Maldives is officially the Republic of Maldives. It is an island country and archipelago in the Indian Ocean. It lies southwest of India and Sri Lanka in the Laccadive Sea. The chain of twenty six atolls stretches from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll to the Addu Atoll. The capital and largest city is Malé, traditionally called the “King’s Island.”
Historically linked with the Indian subcontinent, Maldives is a Muslim-majority country. From the mid-sixteenth century colonial powers dominated the islands: Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain. The islands gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1965, becoming a republic in 1968. The country is ruled by a president and its government is authoritarian. The Maldivian economy is dominated by tourism and fishing. The World Bank classifies the country as having an upper middle income economy.
Encompassing a territory spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometres (35,000 sq mi), Maldives is one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries. It is the smallest Asian country in both land area and in population. The archipelago is located atop the Chagos-Maldives-Laccadive Ridge, a vast submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean, which also forms a terrestrial ecoregion, together with the Chagos and the Lakshadweep. With an average ground-level elevation of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, it is the planet’s lowest country. It is also the country with the lowest natural highest point in the world, at 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in). The government has pledged to make Maldives a carbon-neutral country by 2019 amid concerns about rising sea-levels.
Maldives became a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and it hosted the 17th SAARC summit in 2011. It is also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Non-Aligned Movement.
The Maldives remained largely unknown to tourists until the early 1970s. Only 185 islands are home to its 300,000 inhabitants. The other islands are used entirely for economic purposes, of which tourism and agriculture are the most dominant. Tourism accounts for 28% of the GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives’ foreign exchange receipts. Over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. The development of tourism fostered the overall growth of the country’s economy. It created direct and indirect employment and income generation opportunities in other related industries. The first tourist resorts were opened in 1972 with Bandos island resort and Kurumba Village (the current name is Kurumba Maldives), which transformed the Maldives economy.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, the emergence of tourism in 1972 transformed the economy, moving rapidly from dependence on fisheries to tourism. In just three and a half decades, the industry became the main source of income. Tourism was also the country’s biggest foreign currency earner and the single largest contributor to the GDP. As of 2008, 89 resorts in the Maldives offered over 17,000 beds and hosted over 600,000 tourists annually. The number of resorts increased from 2 to 92 between 1972 and 2007. As of 2007, over 8,380,000 tourists had visited Maldives. Visitors to Maldives do not need to apply for a visa pre-arrival, regardless of their country of origin, provided they have a valid passport, proof of onward travel, and the money to be self-sufficient while in the country.
Most visitors arrive at Malé International Airport, on Hulhulé Island, adjacent to the capital Malé. The airport is served by flights to India, Sri Lanka, Doha, Dubai, Singapore, Istanbul, and major airports in South-East Asia, as well as charters from Europe. Gan Airport, on the southern atoll of Addu, also serves an international flight to Milan several times a week. British Airways offer direct flights to the Maldives around 2–3 times per week.