The pristine archipelago situated in the Indian Ocean, surrounded by white sandy beaches, lush green vegetation, and seas in a multitude of shades of blue, is one of the world’s most luxurious and sought-after destinations. It wasn’t always this way, the tourism industry in the Maldives began 50 years ago with one resort.

InterContinental Maamunagau Resort (Photo/InterContinental Maldives Hotels and Resorts)

With its rich culture steeped in various influences from its tumultuous history, 200 of its 1200 islands are inhabited and are a gem full of natural wonder. Regardless of the natural beauty, a development delegation from the United Nations that visited the Maldives in the 1960s stated that the islands were not fit for tourism and did not recommend starting the industry in the Maldives. No investments had been made in the Maldives as a travel destination, and there were no regular flights to the region. The tiny airfield on Hulhule' island, which hardly qualifies as a commercial airport, did not receive much traffic due to a lack of tourism infrastructure, and as the Maldives was unheard to the travel industry. 

Water Villas at Sun Siyam Iru Fushi. (Photo/Sun Siyam Iru Fushi)

It was only in 1972, that a duo consisting of an Italian travel agent named George Corbin and a junior employee from the Maldivian Embassy in Sri Lanka, Ahmed "Kerafa" Naseem, started to work on opening a resort in Maldives. In search of an appropriate location on which to establish a resort, Corbin and Naseem traveled to many islands. Corbin was introduced to Hussain "Champa" Afeef and Mohamed Umar "MU" Manik by Naseem.

(From L-R) Hussain Afeef, Ahmed Naseem, George Corbin, and Mohamed Umar Manik. (Photo/MATI)

Due to its close proximity to the airport and Male', they chose Vihamanaafushi. While Corbin traveled to Singapore to purchase all the equipment they would need for the resort, Naseem, Afeef, and Manik worked on the construction. They named the resort Kurumba Island Resort, after the Dhivehi word for young coconut, 'Kurumba'. Corbin brought in the first batch of vacationers on February 16, 1972. Four of them were journalists from reputable medias, and the majority were Italians.

George Corbin with the first group of tourists that visited the Maldives. (Photo/Kurumba)

MU Maniku, stated, "Back then, the Maldives had nothing. Only hand radios or morse code contact with Colombo were available; there were no airports, banks, or telephones. Even UNDP specialists predicted that tourism would fail due to a lack of infrastructure and facilities.”

This resort was followed by Bandos Island Resort. Ever since then, tourism has flourished and expanded in the Maldives. The Maldives’ tourism industry thrives on its “one island, one resort, philosophy.

Kurumba Island Resort. (Photo/Kurumba Maldives)

A pioneer of the local tourism sector, Mohamed Umaru Maniku, stated, "Back then, the Maldives had nothing. Only hand radios or morse code contacts with Colombo are available; there were no airports, banks, or telephones. Even UNDP specialists predicted that tourism would fail due to lack of infrastructure and facilities."

Kurumba Maldives in 1970. (Photo/Kurumba Maldives)

With over 160 island resorts today, tourism has become one of the nation’s economic pillars alongside fisheries. Maldives opened nearly 50 new resorts between 2018 and 2021, with an ever-expanding array of activities available to tourists. The industry suffered a setback during the pandemic but it has made a stellar comeback, breaking national records every year. Maldives has amassed multiple accolades and awards among tourist destinations in the world, including a hattrick of Indian Ocean's Leading Destination award.

Deluxe Water Villa at Siyam World. (Photo/Sun Siyam)

Maldives has also ventured into ecotourism. As a low-lying island nation, Maldives is amongst the first countries to be affected by the adverse impact of climate change, such as the rising of sea levels and coral bleaching. As such resorts in the Maldives are working towards a more eco-friendly way of catering to guests visiting their island resorts. Such resorts as Gili Lankanfushi, an antiplastic paradise, Soneva Fushi, and so many more are taking green initiatives and working to preserve the fragile marine ecosystem, the environment, and to reduce energy consumption.

Reserve at Soneva Jani Chapter Two. (Photo/Soneva)

Not only luxury resorts are where guests can witness the beauty of the Maldives. The midmarket tourism sector has expanded rapidly. The first guesthouses debuted in 2010, on the island of Maafushi, close to the capital city. These guesthouses offer unique experiences which cannot be found in resorts; the opportunity to experience the hospitality of the local people of the inhabited islands. As of October 30, 2022, there are 808 registered guesthouses. 

Water villas at Sun Siyam Vilu Reef. (Photo/Sun Siyam Vilu Reef)

Maldives transformed from 1,192 islands with no foreign investment in 50 years to a tropical haven with private island resorts, and local guesthouses. The desire to travel to the Maldives is still at an all-time high. Industry stakeholders are paying more and more attention to conserving the natural beauty that the first visitors to the country in the 1970s fell in love with - as they further develop the sector with more tourist facilities.