The sixth Maldives Investment Forum at the Dubai Expo 2020 is a side event, technically, where potential investors get to see what the fuss is all about while partaking in the overall Expo. To raise the value of the event even further, President Solih delivered the keynote himself, with multiple national leaders taking turns to describe the many initiatives and opportunities planned for the years ahead.
The overall invitation was for the hospitality industry, with another 18 islands on the market with a 99 year lease, and the incentives were numerous as well. Tax exemptions or customs reductions, to encourage investment in some new sectors, notably renewable energy, were also described with much vigour and conviction.
The UAE is considered an important market although visitor numbers linger around 1.3 percent of the total number of guests. However, the importance is more keenly related with the investment capabilities of the UAE, and Maldives intends to strengthen these economic and trade bonds even more. The fact that the Emirates Airlines company has major MOUs with the government also plays a large part, ferrying over 170,000 people to the Maldives this year alone. This has been a huge source of growth and expansion of the hospitality industry.
The Minister of Economic Development of the Maldives, Fayyaz Ismail took the stage to address the economic growth of the country for the past six years, which averaged at 6 percent given the nature of the pandemic as well. He had stated this was due to the helpful and continuous improvement in legislation, the economy, and investment opportunities. He also noted that the Dubai Expo presented the nation with the ultimate opportunity to reach all potential investors.
A promising investment destination, with diverse ingredients and a transparent and appropriate investment climate, Maldives offers many investment incentives and benefits, he went on noting that his country plans to launch a new mechanism to encourage investors in specific sectors, including renewable energy, by the aforementioned easing of taxes and grant distribution. The Maldives Investment Forum is one of many such forums planned ahead during the six month Expo, Fayyaz stated, along with the Tourism Investment Forum in January and the Real Estate Investment Forum in February.
He went on to describe how the Maldives takes Emirati investment seriously and with eminence for the coming period. Describing how the Maldives is ripe with investment opportunities for ports, resorts, infrastructure, housing and even in agricultural and green investment sectors, Fayyaz painted a picture of the current development projects and their expected outcomes.
Next up was Mohamed Aslam, the Minister of National Planning, Housing and Infrastructure, who shed light on the drive for the Maldives to become more modernised in terms of infrastructure development. He also went on to tell potential investors about the plans to increase the number of international airports to double the annual visitor numbers from the recently reached 1.5 million to 3 million tourists in a short time.
Minister of Tourism, Dr. Abdullah Mausoom took centre stage to describe plans for the golden year of tourism, by introducing the new structure of island classification he had been working on with his team. He had announced the sales of private islands, or “dream islands” as an investment opportunity with high expected returns.
He took the time to outline that the Maldives not only offers natural, geographical beauty, but also a plethora of cultural heritage that deserves attention as well. Additionally, he emphasized the government’s commitment to consolidate the Maldives’ position as a destination for hosting business conferences (a MICE destination), and stated that there is huge potential to include further activities in the list that the Maldives offers to its visitors, such as cruise tourism, health and wellness tourism and water sports tourism.
When it was the moment for the President to deliver his keynote, he showered immense praise on the leadership and management of the Expo, for having made it a possibility and for bringing so much of the world together in the same place. He stated that the Maldives is experiencing a new wave of growth, especially after the destructive pandemic that has swept through the world.
“The current strategy focuses on fostering innovation, enabling digital transformation and accelerating public services based on the interest of society,” he said, pointing out that 60 percent of the population is vaccinated, while the vaccination rate among workers in resorts and hotels has reached 93 percent. He also added that significant improvements have been made to the legislative and regulatory frameworks through a series of policy reforms aimed at attracting new investment in infrastructure, transport, services and energy. “The reforms include strengthening the role of the private sector, removing bureaucracy and obstacles, facilitating business start-up procedures, providing access to finance and ensuring transparency, flexibility and security for investors.”
This forum might be a step in the right direction, although as for the manner at which the step was taken invites some criticism. First and foremost, the lack of marketing and advertising done beforehand left participants feeling disillusioned. Furthermore, it is reported that there was not enough explanation during the forum as to the actual investment environment, nor was enough attention given to the very key question in every investor’s mind; what of the Moody’s downgrade?
While it is true what all the officials pointed out in terms of changes to policies, to the islands on sale and the potentials returns on investment, yet the actions of the administration in the past two years has been making the Maldivian investment grounds feel like shifting sands underfoot. Strong willed, extensive investment ventures, aggressive marketing and promotion campaigns, and also better internal financial management is just the start of the list of important things that need to happen, for the Maldivian economy to bounce back, before one embarks on fanciful words and visions written on clouds that savvy investors cannot yet touch or even get a tangible indication of.
The Solih Administration has always been confident, maybe overly so, of their gift for gab — depending on their speechifying and staking of the moral high ground by words alone. While this might work to a certain extent at home, it likely will not work abroad as they court investors who are industry, and trends, savvy — given the background in which this event took place would that be the original intention?