Words by Daniel Bosley; Pictures by Aishath Naj
Long before the import of 1.2 million tourists became the mainstay of the economy, the Maldives relied on a different kind of traveller for sustenance.
‘Maldive fish’ tourism has been a mainstay for centuries, with travellers of the dried sort the only way to obtain rice, flour, and other basics commodities from the mainland.
While the introduction of single island resorts in the 1970s brought new schools of foreign arrivals to the archipelago, reliance on the export of hardy hikimas has also been supplemented by fresh departures.
Today, as around 75,000 tonnes of foreign visitors come to the Maldives each year, 50,000 tonnes of local fish still head the other way – representing 98 percent of the archipelago’s exports.
More than 70 percent of tuna tourists start their travels with eco-friendly pole-and-line watersports, before travelling via safari dhoni to exclusive single island resorts such as Felivaru or Kandu Oiy Giri Fish Village. For those who want a taste of city life, Male’s fish market is particularly welcoming, offering unique spa treatments (pictured).
With the introduction of refrigerated accommodation and chilled cruise facilities in recent decades, outbound marine travel has more than trebled since land-based tourists began arriving in the Maldives.
Better known as a source of imports for the Maldives luxury resorts, Europe has become a popular destination for travelling tuna, with the UK, France, Germany and Italy the preferred place for 15 percent of Maldive fish in 2015.
The most popular modern destination, however, is Thailand, where around half of the Maldives’ exports choose package vacations to the country’s cannery regions.
Despite these new trends in travel, however, the Maldives’ first wave of aquatic explorers stick to what they know best. Sri Lanka remains the fourth most valuable market, with 99.9 percent the original dried ‘Maldive Fish’ still choosing to travel to the country’s original trading partner.