Reshared: press release 11 Dec 2022

Earlier this week, IMTM hosted a weekend full of lively discussions on sustainable tourism in the  Maldives. The 2-day Sustainable Tourism Forum (STF) was held on 3rd and 4th of December 2022.  IMTM is pleased to announce the forum was a brilliant success, with many like-minded participants  sharing their enthusiasm and passion, and a positive and thriving environment all around.  

The forum brought together various tourism sector stakeholders, including resorts, guesthouses and  liveaboards, private sector tourism related businesses, independent institutions, the United Nations,  UNDP, ministries, scientific and academic bodies. It encouraged a multi-sector conversation and  collaboration towards a common goal: sustainability.  

This year, STF explored the theme “What is Sustainable Tourism?

Interpretations and Discourses of  Sustainable Tourism in the Maldives.” This forum offers a timely contribution to the Maldives’ tourism  sector, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It is a crucial time to reflect on the  important lessons offered from our experiences and understand how we may improve to ensure  tourism and its benefits are sustained for future generations.  

STF 2022 sought to gain insight into the tourism sector’s stakeholders’ understanding of  sustainability, and how they practice it. With this, STF set out to define sustainable tourism  establishments in the country. The primary objective of the STF was to identify and develop a  criterion for sustainable tourism establishments in the Maldives. A policy paper on the findings and  recommendations from the forum will be published early next year with the hopes of strengthening  sustainability in the Maldives. This paper will be presented to government offices, NGOs,  associations, and other tourism related establishments. 

Session One: Concepts, Trends and Policies Relating to Sustainable Tourism 

The forum discussions were kicked off by presentations from the two moderators, Ms. Aishath Azfa  and Ms. Aminath Shadhun. Ms. Azfa shared her expertise as a Sustainable Development Specialist  in her presentation, Tourism Sustainability: Changing Concepts and Trajectories. She highlighted  how tourism has been a way forward with economic development, which has come at a cost to the  environment and natural resources. This indicates the way in which development is implemented  plays a critical role.  

Her presentation touched on many key areas of sustainable tourism, providing valuable insight into  the industry. For instance, whilst we have seen a surge in local tourism with an increasing number  of guesthouses and job opportunities, we have yet to witness equal women representation in the  tourism sector. One main problem is that many guesthouses cut down costs by having only one employee – usually a man – to manage everything.

This culture and way of thinking needs to change.  With tourism expanding to all the local islands, it is important that these tourism services provide  equal opportunities and benefits for everyone.  

In addition to this, Ms. Azfa emphasised the issue of waste management. According to her findings,  the tourism sector is one of the highest contributors to waste, with one tourist producing an average  of 3.5kg of waste per day. This shows the need for a solution to waste management, including the  development of waste management facilities and infrastructure, especially on islands where local  tourism is practiced. 

Furthermore, Co-Moderator, Ms. Shadhun spoke about the development of tourism in the Maldives,  bringing in her knowledge as a Sustainable Tourism Specialist. One of her key messages was that  sustainable tourism is not a type or form of tourism, but rather a philosophy. In order to achieve  sustainability, a set of principles and guidelines need to be in place to ensure all the stakeholders  are on the same path, and everyone’s understanding of sustainability is aligned.  

Ms. Shadhun discussed the tourism policies and Master Plans in the Maldives, highlighting the  importance of having a framework for sustainable tourism at a policy level. She noted sustainable  development of tourism requires sustainable financial management and integration of other related  sectors. She also noted the Maldives was awarded the title of the World’s Leading Destination for  the third consecutive year, but the Maldives has the capacity to be more than this – it can become  a leader amongst small island nations for Sustainable Tourism and this is a goal we must strive to  achieve. 

Session Two: Presentations 

The second session of the forum was divided into three sub-themes according to the participants’  presentation topics: Sustainable Oceans; Sustainability in Practice, and Working in Local  Communities. The presentations were delivered by eight external speakers from the tourism industry  who had volunteered to share their experiences at the forum. The focus of these presentations was  to get an insight into how each entity defines sustainability and the work they do to promote  sustainable practices. Each sub-theme was followed by a panel discussion during which time the  audience were able to ask the speakers questions, resulting in interactive and lively sessions. 

Sub-theme One: Sustainable Oceans 

Ensuring Sustainable Resort Coral Reef Fisheries in the Maldives 

Jake Edmiston and Afaaz Zahid, Blue Marine Foundation 

Noo Raajje,  

Moosa Zameer Hassan and Dr. Shaistha Mohamed, NooRaajje 

Plotting a Course Towards Sustainable Nautical Tourism,  

M.H Jiffry, Maldives Holiday Collection

Sub-theme Two: Sustainability in Practice 

The Barefoot 

Rafaella Colleoni, The Barefoot Eco Hotel 

Fairmont Maldives Sustainability Lab 

Samuel Dixon, Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi 

The Sustainable Side of Life 

Amandine Vuylsteke, Raffles Maldives Meradhoo 

Sub-theme Three: Working in Local Communities 

Community Based Tourism 

Ruth Franklin, Secret Paradise Maldives 

Unforgettable and Sustainable Experiences 

Hugo Pedrosa, Ecoboo Maldives. 

The two days of the forum made evident that all the participants were united in their belief in  furthering sustainable tourism. Whilst tourism has been a catalyst for economic growth, its adverse  impacts have gone unregulated for too long. The need for well-managed strategies that place  environmental protection and sustainable practices at the forefront is imperative. The first day of  the forum saw presentations on sustainable tourism in practice and panel discussions, followed by  a second day of group work and debates on criterions for sustainable tourism. The conversations  throughout the forum were passionate and thought-provoking, reflecting great energy and  collaboration from all the participants.  

IMTM is delighted with the outcomes of STF 2022, but this is only the beginning of its work. The  policy paper will be drafted and sent to the participants for their input before it is published in early  2023. It is evident there is strong support for sustainable tourism in the Maldives and we hope more  and more people will recognize its importance. There is big role for the government and its  authorities to play to foster the mindset of the people and youth to make sustainable development  a part of everyday life. Sustainability should not be an afterthought; it is a need. A key takeaway  from STF 2022, as coined by Ms. Amandine from Raffles Maldives: Maldives is the sunny side of  life… but it can also be the Sustainable Side of Life.