Image, Tourism and Maldives
After travelling around the world for more than a decade, across five continents, and approximately thirty countries, the Maldives is still my favorite place in the world and probably always will be. I first visited the Maldives aboout twenty years ago and was so in awe of its beauty that I even wrote a poem. After that, the Maldives has become my family’s favorite vacation destination, a perfect place to get away from the clamor and disturbance of big cities.
Referring to Wikipedia (“Tourism in the Maldives”, 2006, para. 1), “[t]ourism is the largest economic industry in the Maldives, as it plays an important role in earning foreign exchange revenues and generating employment in the tertiary sector of the country. The archipelago of the Maldives is the main source of attraction to many tourists visiting the country worldwide.”
Until being severely inflicted by the South-Asia tsunami in 2004, Maldives has always been advertised as ‘the Last Paradise on Earth.’ According to the description on Maldives Tourism Promotion Board (MTPB), the Maldives embodies the image of “Sun, sand and sea, a thousand ‘Robinson Crusoe’ islands, massive lagoons with different depths and infinite shades of blue and turquoise, dazzling underwater coral gardens; a perfect natural combination for the ideal tropical holiday destination. However there is more to the Maldives than just that” ("Maldives", 2006, para. 1). The movie, ‘the Blue Lagoon,’ also helped create an original pseudo-adventure of the Maldives while exoticism continued to assist drawing visitors in from all over the world, especially Europe.
Besides its breath-taking lagoons and underwater beauty, the Maldives also fascinates divers and snorkelers with its “profusion of psychedelic colours and the abundance and variety of life underwater” ("Things to do", 2006, para. 2). As a result, in order to attract not just tourists but divers and snorkelers from all over the world, “[a]ll resorts in the Maldives have professional dive schools with multi-lingual instructors and conduct courses for beginners as well as the advanced. Many of the resorts [even] have excellent house reefs” ("Things to do", 2006, para. 2). The image that the Maldives’ government attempts to build is a paradise for diving. It does not matter if the tourists know how to dive or not, as long as they are willing to experience the underwater wonder and give it a try, they can always go to the resort they are staying and take a lesson. What the Maldives offers here is a risk-free, non-threatening pseudo-adventure that is convenient and simple for its tourists.
Moreover, with the rapid development brought by rising tourism and accumulated fame, the Maldives has become increasingly artificial and less primitive in recent years. International high-end resort corporations have already set foot on the promising resort development of the Maldives and established five or six stars resorts. Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa, Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru and Banyan Tree Maldives Vabbinfaru are all great examples. “In spite of having such a micro-environment, [the] Maldives provides all facilities like Air-conditioning, private telephones in the guest rooms, running supply of hot and cold water and availability of mini-bars etc in its resorts” ("Tourism", 2004). With first-class management, exquisite design, and imports from the West, these resorts offer the comfort of home for all tourists.
However, due to the fact that “[a] tourist resort in the Maldives consists of an exclusive hotel on its own island,” on each island, the only local people would be the staff working at the resort ("Tourism in the Maldives", 2006, para. 6). Tourists are the majority, the norm and locals become ‘the other.’ Accordingly, the tourists have nearly no opportunities to interact with the locals and thus hard to develop a real and authentic understandings toward the local culture.
Acknowledging the lack of ‘exotic’ experiences would undermine tourists’ interests in visiting the country, the Maldives’ has created a vivid yet constructed ‘exotic’ experience for its tourists by introducing its capital, Malé, as an attraction to experience the life and culture of local Maldives. As an island-country, it is easy for the Maldives to build a fictional ‘fishermen’ image based on its environment. Referring to the portrayal on MTPB ("Interesting places", 2006), the Maldives’ culture is delivered as a ‘fishing’ culture:
Also in the area are the Male’ Fish Market and the Local Market selling a range of local produce. While some ‘dhonis’ from all corners of the country unload dried fish, fresh fruits and vegetables from the atolls others are seen loading everything from foodstuffs to construction materials. The pace increases in mid-afternoon as fishing ‘dhonis’ start returning with their day’s catch. The catch, mainly tuna are carried across the road into the open-sided market and laid out on the tiled floors. As fast as the fish are brought in they are bought and taken away by men from all walks of life (para. 6).
In the attempt of providing a pleasurable and multi-dimensional experience for its tourists, the Maldives has carefully managed its image and reached a great success in demonstrating that image to the tourists.