Maldivians have for most of our history been very hospitable, welcoming and friendly towards outsiders. While this has relevance to guesthouse and homestay tourism, the commercial hospitality we see in resorts today relies on a different model and image.
Achchange – the centre of life as I saw it when I was growing up in F’mulah in the late 70s and early 80s, share a lot of similarities with how things were done in the first decade of tourism – creativity, ingenuity and resourcefulness to become self-sufficient. Not even a single tin can was thrown away.
My first day at a resort 34 years ago was quite an experience. I was assigned to a dorm room that had 13 other men. I was on the top bunk.
Showers and toilets were about 300 feet away from where we slept and as I walked toward the toilets on the first day, I had my towel wrapped around my waist. Halfway through, someone came from behind and pulled my towel away. The next day I didn’t bother to wrap it around – I just threw it on my shoulder. I was, of course, wearing underpants.
Resources were scarce back then. I remember carrying water on Ummeed Dhoni with Aage Alibe of Mahibadhoo. In the dry season, when the water plant breaks down, we had no choice but to bring water from neighbouring islands.
My experience at a typical Italian village was fun. I grew quite close to Capo Villagio and his girlfriend who wooed me with ‘Arnoldino bello piccolino’ every time she saw me. Once, I ended up being wrapped in her favourite Italian Serie A club’s regalia to be stripped again and rewrapped in Capo’s favourite colours just minutes after.
I enjoyed being part of the evening theatre. Italian animators and Maldivians appeared together on stage just like we worked together during the day. It was a very close relationship.
In summer, a team of our F&B production and service will travel to the South of Italy to open Maldivian restaurants at summer vacation hotspots run by Club Vacanze. It was a true cultural exchange.
Tourism started with simple and basic products and services. The relationships were organic and genuine back then. Today, resorts offer a complex mix of facilities and services. Each resort tries to be unique and stand out from the crowd. The evolution of tourism went from simplicity to complexity.
People – the resourceful humans who create the tourism experience – had not been seen as such an important element in the mix until recently. We still do a lot of things to change the objective reality (food, accommodation and physical spaces) rather than subjective perception in trying to improve life in resorts for workers.
The Maldives as one of the best luxury destinations in the world has redefined many of the standards in high-end tourism offerings. This has created a rich body of tacit knowledge that has not been fully documented and archived.
As more and more local islands welcome tourists, the definition of a tourist as perceived by the average local needs to change. Tourism is very context-specific and we can adopt models that are fully compatible with Islam and our culture and way of life in these small islands.