In a couple of weeks, Kelly and I leave for a week of rest and relaxation in the Maldives. The Maldives are a chain of over 1,100 islands located in the Indian ocean, south of Sri Lanka and India. These islands are small and spread out–the territory of the Maldives spans over 35,000 square miles, making the Maldives one of the most dispersed countries on the planet. Only 200 of these islands are inhabited.
The government of the Maldives has made a deliberate attempt to ensure that the inhabited islands fall into two separate categories: “local” islands, and “resort” islands. Tourists are welcome, but only on the resort islands: you need government approval to journey to an island containing a local village. Thus, the islands inhabited by citizens of the Maldives maintain their local culture and tradition, and are not overrun by sunworshipping tourists from abroad. Additionally, as Islam is the country’s primary religion, the islanders are spared from skimpy bathing suits and alcoholic boat drinks.
Thus, each resort has its own island that it occupies exclusively. Great for everything being all-inclusive and safe, but bad for prices, and really bad for getting any sort of local feel. It’s virtually impossible to “island hop” like you would in the Caribbean, so many visitors never make it beyond the capital city of Male and their own resort island.
So the Maldives strikes a balance between opening itself up to tourism and the revenues that entails, yet avoiding overdevelopment and culture clash. Does it work? Maybe. Part of the appeal of travel is seeing a culture different than your own, eating in new restaurants, and meeting new people. On the other hand, too many places in this world have been overrun by the tourism trade, especially in those places where the dirt meets the sea. Plenty of people are coming to the Maldives, so it must be doing fine.