The growth of the Maldives
In the Maldives, the paradise cliché isn’t without flaw. There are the topographical limitations, which is what has led a Dutch company to get into bed with the Government of the Maldives to develop a floating resort concept: 43 private islands in an archipelago configuration (the first phase to open, in 2013), a floating 18-hole golf and even a floating conference centre. The fact is there isn’t a lot of land left for development within easy reach of the international airport at Male. Put in its most basic terms, visitors are creating so much refuse that now the Maldives have a very real problem: what to do with it all? Ask the marine biologists working here and there is no question the reefs are suffering, while sea traffic has also radically increased in the last 10 years, creating a different identity for these islands that in the late 1990s, still had a frontier feel to them. Some locals don’t like the incursions: Maldivians are Muslim, and in recent months there has been increased noise about the serving of pork and alcohol while spas have been cited as a front for prostitution. These socio-political undercurrents, however, are lost on most visitors, since the resort model tends to focus on sunlounger luxury rather than contact with the local people.
I’ve mentioned it in an earlier blog, how it is for this reason that a Maldives’ island resort can feel like a rich man’s prison. Which is why I was so seduced by Shangri-La Villingili—for the Maldives, a vast island at 473,000 square metres in the under-visited south. I admit the idea of a wearing a Venetian mask at a New Year’s gala dinner is a step too far for me; until now, the beach holidays I’ve liked best have been barefoot, simple, and enjoyed on understated (and now problematic) Lamu, where a great meal is about freshly-grilled snapper rather than molecular gastronomy. But then Shangri-La Vilingilli has space enough to let one escape ‘fine dining’ if that’s not one’s cup of tea. More than that, there is culture to be had, with the Maldivian way of life opened up on visits to nearby Addu City, the atoll of which Villingili is part.
Sure it involves a trade-off to get to this most far-flung of the Maldives’ island resorts: an 80-minute scheduled flight from Male, which is a big-ask after a long-haul from Europe. But I’ve done more than 10 Maldivian resorts in my time, and this one for sheer space, nature, kids, watersports and culture makes me retract that prison adage. As to the waste created, who knows, but I like the Six Senses approach: during a recent stay at Six Senses Zighy Bay, I noticed a bag in the wardrobe encouraging guests to take home their batteries, bottles and landfill trash.