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HISTORY OF TOURISM, MALDIVES

This section will feature chapters from the book 'Tourism in the Maldives- 25 years of sustainable development' written by Ahmed NIYAZ and published by the Ministry of Tourism, Maldives in 1998. If you like to send comments or queries please e-mail to niyaz@dhishop.com

» The travel enthusiast - his new discovery
» Tourists in the Natural Paradise - the first tour group
» Main Sport - spear fishing
» The first tourist agencies
» The Humble Beginning- a resort at Vihamanaafushi
» Bandos Island- the second exploration
» Tourism and Infrastructure
 
The travel enthusiast - his new discovery |Back to top|

The Italian travel enthusiast George Corbin is a keen traveller who visited South Asian countries to discover new opportunities. He explored India, Sri Lanka and also Minicoy (or Maliku) which was regarded in the pastas an island of the Maldives. He came across the tiny islands of the Maldives when he was searching a map for the 'virgin islands'. While he was searching for new destinations and information about untouched tropical places in Colombo, he met Mr Kerefa Ahmed Naseem at the Maldivian High Commission.

Cobin family
George Cobin and his family

The flamboyant outspoken Naseem impressed Mr Corbin and provided valuable information about the Maldives. The outcome was a trip by Mr Corbin to the Maldives during October 1971 in the 'Maldives Exporter', a cargo ship. Mr Naseem also accompanied him on this trip and they talked in detail about the possibility of bringing tourists to the Maldives. An Italian travel photographer, Frenchesco Benini, also accompanied Mr Corbin.

The adventurous tour organizer realized the potential of the Maldives as a tourist heaven on his arrival and decided that he had found the perfect holiday destination. Mr Corbin described his first impression of the Maldives as "breathtaking". In Male' he met the young entrepreneur Mr Mohamed Umar Mainku and they were both keen to explore the new venture. Mr Corbin travelled to nearby islands in a boat owned by Kolige, the home of Mr Maniku. These islands include Vihamanafushi (now Kurumba), Farukolhufushi (now Fullmoon) and many more nearby. The Maldivian guide who accompanied him on most trips was Mr Champa Hussain Afeef. Mr Corbin and Mr Benini photographed the picture perfect islands and spent a wonderful time writing texts about the Maldives.

As soon as they returned from the Maldives, Mr Corbin published articles on his new found adventure destination. They also wrote a book called Duemila isole felici which was published in 1973.

 
Tourists in the Natural Paradise - the first tour group|Back to top|

The Italian tour organizer foresaw the fantasy that awaits in these small tropical islands. He did not waste time but started preparing the itinerary for the first tourist group to set foot on the Maldivian white sand. "I could feel the potential that these beautiful islands could offer the tourists." said Mr Corbin. Then he realized that there was hardly any place to stay and there was no way to fly to the isolated tropical islands. With his organizational flair, experience, his Maldivian friends and partners, he was able to solve these obstacles. Mr Corbin wrote "No difficulties at all because my local partner was in charge for all the local primary stage" . He was referring to Mr Naseem and his companions.

Tourists at Maagiri
Maagiri - The first tourist group in Male'

On Wednesday, 16 February 1972, the first tourist group arrived on Hulhule Island. They came on a charter flight of Air Ceylon and landed at the tiny airstrip on the Hulhule island. Mr Hussain Afeef met them at the airport and took them to Male'. Among the 22 Italian tourists were writers and photographers, who were fascinated by the natural beauty of the islands. Mr Ahmed Naseem and Mr M U Maniku made all the necessary accommodation and dining arrangements for their stay in the capital Male'. On the very first day they had lunch in the 'Queen of the Night', a famous local restaurant which served Maldivian food. "We gave an order to 'Queen of the Night', asking them to prepare the best menu" said Mr Afeef. The menu included biriyani, curry, rice and many other side dishes. But it was not the best menu for Europeans who rarely eat spicy foods. None of the guests enjoyed the meal because it was too spicy for them. So the escorts decided to cook themselves. "It was quite exciting." said Mr Maniku, recalling his first experience with tourists. "We didn't know what to cook for them, or how to deal with them". They did what they thought to be best for their new friends and guests. Accommodation was arranged in three different houses, Maagiri, Kaneeru Villa and Lux Wood. During the 12 days they spent in the Maldives they made daily visits to local and uninhabited islands. They also snorkelled around Male''s house reef, hunting fish. Mr Ahmed Naseem, Mr M U Maniku and Mr Hussain Afeef accompanied them. The tourists also spent time snorkelling, photographing underwater and spear fishing, which was said to be the main sport at that time. Mr Corbin said that their expectations were exactly what they had seen on slides.

After being spoilt by the sun, sea and sand for 12 days they flew back to Italy leaving with happy memories. They were very enthusiastic and repeated their visits to the Maldives. However, they expressed their feelings about the virgin destination in newspapers through photographs and news articles. It opened a door for others to experience the untouched islands. After the return of the first organized tour group, Mr Corbin and his agency 'Agenzia Viaggi Sesto Continente' were busy sending tourists regularly.

 
Main Sport - spear fishing |Back to top|

The reefs and surrounding lagoons of the islands of the Maldives are rich in sea life. It is a habitat for large and small multicoloured fish. The Italian tourists who visited in 1972 brought equipment to catch fish. Most liked spear fishing and they brought guns and other snorkelling equipment with them.

Tourists at Kurumba
At Kurumba - after a spear fishing trip

According to Mr M U Maniku, the first group who visited Kurumba Village snorkelled to hunt fish. They caught sharks, eels, snappers, groupers and many more. These fish ended up on barbecue tables and they enjoyed eating their own catch. The first tourist brochure published by Mr Corbin advertised the Maldives as an ideal place for spear fishing.

However, this sport did not prove to be very popular with environmentalists and nature lovers. The first German group who visited Kurumba Village disliked the sport and they objected to spear fishing. As a result the management of Kurumba Village decided to ban the sport in Kurumba. Later the government realized the threat to sea life if this sport were allowed to continue and banned spear fishing in Maldivian waters.

|Back to top|

 
The first tourist agencies |Back to top| 

Muman Agency was the first tourist agency to open in the Maldives and was involved in the construction of the first tourist resort, Kurumba Village on Vihamanaafushi. The shareholders of this agency were Mr Mohamed Umar Maniku and Mr Ahmed Naseem. Construction of a resort on Male' atoll Kuda Huraa was also undertaken by this agency and came into service in 1977 with a bed capacity of 32.

Mr M U Manik
M U Manik -one of the partners of MUMAN agency

In 1972 another agency was born named Crescent Tourist Agency. It was established as a private company and shareholders were Mr Ibrahim Nasir (the former president), Mr Ali Umaru Manik, Mr Ahmed Adam and Mr Kandi Ahmed Ismail Maniku.

The construction of Bandos Island as a tourist resort was undertaken by this agency in 1972. In the following year they began to develop resorts on Furanafushi (now Full Moon), Farukolhufushi, (now Club Med), Vilingili (now an inhabited island), and Baros Island. Velassaru (now Laguna Beach Resort) was developed with 90 beds and opened in 1974. During the same period Crescent Tourist Agency leased Farukolhufushi to Club Nature and was the first foreign company to manage a resort in the Maldives

Mr I Nasir
Ibrahim Nasir - a shareholder of Cresent Tourist Agnecy

The CTA, which developed 6 resorts, leased all the islands to different parties before it was dissolved in 1978.

The Humble Beginning- a resort at Vihamanaafushi |Back to top|

Mr Corbin and his companions visited the Male' atoll Meerufenfushi, to see whether it was suitable to be developed as a resort. But for them it was too far from the capital and the Airport. According to Mr Hussain Afeef the initial survey trip took more than five hours to arrive at Meerufenfushi. Therefore, Mr Corbin decided it would not be viable and wise to start construction there. Vihamanaafushi, being closer to the airport and the capital Male', was the ideal choice for the young entrepreneurs. It had a splendid beach and a close house reef which was ideal for snorkelling.

Kurumba Village
Kurumba Village

The construction of tourist resorts began with a single resort construction on an inhabited island. In 1972 the Italian travel enthusiast, George Corbin,with his pioneering Maldivian companions, M U Manik and Ahmed Naseem, started the project in Male' atoll Vihamanaasfushi, 3 km away from the airport. They invested money, effort, time and their energy, uncertain whether this would turn out to be the first gem in a multimillion-dollar industry.

Their concept was simple and back to nature. The rooms were constructed using coral stones, which were erected from the surrounding reefs. This material, has commonly been used to build houses. The roof was covered with thatch and coconut timber was used as beams and columns. En-suite facilities were provided for these rooms. Each room faced the beach, a popular concept among tourists even today. Ceiling fans were used to cool the rooms. Electricity was provided by using two generators and meals were served in the small restaurant, which was sufficient for 60 guests. Local staff without formal training were employed throughout the resort.

Kurumba Village
Kurumba Village

According to the Maldivian entrepreneurs, construction was nevertheless a laborious task with the limited facilities available at that time. National infrastructure was at its lowest level and the country was just recovering from the impacts of the second World War. "I was cook, gardener and room boy. We had to do everything ourselves," explained Mr Maniku who played a major role to establish Kurumba Village. "We had nothing in the Maldives then, nothing. No Banks, no airport, no telephones only ham radio or Morse code with Colombo. Even the UNDP experts said that tourism would never succeed because there were no facilities, no infrastructure."

The workmanship was solely based on the talents of fellow Maldivians with the innovation and expertise of George Corbin. A sailing boat was used to transport the construction materials from Male' to the island of Vihamanaafushi. The 30 room Kurumba Village was opened on 3rd October 1972 as the first ever Maldivian resort of the fledgling industry.

Kurumba Village
Kurumba Village

Since the forerunner in the idea of tourism was an Italian, the first group who visited to this resort was also a group of Italian tourists. In the same year different nationalities, such as Swedish and German, also visited Kurumba Village. Tourists were transferred in 'Cola Boat' from the airport to Kurumba Village.
The island had been upgraded in different phases after its opening, the major renovation being done during the 80s. Present bed capacity of the island is 340 which includes presidential suites and two-storey villa accommodation. Kurumba Village today boasts five-star luxury amenities with highly qualified managers to run the day-to-day activities of the resort. It has hosted many international meetings and conferences in its proud living history.

Bandos Island- the second exploration |Back to top|

Male' atoll Bodu Bandos was the next island developed as the second resort of the Maldives. The enterprising former president, Mr Ibrahim Nasir, initiated the resort development project. The Crescent Tourist Agency in which Mr Nasir had a stake implemented the project. Guestrooms built in Bandos Island were of good standard with en-suite facilities.

Bandos Island
Bandos Island Resort

The first phase of the construction involved the building of 32 rooms with two blocks of 10 rooms and six separate blocks of two rooms. The design conceptof two blocks of 10 rooms was not a favourite concept as these rooms were facing inland instead of towards the beach. However, the construction team soon realized the advantage of having beach front rooms in a leisure beach resort and increased the room numbers to 110, the rest being beach front bungalows. Local sand and corals were used as a major component in the construction.

With 220 beds, Bandos Island Resort was opened on 10th December 1972. The resort had a restaurant, dive school and other facilities. On opening, it employed about 60 local people. Since tourism was a new experience to locals, there was hardly anyone who was experienced or trained in the management field. To overcome this problem and enhance smooth running of the resort, two Maldivian women were sent to Colombo, Sri Lanka to obtain training in the hotel and catering field.

Bandos Island
Bandos Island Resort

Today, Bandos Island Resort is one of the best resorts of the Maldives, providing a good standard of services to its clients and staff. It is also famous as a resort that provides tourists with modern services including entertainment, accommodation, and business services. Bandos Island Resort has a modern conference hall which can cater for international conferences and regional meetings. Bandos was also the first resort to provide an in-house decompression facility for diving accidents with its hi-tech 'Decompression Chamber'.


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