The Maldives is a great place to play Robinson Crusoe: You can stay on a tiny island that has a soft, sandy beach, a sparkling turquoise lagoon and only a single dwelling (although Crusoe only could have imagined the comfort of some of the better resort hotels). And if you plunge beneath the surface of the lagoon, you’ll find extraordinary underwater scenery with an amazing variety of colorful reef fish.
The luxurious escapes you’ll find in the Maldives (pronounced MAHL-deeves) are not merely an accident of geography, but a matter of deliberate design. Overwhelmed by an influx of tourists during the 1970s, government leaders created a master plan for the tourist industry, with the aim of emphasizing quality over quantity and minimizing the impact of tourism on the natural—and human—environment. The result was the development of a series of high-quality island resorts that have been cited as models for sustainable tourism development.
This model remained more or less the same for decades until a change of Government in 2008. The first democratically elected president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, encouraged the development of interisland and interatoll public ferry services at affordable prices, which means that Maldivians and tourists alike can now travel more freely around the Maldives. Foreigners are no longer required to obtain permits or special permission to visit inhabited islands.
A new master plan to encourage the growth of guesthouse tourism alongside the existing luxury resorts was drawn up, and in 2010 legislation was changed to allow Maldivians to open guesthouses on inhabited islands. The aim was to diversify the market and encourage more entrepreneurship amongst Maldivians, helping to direct the flow of tourism revenue back into the local economy. As a result, a spate of new guesthouses and associated services such as independent watersports centers and dive centers have sprung up across the country. The guesthouses vary greatly in their offerings; from very basic rooms to boutique, hotel-style accommodation.
The liveaboard yacht industry has also greatly expanded, with around 170 vessels now operating in the Maldives, offering diving and surfing charters throughout the year.
Climate change remains a pressing issue in the Maldives. The latest research suggests that although sea levels are rising internationally, the low-lying Maldives is not likely to encounter serious problems until 2100. However, rising sea surface temperatures and acidity in the ocean have caused widespread damage to the surrounding coral. Not only are the coral reefs natural barriers against erosion and tsunamis, but they are also an integral part of the appeal to tourists, as diving and snorkeling are the top activities in the Maldives. Although some of the damaged areas have spontaneously begun to recover, many areas still suffer from widespread coral bleaching.
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