Excerpt from 1994 interview with the late Maizan Hassan Manik

Mr. Maizan Hassan Maniku is the Director of the Marine Research Unit, a department of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture. Trained as a Marine biologist he is acknowledged as an expert on the local environment. In this he is involved in research into marine life, especially coral reef damage and their management.

Mr. Maniku is also an established artist and designer who under this guise was involved in the design of, amongst several domestic and some public buildings, several tourist resorts since the mid seventies. This part of the work is carried out under the flagship of Studio One design practice which houses the sole art gallery in the country, and is run in partnership with Mr. Ahmed Abbas ( another local artist/designer who has been involved in the design of several tourist resorts since the early seventies ).

They have been the owners of Fullmoon Tourist Resort since the early 1990’s.

(N.B. the recording of this session begins in mid conversation)

H.MANIKU: ( Talking about Nika Hotel (photo)  in terms of sustainable development)

……………….they began around the same time as Kurumba (photo) and others, close to the centre (international airport), were refurbished as luxury tourist resorts but as it was developed with an environment friendly attitude, but without the necessary support infrastructure for storage and transport etc.. So they began to compensate for this by developing sophisticated storage facilities such as wine cellars and for food so that they didn’t have to face problems with delivery of goods, etc.

M.U.F: So in a way, they had to develop their own little support structure?

H.MANIKU: The same system applies when you look at every island in every atoll in terms of habitation, local habitation. Now, with this you have to somehow highlight the infrastructure of the local habitation. That is the way the factors of sustainability can be highlighted. This might help bring out the double standards that seem to exist.

What’s happening here is that this model (while sketching, sketch) , it begins as an inhabited island, which becomes part resort part local habitation. What I’m saying is that in a reality there shouldn’t be such a difference between these two models. That is, in terms of establishing a sustainable development pattern.

M.U.F: Meaning, they should exist in a similar regulatory concept?

H.MANIKU: That’s right, to some extent. For example this (referring to sketch, overleaf) island, say, is a sustainable island, that is somewhere in the outer atolls, say in the seventies. Then in the eighties the resort finds a stronger definition. They existed on the same terms as inhabited islands before tourism. Similarly local islands began to change during the 1980’s, that is in terms of their support facilities and there infrastructures beginning to gain some kind of definition. So at this level exists the problem of carrying capacity, which has to be established in both these models.

M.U.F: This might refer to the more regionally inclined model suggested in the 1980Tourism Master Plan. This in a way seems to have been abandoned in favour of the so called “Laissez Faire” model, which lets the past development continue with limited restrictions in terms of the physical development pattern.

As predicted in this plan the stretching of the “Male’ Tourist Centre” beyond Kaafu Atoll into Ari Atoll has resulted in intensified pressure on Male’ as centre.

So, in terms of what you have just described, the regional development strategy favoured by the first Master Plan seems to be better model. This seems to comply more closely to the definition of what the WTO terms “Integrated Tourist Resorts”. An approach with emphasis on high levels of planning that integrates careful consideration of regional environmental, economic and sociocultural factors.

So the development with Male’ as centre seems to have been exhausted.

H.MANIKU: For this region,  that’s true. The radius they have  determined for  this region  is  90 miles (sketch). Beyond this radius there can’t/shouldn’t be any further expansion. Beyond this 90 mile radius you have to look at setting up another regional centre. Probably by setting up an airport. For example Huvadhoo Atoll.

M.U.F: Within all these regulative conditions that are imposed in terms of physical development controls, is it moving towards a very specific image or model of a tourist resort that will sustain a certain market.

H.MANIKU: I don’t think so. I think here we have to give a definition for sustainability in terms of Maldivian tourism. What sustainability means to us. That is (sketch) the economic and environmental factors. Which in Maldives we are talking about an economy which is based on tourism, right.

M.U.F: and social and cultural, sort of, seems to exist parallel to this?

H.MANIKU: Yes, again this crops up as a definition was never really established. This will always crop up, as in reality sustainability is how well business (industry) and the environment gel together. That’s is the nature of it. Again, to establish a business (industry) you’ll, obviously need to see some  economic returns.

And in between these two factors you have to live with some kind of sacrifice, one or the other. So what you have to establish is what this compromise is going to be. Maybe, you have to give it a numerical value. An assessment of what the kind of environmental costs  involved will be.

In these terms one of the things that can be looked at is running cost. For example in a 100 bed resort what the minimum, sustainable occupancy is.  This, say for example is 40% , meaning, if you were to occupy 40 beds it will sustain the economic gains. While these 40 beds might sustain the economic gains it still represents some environmental cost. What you need is for this value to be optimised. Finding ways to, ingeniously lower this value. That will happen as you develop more environmentally friendly concepts.

M.U.F: Means to achieve a sustainable economy with the lowest figure of this factor. So it’s a matter of sorting out what your priorities are.

H.MANIKU: Right, how much can you afford to lose in environmental cost. Even so that represents a sacrifice in terms of  the environment. So in reality you can never reach a level of overall sustainability, without some compromise, when you have something interfering with a stable environment. When you have to accommodate some human intervention into a stable environment, that is where this conflict occurs.

That is, for example it may mean that from what you get from the gross profits of 40 beds, the profits from 15 beds might represent the cost of environmental mitigation, that is in managing the problems of beach erosion and problems with water and sewage, etc.. The cost of all this might represent the profits from 15 beds. Then the profits from the remaining 25 beds represents the costs for everything else. In this way a zero figure maybe achieved. After this every extra bed, that is say 41 beds, represents a profit of one bed. So to reach a sustainable level you might have to face a higher initial investment figure.

For example to use environmentally  friendly materials is costly. Then again there is the case of inert materials, for example Hiri Gaa (mined coral cut and shaped, used in traditional buildings), if you were to use this without any plaster by itself, it will just remain inert and will not change, as it is just dead Coral. Where as with timber, it can only last a certain period of time. So if for example you were, as much as possible, use inert materials in the basic structure that would reduce the cost.

M.U.F: So, in the case of Hiri Gaa (coral), you have to regard it an environmentally friendly material?

H.MANIKU: Yes, that could be so. That is, no one has yet made any investigations into the harvest-able rate of coral. In place of coral mining this means harvesting it. This is something that could, realistically be applied here in that a tree, for example a Funa Gus (local source of timber) takes 15 years to mature to a level where a dhoni(traditional fishing vessel(photo  )) can be built from it. in the same way a Hiri Gaa(coral) takes approximately 8 years to grow to a diameter of 20 centimetres. If that means it might be harvest-able in 20 years, with the ample reefs available in this country, the possibility exists for this to be developed.

M.U.F: And this could be seen in terms of another economic opportunity as well?

H.MANIKU: That’s right it could be seen that way. No one has looked into this but when you compare the extent to which the coral has been used for various types of construction and the damage it’s mining inflicted on reefs, it appears more than likely that it can be harvested. Otherwise if you were to mine for coral to the same extent we have done for the last 25 years, fisheries will be effected and there will be environmental costs to pay. While the tourist product is based on the environment, especially the under water landscape.

M.U.F: In a way the way the product has developed seems to indicate that it isn’t really based  any specific market. In that every resort seems to be developed with a very broad market in mind. While the nature of the Maldives tourist product is that it is very specific, as you said based on the natural environment and the diving.

Is there a case for actually defining the actual market to cater for and developing a resort model for this only?

H.MANIKU: I don’t think so, because right now we are in an opportunistic market place, in terms of the terrorism in Sri Lanka and the absence of any other island resort facilities, of this quality, in South Asia  as yet. So we aren’t faced with that much competition. As we cater for this opportunistic market there is going to be all kinds of visitors into this country.  It won’t be any specific market.

But do we stay this way or do we need to specialise in some way? That is, we’ll have to cater for different types of products. Some people will visit on business for three or four days and, as they’ll need to be close to the capital or centre, might stay in one of these island resort hotels. As you get further away the demand will develop in a different fashion. So the focus will be on  how the demand develops in relation to this move away from the centre.

So, now, as Male’ is the only existing centre you’re seeing the development of Island Resort Hotels around it. Kurumba’s (map) redevelopment as one of these Island Resort Hotels, with conferencing and other city type facilities, illustrates this. That is the potential of being close to a growth centre. The only other region with this potential is Addu Atoll (map), hence they are developing 400 or 500 beds in Villingilli (map) .

No other regions possess the infrastructure for people to be taken there, even for a different type of development. That is the Maldives cannot cater, solely for an eco-tourist market. If all resort development concentrated on eco-tourism we won’t be able to capture all the different elements that these centres, naturally, generate. This will have an effect on the overall economy. This can be highlighted in the regional development plan in terms of future development concept.

M.U.F: So as far as the types of design of resorts goes a no one kind seems to matter as long as this scale and some kind of regional concept is developed.

H.MANIKU: Well it does matter in the sense that as you move closer from the 90 mile radius the concept of City hotels become more viable. Which might display more homogeneous characteristics with marble floors and more artificial materials being used to provide a more services oriented product. Not really, a concept of environmentally friendly resorts, more a case of creating/inventing an aesthetic environment which frequently retains a more artificial atmosphere. As you move further outwards the opposite seems to happen.

M.U.F: That is, a more eco-tourist concept. So in moving away from the centre the opportunity will be there to develop a more environmentally friendly model?.

H.MANIKU: Yes, and in doing that the opportunity will be there to reduce the occupancy rate (discussed above). That is, as you get closer to the Male’(centre) the occupancy will be more unpredictable. This can be shown, to be the case, with the relevant statistics.

M.U.F: The main concern of all the regulative guidelines seems geared towards the preservation of the natural environment, which is the basis of the Maldivian tourist product. So in terms of how the industry affects the general society  and culture, do you feel that there is a conflict in the overall planning of the national economy and that of the development of tourism. Do you think that it is integrated enough, considering the huge chunk of the nations income that tourism represents?

H.MANIKU: I don’t feel this is the way the planning processes have worked in this country. It seems obvious that the whole government is geared towards tourism. The utilisation of public spending appears prove this to be true. The way it works is that the overall earnings from the industry (tourist) is utilised in intensive development of the country.

So, the social impact of tourism in this country manifests itself in a very different manner. Rather than it being in terms direct contact with tourists, it is a more apparent in the overall development strategies initiated by the government itself. If you were to analyse our budget in terms of spending, the allocation for Fisheries will be significantly small. Fisheries as well as Tourism, in the Maldives is based on the reef systems etc.. Both use the same resources. The difference is that one is a form of extraction and the other more about preservation. You could say that one is a positive for the environment, even though overall it could be a negative. But this(fisheries) is  a negative in terms of the environment. Overall, the area required for Fisheries is significantly larger so even inside the 90 mile radius (current allocation of tourism development) there are the beginnings of an apparent conflict developing. The conflict will arise when they start operating in the same areas. Presently the tourism area is quite well defined so the conflict remains negligible, though it does happen even now as fisherman sometimes go bait-fishing near the tourist resorts.

When you look at the governments overall spending the expenditure on tourism is much higher. In terms of funds spent on the management of both industries, Fisheries gets significantly less. So the government’s efforts in developing the Fisheries industry are very small when compared to the Tourist industry. Tourism development mainly involves government investments in transport and communication. That is setting up airports and other infrastructure.

M.U.F: As in the development of the international airport.

H.MANIKU: That’s right it’s development was based solely on the opportunity provided by the development of tourism. So when you look at overall government, spending tourism is dominating. This means that the development of a sustainable tourism in the country would prove difficult.

M.U.F: How is that?

H.MANIKU: That would, in reality  mean that the minimum occupancy rate (discussed previously) might have to rise to, say, 75 out of 100 beds. With an average occupancy of 75% , only 25% would represent the full earnings as  the 75% would include environmental mitigation costs and higher management costs.  So, this represents a significant danger to  economic sustainability.

This can then be defined in relation to the distance away from the centre, which might give clues to the different physical characteristics of the resorts that are developed. The difference in the styles and image they might need to adopt. This will have an effect on how you approach the design of these places in terms of building materials, etc. As you move further from the centre a more environmentally friendly, sustainable concept would have to be applied. As journey times increase and the concentration of support facilities gradually diminish running costs will prove harder keep down.

M.U.F: Sill the only Male’ can be regarded as a centre.

H.MANIKU: Yes, I think it remains the only viable centre as only it contains all the relevant facilities, as yet. That is in terms of manpower, goods distribution and dealing with the arrivals, and so on. All the facilities are still only concentrated in one place.

M.U.F: So the recently proposed developments in Baa, Lhaviyani, and Dhaal (map   ) atolls, which will be running very soon……

H.MANIKU: They are all within the allocated 90 mile radius of the existing centre. So when you move beyond this area, there will have to be new growth centres. These cannot be worked by allocating growth centres solely for tourism development but in a broader sense (macro). It’s a matter of strengthening transport and communications and then tourism can develop naturally. As is illustrated by the establishment of Male’ as a centre with the development of it’s international airport. These are the things that tend to hold things back in the Maldives. But now we have established direct telephone connections as far as Meemu atoll (map   ). So now the 10 year Tourism Master Plan  has become more realistic. But even that won’t go any further without building refuelling stations and so on.

In a way we are talking about a road network, it’s a road network except it’s on water. With such a network in place goods and services can be freely distributed between the centres.

Again the Hulhu-Male’ Project (map) already contradicts this type of, integrated regional development strategy.

M.U.F: This seems to have been recognised in the most recent Tourism Master Plan (1995). It points to the lack of success in countering the in-migration in to Male’ and goes onto suggest a strategy of decentralised/growth centre development which you’ve touched on. But this was the basis of the very first Tourism Master Plan(1983), a feature expressed even stronger than in the later plan. It still doesn’t seem to be fully integrated into the overall development strategy as the Hulhu-Male’ Project seems to indicate.

H.MANIKU: I think this project exists in a political ideology seems to exist in a vacuum. In a way it’s creating something false, literally building something that doesn’t really exist.

M.U.F: Or could it simply be a fear of the large initial investments this type of strategy would entail. For example building a new airport in a region where, apparently, nothing exists?

H.MANIKU: Not really, somewhere like Addu Atoll (map) already possess the basic elements of such a centre. It already has a regional airport which could easily be expanded. And Villingilli has been allocated 3000 beds for development.

You can also think about sustainability within the resorts themselves. In terms of at what level they can sustain themselves. The guidelines for water, sanitation guidelines; are these really the ones we want to have? Or is could there be a, cheaper, better solution? Or have they retained themselves for the last 25 years because they have worked in a sustainable fashion? The present situation….These can only, really, exist as questions as you won’t be able to find the raw data to substantiate them. There hasn’t been a system in place for long term monitoring.

But I think these questions can be discussed in relation to how the situation has changed, and will change, as it’s moved further from the existing centre (Male’,   map           a). This movement, as we’ve, discussed seems to promote a more sustainable, environmentally friendly approach in terms of journey times, increased storage, etc.. That is, this argument might be able to point to a direction in answering these questions. As such, the capacity nearer the centre would want to be larger and smaller as you move further away. Transport and communication factors would come into sharper focus.

M.U.F: Also these islands are more or less individual autonomous centres with there own support facilities, power plants, water plants, airport transfer etc.?

H.MANIKU: This is a firmly established definition of our resorts. It almost couldn’t function any other way in this context. So they can’t do without their own desalination plants, power, etc..

That’s where the sacrifice/compromise comes in. If for example for example you are to built a tourist resort in the Maldives, a desalination plant is a must, and sewage will have to be discharged into the sea (whether you treat it or recycle it it’ll still have to be discharged). So, you are faced with these three or four environmental costs that remain constant. These have to be minimised. You could categorise this in terms of a minimum sacrifice, a medium, a maximum sacrifice(the maximum sacrifice that we could afford to make). You could say the maximum might apply to the “Island Resort Hotels” near the centre. Then medium, you could say be applied to the “Island Resorts” as they move away from the centre, compromise. The minimum environmental cost is the determinant. The development of a tourist resort cannot avoid these costs. That has been confirmed in the last 25 years: sewage has to be discharged, garbage has to be disposed of….

M.U.F: In a way this is a predetermined situation,  provided by the small physical scale of the these uninhabited islands, and the fragile natural environment around it. On which the whole appeal of the Maldives tourist product rests. So in a way these costs were obvious ones.

H.MANIKU: That’s true, but almost all the islands exhausted their water table within a year or two so that’s an established fact. In the end it can only be discussed more in terms of economic sustainability.

M.U.F: You mean, the environment will always be compromised in some way. Which is unavoidable with the particular composition of the physical landscape and the fragile nature of this eco-system. But these physical aspects, it is stated in both Tourism Master Plans, have prevented any of “the negative social impacts of tourism”. I mean that this has helped the policy of minimal social interactions which is quite strictly regulated (the policies seems to reinforce the physical seclusion of the islands)

H.MANIKU: That’s right, the positive and negative cultural are become evident, more, through the increased income it generates. In a way tourism, in this country, doesn’t exist in a sociocultural context in terms of direct interaction  the visitors. For instance you they can only visit an inhabited island during the day and that’s with prior permission. So, there is very little contact. In the local perspective tourists are solely there to do some shopping. They don’t really have too much to “gaze” at or places of interest which you might find in Sri Lanka for example. This becomes apparent when you look at some of the islands close to tourist resorts. They’ll usually have a row of souvenir shops, normally on the same axis as the jetty (this row of shops actually form the jetty to some of these islands). There’s no evidence of any other activity in terms of tourism, no cultural activities, shows, etc., are laid on for their consumption.

M.U.F: So would this be a good thing or a bad thing?

H.MANIKU: It’s not really either one, I guess. You could say that in economic terms it’s a good thing.

M.U.F: Again as the same Master Plan states:

“To a large extent the economic linkages that have been established to date, have occurred by default rather than as a preconceived and planned component of development”

H.MANIKU: I don’t know if it termed as such. It’s just economically driven.

M.U.F: In a way it seems to have more integrity left that way. In that it seems to avoid pseudo cultural elements that seem to be a part of the tourism product of some other counties.

H.MANIKU: That’s true, as we’ll have visitor’s anyway. And this doesn’t really seem to be part of their conception of this product. And this has absolutely nothing to do with the community. In a sense there is a certainty that tourists will visit. That is taken care of by someone/something else.

In some other countries the attraction has to be created for people to visit. So communities have to become part of this.

M.U.F: But these islands still have to, for example hide their garbage disposal, and sometimes Europeans aren’t too pleased when the day’s fishing being cut on the beach. So perhaps indirectly the islands do put up a show?

H.MANIKU: This is where the double standards reveal themselves. This is a problem in terms of regulations for sanitation, water etc.. There’s no general building standards in the Maldives except for the development of tourist resorts. There are some basic regulations which only seem to apply to Male’(capital) . There’s isn’t a concept of a sustainable whole.

M.U.F: So tourism doesn’t have to package itself as a cultural commodity, in that, the appeal of the Maldives lies only in it’s natural beauty and it’s unique geography of islands. The basis for the industry is only to provide the privacy and seclusion for the visitors to relax and be free of everyday concerns?

H.MANIKU: The situation doesn’t seem to demand such a development. For example the recent developments in this direction, for example cultural performance troupes, when you look at them from their perspective it cannot become a viable enterprise. In other countries they can base their living in such an activity as they are integrated as part of the product and the market is there. To some extent it is in terms of economy of scale, where our total population is about 300,000 and we are catering for the about the same amount of visitors.

In some ways we are operating at a limit, beyond our natural capacity. It represents a huge strain on us, as most of the workforce is imported, almost all the goods have to be imported, etc. These things don’t exist in any kind of perspective as the whole thing is greatly dependant on this region and the world market. So it’s extremely vulnerable to fluctuations of these external factors. For example the recent events in the Asian economy, we don’t really know how this will effect the Maldives.


a landfill housing project utilising a large area of reef around Male’ International Airport,  a reef which also houses Club Med tourist resort. This involves space for housing about 4/5 times the size of Male’ whose population this is designed to consolidate. Plus an additional runway for the airport.

“little of the co-ordination and integration of social, economic and infrastructure investments to provide effective agglomeration and quality of life attractions that might counter the stronger magnet of Male’”

The Tourism Master Plan 1995 , Assessment of Existing Conditions in the Tourism Sector, ch.8