MALDIVES LOCAL ISLAND INSIGHTS : EMBRACING RESPONSIBLE TOURISM
If you recall a few weeks ago we have once again invited Elisa Spampinato from Traveller Storyteller to curate a series of engaging interviews that delve into the lives of the remarkable individuals who play pivotal roles in the delivery of our immersive tours. In her first conversation Local Insights: Empowering Local Island Communities through Tourism chatted with two of our guesthouse property partners about the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey and about their personal experience of tourism. In this conversation, Elisa continues the discussion with Hajja and Shaheem, exploring the changes in the tourists’ demands and behaviours over the years. They also talk about tourism leakage and creating new expectations that are more in tune with the real vibes of the local islands’ lifestyle.
Enjoy their conversation!
In their hotels they receive different kinds of tourists, who book through different digital channels, and I was curious to know if Shaheem had noticed any divergence in the way people were embracing the actual stay.
‘Honestly, the people that come through the popular self-booking portals sometimes show disappointment,’ he confesses. ‘They are here for the crystal-clear water, and it seems that is all they want. They don’t expect to find themselves in a lively local community.’
There seems to be a discrepancy, though, with the visitors who arrive with a different mindset and are already equipped with information and awareness, such as the guests who travel with Secret Paradise. They differentiate themselves through the lack of standard expectations about the archipelago, created by the mental and internet images of deserted islands and atolls where they will be the only humans present.
For those guests who may not be fully prepared, they usually end up being positively surprised by the human interactions and particularly seem to enjoy the local hospitality and the community lifestyle.
Tourism demands constantly change, and I thought that their ten years of commercial activity must have made the couple witnesses to interesting shifts. According to Shaheem, tourists today want more hands-on experiences and the ability to access more knowledge about the place. ‘Before, they used to come just to rest. Today, they are also really worried about the environment.’
I suppose that the risk of losing the pristine and unique natural setting that they travelled to see rings louder bells for them while walking on the white beaches and immersing their gaze in the infinite crystal-blue sea around them.
Directly transferring images of polluted beaches, which they have seen in abundance on their screens, to the paradisiac places they have come to spend time in – perhaps as a regular guest – might generate a nightmare-like feeling. When cause and effect get closely connected in our minds, through tangible links, I suppose the terrible scenario becomes much more vivid.
In any case, global issues around plastic pollution are generally very heart-felt among tourists nowadays, according to Hajja’s husband. ‘When there is a clean-up day,’ he told me, ‘we invite guests to participate and, I have to say, they are always very happy to take part in this activity.’
The protection of the local environment has always been in Secret Paradise’s heart, and local partnerships, like the one with the NGO Save the Beach, have created valuable opportunities over the years for their guests to leave a positive footprint on the place they visit.
This is something that I have also detected among the local Maldivian younger generation, and this came to the surface during my conversation with Secret Paradise’s tour guide, Kokko, in 2020. Old habits die hard, and it is clear that young people are the key to a more sustainable future. It is inspiring to see how the tourism experience can deepen and propel awareness-raising, but also be enriched by confrontation with other realities and consciousnesses.
The relationship that starts from actions of collective care for our oceans is a mutually beneficial one, both for the residents and for those who are beginning to rethink their impact on destinations and be more considerate in their behaviours.
BENEFITS FOR MALDIVES LOCAL COMMUNITIES
Beyond the contribution towards the protection of local biodiversity, tourism also affects other aspects of life. Secret Paradise believes that tourism should primarily benefit the destination, and this can happen in several ways. I was curious to explore more about the economic dimension and the ripple effects of tourism.
‘What are the benefits of this kind of tourism to the local community?’ I asked Hajja and Shaheem.
‘Tourism in the local communities has benefitted all the households,’ Shaheem told us. All the shops and cafes have received international tourists and more people have earned directly from that. Moreover, more local women have been employed in the guesthouses, providing cooking and cleaning services, which means that they are now more empowered and financially independent. More tourists spending locally means that there is also little tourism leakage. The international money stays here, circulating directly in the local economy.
For the tourism industry, every single ‘ring’ of the supply chain is an opportunity to reduce tourism leakage and to support, and even activate, other segments of the local economy. When the supply chain becomes an object of social innovation, there are plenty of opportunities for new, creative solutions that have a positive impact.
BEYOND EXPECTATIONS OF THE MALDIVES
Based on typical images of the Maldives, there are some typologies of tourists that are attracted to this destination: the surfer is one; the honeymooner is another. On this subject, Shaheem wants to share a message with his future guests: the ones who have not yet considered visiting the Maldives, because they don’t like surfing or are not planning their honeymoon.
Apart from having 365 days of sunshine, there is much more to discover about this destination and visitors will see local life going on around them. ‘We go fishing without a net; we still use a pole and line, which is a more respectful way of sourcing our supplies that doesn’t damage the precious wildlife in our waters.’
The Maldives are also the perfect spot for adventurous discovery, ‘definitely not for the lazy ones’. There is a lot of culture to experience here and a whole range of activities available. You can go snorkelling, which is only one of the water activities available, and since the country is made up of 99% water, the options are numerous and unmissable.
The Maldives is definitely not just for lazy people!
One of his final warnings referred to people’s fears of interacting with one particular inhabitant of the Maldivian waters; a fear that has been created over the years by misleading portrayals in Hollywood films.
‘Don’t worry, we humans are not on the Shark’s menu.’
Come and enjoy the freedom of this wonderful land and the proximity to its deep blue waters, full of life and fun.
The team at Secret Paradise would like to remind you that positive interactions for both sharks, marine life and tourists are always possible especially if responsible snorkelling etiquettes are followed which include no feeding or touching.
Discover how to snorkel responsibly HERE.