Maldives is a 100 per cent Muslim country that offers tourists various holiday packages. However, many people are still unaware that it is a Muslim-friendly destination. For example, Maldives provides segregated services for most female and male clients. The destination also offers two options for tourists – luxurious resorts and a budget segment with the guesthouse market.
Dr Hussain Sunny Umar, Managing Director of Maldives Halal Travel & Halal Weekly, said the pandemic was devastating for the destination as they were heavily reliant on tourism and their biggest market was China.
“It was a very frightening time for all citizens. But since we were tiny islands, we could open here and there independently, and all resorts started to open. With the government’s help, everyone got vaccinated. They have been trying to promote Maldives as a safe destination,” said Hussain.
“Tourism rebounded in 2021. We received 1.3 million tourists. This year we are looking for 1.7 million or more. In 2019, it was 1.7 million. We are heading to record numbers. We have received record numbers from Saudi Arabia, which is over 50,000 and from Dubai is 25,000. In 2022, we’ll have more numbers from this segment.”
A blessing in disguise
Hussain researched Muslim-friendly tourism in his PhD thesis from 2011 to 2014. He returned to the Maldives in 2015 and went to the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) to present about Muslim-friendly tourism.
Relying on the European market, the government and association did not find the time to integrate any other component because the business was going very well. However, in 2020, Covid-19 happened, and the government felt it was an excellent time to start over. They then officially started promoting Maldives as a Muslim-friendly destination.
“Since then, we have received record numbers. Still, some resort owners are hesitant to promote it as a Muslim-friendly destination. However, we have started to see a lot of infrastructure development from the hotel’s side – building villas and calling them Sultanate Villas, directly pitching and promoting them to the Middle East market. Hopefully, within five to 10 years, there will be very significant growth,” said Hussain.