The role of local food in Maldives tourism: a focus on promotion and economic development
In the fiercely competitive globalized tourism industry, where there is growing concern for the development of sustainable tourism, tourism stakeholders are confronted with the challenge of creating innovative product differentiation and effective marketing that will increase yield and promote sustainable tourism development. Food is a fundamental part of the tourist experience. Increasingly, local food is used in tourism as an integral part of the visitor attraction to enrich tourist experiences. Local food acts as a differentiating feature for destinations and can play an important role in increasing visitor yield, stimulating growth in other economic sectors and promoting sustainable occupations. The close relationship between local food and culture enables the promotion of cultural heritage by promoting local food. Thus, linking local food and tourism has the potential to create more sustainable tourism practices and outcomes. This study evaluates the role of local food in tourism promotion. It also focuses on economic development, exploring the potential for creating linkages between local food and tourism in the context of sustainable tourism practices. The research is based on a case study of the Republic of Maldives, a country which has gained success in the international tourism market by promoting the natural beauty of its tropical islands. Like many Small Island Developing States (SIDS), tourism is the key to the Maldives’ economic development. But a heavy reliance on imports and a large expatriate labour force cause a significant leakage of tourism revenue. Tourism has been developed under a one-island-one-resort concept. This has created tourist enclaves that limit distribution of tourism benefits among local communities. Hence, Maldives’ tourism needs ways to broaden economic linkages and increase tourism yield. Broader visitor experiences that enhance product attractiveness in ways that still conserve and protect the fragile ecosystem are also required. This research utilized content and discourse analyses and surveys in a mixed-methods approach. Content analysis of printed and web-based tourism marketing materials reveals that food is not featured prominently as a tourist attraction in the Maldives. Surveys conducted among operators and experts indicate considerable support for and the potential benefits of, linking food to tourism; these stakeholders also state that they believe there is a strong desire on the part of tourists to experience local food. A range of issues and constraints that work against linking local food and tourism are revealed; these include under-developed transportation and logistics, shortages of skilled staff, and a lack of communication between producers and tourism operators. A variety of suggestions on linking local food to tourism are presented with recommendations of potential local foods and food-related events that could be successfully integrated into the tourist experience.