be built on, and no
construction is allowed to exceed the the height of the coconut
Garbage and waste disposal is a big problem. And aside from
plastic trash bags for tourists to take home, every resort has an
incinerator that burns excess rubbish, bio-degradable waste is
turned into compost, sewage is treated before it is piped out
into the deep sea outside the lagoon area.