COLOMBO (AFP) – The Indian Ocean island of the Maldives plans to open 11 new islands to foreign investors to develop upmarket tourist resorts, an official said Wednesday.
The new resorts, some to be built on reclaimed land, will add to the 33 resorts islands currently under development, the island’s Planning Ministry executive director Mohamed Shareef told AFP by telephone.
“The government wants to build resorts on the outskirts of some of the highly populated islands, to bring tourism development closer to the local communities,” Shareef said.
Potential investors also win the right to 100 hectares of coral reef, from which they can reclaim up to 15 hectares for additional resort land.
Shareef said the concept aimed to create jobs for local communities, allowing them to commute daily to work. Expatriate workers from Asia and Europe currently take up over half of the jobs on each resort.
Tenders for the new “resort reef” islands are expected to be announced in the coming weeks, Shareef said.
In 2006, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government leased 35 islands to foreign and local investors for resort development. Only two of those are currently in operation.
The government is also building 10 new regional airports to compliment the booming resort development and allow locals to commute quickly between the chain of 1,192 islands.
About 700 kilometres (435 miles) southwest of Sri Lanka, Maldives is a magnet for upmarket tourists, where guests pay up to 14,500 dollars a night to scuba dive and sleep in wooden cabins built over turquoise blue waters.
Tourism accounts for over a third of Maldives’ economy of just under a billion dollars.
It has enabled the nation of 369,000 people, mainly Sunni Muslims, to emerge as the richest in South Asia, with a per capita income of 3,400 dollars.