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Tourism Development and Social Equity

The Maldives tourism industry is one of the dominant sectors of the economy and contributes about 30 per cent of the    country’s GDP. The islands attract about half a million tourists every year.

Experts have raised several questions about sustainable tourism development on the environment and ecology of the Maldives which is extremely fragile. There is also the question of the trickle-down effects of the benefits of tourism to the local inhabitants. It is here that the importance of developing local arts and handicrafts must be realised. The 3rd International Tourism and Handcrafts Conference to be held from September 24-26, 2008 in Peru will focus on strengthening ties between tourism and handicrafts so more job opportunities are created, thus increasing wages and reducing poverty. The Maldives must take a cue from this. Of course, only a sustainable use of resources for the development of the handicraft industry (or any industry) must be allowed.

The Maldives handicraft industry has much scope for development. Beautiful laquer boxes, mats and the well-known dhonis are some of the most popular items and have a ready market. A welcome development is the agreement between the IFC (International Finance Corporation), a member of the World Bank Group, and the Women Entrepreneurs Council, operating under the aegis of the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry to develop linkages between the tourism industry and local small and medium businesses that focus on the handicraft industry, as it recognises that handicrafts are an ideal income-generating activity for the people of the Maldives.

Development of HR for the tourism industry is another great income-leveler. Cinnamon Island Alidhoo Maldives which won the 2008 PATA Grand Award for Education and Training has set an exemplary example in this regard. Its HR training programme has contributed immensely to training youth to equip an economy which revolves around the hospitality industry and earns a major proportion of its income from it. A wonderful instance of tourism building sustainable relationships with local communities and businesses.

Ravisankar K.V.

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