The Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) became marred in scandal when details of the high profile embezzlement were exposed during wider investigations following a boat blast onboard the presidential speedboat last year.
MMPRC’s managing director Abdulla Ziyath was accused of being involved in the corruption case, with around $79 million of funds misappropriated.
Speaking to TTG at WTM London, ambassador Ahmed Shiaan said the Maldivian government was working hard to prevent such a situation ever occurring again.
“The government instigated a full audit to look at the finances of MMPRC and now we are looking at how we can strengthen the financial measures in place so that it doesn’t happen again,” said Shaain.
At the end of October, the Ministry of Tourism officially handed over responsibility for collection of all tourism-related payments to the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) to avoid corruption.
“MMPRC has to be much more accountable and we are looking to see if we can get misappropriated funds returned. Criminal charges are also being brought against those involved,” said Shaain.”
Reporting another positive year for tourism figures however, Shiaan said the scandal did not appear to have put visitors off holidaying in the Maldives.
Year-to-date figures (January-September) showed 944,544 international arrivals overall, up by almost 3% on the previous period; Europe was up by almost 7%, with UK showing especially notable growth, at 11%.
“It’s unbelievable, to gain such a huge increase from a mature market for an established destination such as the Maldives, but I think it shows people see us as a safe destination overall,” Shiaan added.
The country is also hoping to cash in on the release of the latest Star Wars film in December.
Scenes from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story were filmed last year on the island of Baresdhoo in Laamu atoll, which is used to represent Scariff, a tropical new planet, in the film.
Baresdhoo is in fact the subject of the first integrated tourism development in the country, where a range of small- and medium-sized businesses such as independent hotels, restaurants and other tourism outlets, will be built.
“It’s very different to the one-resort, one-island image the Maldives is known for and the plots are mostly sold,” said Shaain. “There will be enough space for around 1,500 tourists to stay and if this pilot project is a success, we can look at where else an integrated resort might be feasible.”