Saturday, July 22, 2006

Republic of Maldives - First Impressions

Off to the Maldives.
The government of the Republic of Maldives, which comprises more than 300 atolls, some uninhabited, is interested in starting a university. I met two businessmen at a dinner party and they invited me for a visit to explore the possibility that American University might play a role in this endeavor. The Sri Lankan friend who introduced us, and has often spoken favorably about the Maldives development strategy, contrasting it favorably with that of Sri Lanka is joining me.

What I had heard about Maldives was the success of its government in creating a high-end tourist destination, with limited resources that include only the natural beauty of sand and sea. This too, was the impression created by the brochures, directed to audiences of tourists and potential investors. But impressions, from afar, are always incomplete.

First impressions: The airport did remind me of Bermuda, a clean, efficient, single story building, immaculate and connoting crispness and efficiency. Many of the customs officers were women, but, although the Maldives legal code is based on Sharia law, not wore the hejab. (The following morning – this morning – I saw that most women on the streets did wear headscarves.)

First surprise. We ported our bags from the terminal to a boat – not a fancy one - open and made of wood. The airport is its own atoll. To reach the city or any other part of Maldives one must travel by boat.

The image of a high-end tourist destination does not fit the people I met, my initial impressions of Male City “the smallest capital city in the world” or the hotel. My sense was that the Maldives government is providing high-end tourists with whatever they want, but treating this simply as an endeavor. There are rules and customs to keep tourists and ordinary citizens separated. It was explained to me that citizens do a period of extended service at a resort – almost like a tour of military duty, during which they return home at rare intervals. Tourists can visit Male, but cannot stay there. Probably they would not c onsider this a deprivation as the hotels are quite modest and the Muslim proscription against alcohol seems to be rigorously enforced throughout the city.

It’s off to meetings with government officials. More later.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem to have a factual inaccuracy. Its certainly not 300 atolls (be it geographical or administrative)

10:43 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home