IMTM Pvt. Ltd. has officially launched the Sustainable Tourism Forum (STF) 2022 on 3rd December at Manhattan Business Hotel in Male’. The forum is a platform that unites stakeholders of the tourism sector and encourages them to engage in a multi-sector dialogue on issues pertaining to the social, economic and environmental sustainability of tourism in the Maldives. This year, IMTM celebrates the forum’s return for its third edition, and a physical one at that, after two years of the pandemic.
The Opening Ceremony was attended by many special invitees and esteemed guests from the government, official partners of STF 2022, NGOs, associations, resorts, guesthouses, dive centers, students, and many more. The Deputy Resident Representative at UNDP Maldives, Ms. Vera Hakim, graced the event as the Guest of Honour. Deputy Minister of Tourism, Dr. Naushad Mohamed, also attended the ceremony as the Keynote Speaker. The forum was officially launched by the Guest of Honour with the official video of STF 2022.
The opening remarks at the ceremony were delivered by the Managing Director of IMTM, Ms. Shiuna Khalid. During her speech, she shared the vision and passion with which IMTM began the initiative to foster sustainable tourism in the Maldives. Launched in 2019, the first STF was held alongside the IMTM Travel and Trade Fair. In 2020, IMTM kept the ball rolling with an online second edition of the forum, “Fostering Rural Tourism in the Maldives”.
“The tourism industry is undoubtedly one of the biggest contributors to our economy. It makes up 20% of our GDP whilst many people’s income relies on it focusing on families’ livelihood and economic equality. The natural beauty of the islands and our local culture is what attracts so many tourists to our country. It is important to protect this industry and ensure that we are able to sustain it.
“This year, STF explores the theme “What is Sustainable Tourism? Interpretations and Discourses of Sustainable Tourism in the Maldives.” Sustainable practices differ based on each country’s context, its geography, environment, economy and people. This is the key focus of this forum. We want to know how different establishments define sustainability and what it means to them. With this, we hope to create a list of criteria for sustainability in the Maldivian context that the tourism industry can use as a reference.”
In addition to this, a Keynote Speech was delivered by the Deputy Minister of Tourism, Dr. Naushad Mohamed. He highlighted the importance of sustainability and the Ministry’s work towards ensuring sustainable practices are enforced in the country.
“It is generally established that tourism is the largest and fastest growing sector in the world. This itself has become a bit of a concern. For this reason, the concept of sustainability has been coined as the way forward with the aim of reducing the negative effects of economic activities. Tourism must benefit local communities, preserve natural resources, and cultural values. As we celebrate 50 years of tourism in the Maldives, the government is keen to explore international best practices in sustainable tourism. Maldives is working very closely with international organisations such as UNDP.”
He shared more about the government’s plans, including the plan to take tourism across all the local islands, which would result in more benefits for the people, including the generation of jobs, for a start. Another project is the Blue Seal, a standard developed with the objective of introducing a certification for guesthouses, which looks at how they implement sustainability in great depth. Furthermore, the Fifth Tourism Master Plan will address key issues of waste management, renewable energy, use of technology and innovation, resource development, tourism infrastructure development, protection of natural and cultural resources as tourism develops across the Maldives.
Deputy Minister Dr. Naushad ended his speech by highlighting the importance of tourism benefiting the local community, and the potential of generating more opportunities for youth and improve their livelihoods. “Every effort must be made to preserve our cultural heritage and natural attractions. We need to work together if we are to transform the industry.”
The Guest of Honour, Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP Maldives, Ms. Vera Hakim officially launched the STF 2022. In her remarks, she shared, “Sustainable Tourism in the Maldives is a very timely theme given the Maldives is celebrating the 50th anniversary of tourism in the country. Tourism is a catalyst for economic growth in the world and is a key driving factor for accelerating our progress towards the SDGs by 2030. The Maldives has the 5th richest reef biodiversity and the 7th largest reef ecosystem in the world. Its biodiversity contributes to 71% of the employment, 89% of the GDP and 98% of all exports.
In her speech, Ms. Vera gave some insight into the relationship between tourism, society, the economy and environment. A joint publication by UNDP and WTO put forward that tourism and its growth must be in harmony with its socio-environmental assets of countries. As tourism increases in growth, if well-managed, it can provide employment, reduce poverty, and even incentivize environmental conservation. It means we need to find a way to manage the adverse effects of tourism such as its contribution to carbon emissions, environmental degradation, economic inequalities.
Tourism preserves and promotes the unique social norms, customs and heritage of the host community. It provides opportunities for, especially women, youth and differently abled people, and vulnerable groups left behind in the socio-economic spectrum. But, as Ms. Vera emphasized, our entire consumption model puts an unbearable pressure on nature, and there is simply not enough anymore. The benefits tourism draws from nature and the community must be equitably distributed back into the community.
She said, “If we want to achieve and sustain a net positive contribution for people and the planet, the effects on the fragile ecosystems must be kept under close check. It’s crucial to have balanced and well-planned strategies in place to ensure that environmental conservation and sustainable business practices form the foundation of business models and not just the CSR promotion, or an afterthought.
“The pandemic has shown us how dependent the Maldives is on tourism and how susceptible the economy is to global shocks. One thing for certain, in all the uncertainty around us, is that we all need to prepare for and the choices we make today will return in the future pathway for this country. What will it take for the tourism industry to transform its fossil fuel dependence to a long clean renewable energy model, innovating and investing in smart technology in the Maldives?
“Sustainable tourism means investing in local capacities, offering new skills and capabilities ready for the 21st century, skills and digital technologies, innovation and entrepreneurships, supporting our natural ecosystem and cultural heritage, at the forefront of local tourism and development. The biggest barrier and challenge to local councils, SMEs and individuals in entering sustainable tourism is access to finance. It is excellent forums such as this gathering that encourages private-public partnerships and gathering of knowledge and good practices that helps the industry understand their full potential of achieving the SDGs,” she said.
This year is an important year for the Maldives and its tourism industry, given it is celebrating the milestone of 50 years of tourism. With this, STF 2022 offers a timely contribution for the industry to pause, reflect and rethink the way we have been doing work and how we may improve and implement sustainable practices. The forum’s focus is, as mentioned by UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, is to foster multi-sector dialogue on issues of sustainability. STF 2022 brings together the industry stakeholders to discuss the topic of sustainability in length, with the vision of making a mark in the industry – a clearly defined criteria for sustainable tourism establishments and a policy paper published early next year based on the forum’s findings and recommendations. This policy paper aims to help the government get more insight into the industry and complement their efforts in the hopes of assisting them in making changes on a policy level, including the introduction of a Sustainable Tourism Policy.
The 2-day forum will continue on 3rd and 4th December 2022 at Manhattan Business Hotel. IMTM thanks all the participants and partners for their support and hopes more and more people rally to support sustainable initiatives.