The eerie silence and the empty streets of Male give a rough idea of how many people left the capital city for Eid holidays. While accurate numbers are not available, a boat captain leaving with 80 passengers bound for Thaa Atoll estimates more than 2000 people are expected to go to that atoll alone, Haveeru Daily reports. Thus one could make a safe guesstimate of between 15,000 to 20,000 local tourists going to all the atolls.
Assuming each tourist spends about 400 rufiyaa per day on accommodation, food, travel within the atoll, shopping etc. the total spending by 20,000 tourists in 7 days of Eid holidays would amount to Rf 56 million. While Eid holidays are an exceptional period, other periods could also attract significant numbers of tourists if internal tourism is better organized –scheduled transport, guest houses, tour operators, etc.
Internal tourism could potentially help to transfer money from the Capital to the peripheral islands and reduce the income disparities between the two areas. According to Poverty and Vulnerability Assessment Report 2004, the median household income was Rf 49 per person per day in Male, compared to only Rf 21 in the atolls. Thus in 2004 incomes in Male were 2.3 times higher than those in the atolls. Worse, the income disparity is apparently increasing. In 1997 Male incomes were only 1.7 times higher.
These inequalities pose significant challenges to the country as a whole. They include rising unemployment, particularly among young people. Many young secondary school graduates, ambitious and with high expectations, are not aiming to return to their island if the only jobs available there are limited to the traditional sectors like fisheries. So if more attractive work is not made available in the islands they are likely to remain in Male, frustrated and disillusioned, leading to social tensions in Male'.
Thus urgent solutions are needed to reduce the imbalances between Male and the atolls. Will internal tourism contribute to the solution?