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Friday, January 18, 2008

President Opens Herathere As Final Hitches Ironed Out

Minivan News

The country’s second largest holiday resort, Herathere, was officially opened by President Gayoom on Wednesday in a televised ceremony as visitors gave mixed reviews of the still incomplete resort.

Four-star Herathere has been constructed in under two years by the Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), set up as a wealth redistribution initiative after complaints the country’s tourism revenue had failed to trickle down to the general population.

The opening saw President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom making an address to an audience of 250 invitees, including government ministers, journalists and businessmen.

But the completion date for the MTDC’s second resort, in Haa Alif Uligum, has also been postponed and its chairman was unsure when the remaining eight islands leased to the company would start their transformation to resorts.
Meanwhile the forum on Herathere’s website contains lively discussion of whether its opening should have been put back further.

“The place smelt foul! Nothing was ready! We couldn’t walk on the beach as it was full of seaweed, washed-up plastic and rubbish,” complains one January visitor.

But others say their experience has been positive, with only minor hitches, and front office manager Abdullah Ali told Minivan News the resort was currently running at 98% occupancy with a majority of good feedback from guests.

The resort will be fully functioning when its final restaurants open in early February. It has catered mostly to Italian tourists so far, along with visitors from Germany and the UK.

MTDC chairman Champa Afeef acknowledged delays, which he said were mainly down to “difficulties in raising finance” and the “logistical nightmare” of importing materials. Ibrahim Noordeen, leader of the project since its conception, was philosophical: “When you start a place you come across these things,” he said.

Out of a total of 566 staff, Afeef said 64 per cent were currently of Maldivian nationality, easily meeting the government quota of 50 per cent – and Ali said turnover of staff had been low so far.

Afeef added that “99 per cent” of Maldivian staff were from Addu atoll, for which Herathere is the first resort. Its construction was accompanied by that of an international airport in Addu atoll Gan.

Herathere’s construction has contributed almost Rf 80 million (almost $7 million) to the local economy.

Next on the MTDC agenda is the Uligum venture in Haa Alif, the northernmost atoll in the Maldives, where work has just begun. The fifty-bed resort is now scheduled for completion in early 2009.

But asked what may be in store further down the line, Afeef was more hesitant. “I cannot tell you that,” he said. “I don’t even know if I will still be here,” he added, with reference to annual elections for board positions.

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