x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

It's all systems go for Abu Dhabi's Maldives resort

Plans to open an Abu Dhabi owned luxury resort in the Maldives are moving ahead despite delays to the project.

China has become the biggest market for tourists to the Maldives. Reuters
China has become the biggest market for tourists to the Maldives. Reuters

Malé, MALDIVES // Abu Dhabi is pushing ahead with plans to open a luxury resort in the Maldives by early next year, despite further delays to the project.

Construction of the Viceroy Maldives resort has taken longer than first anticipated because of the complexity of providing materials to build resorts in the Indian Ocean country of almost 1,200 mostly uninhabited islands, the local partner on the project says.

"Everything has to be imported," said Salil Panigrahi, the chief operating officer for EoN, a resort development company based in the Maldives and Mubadala Development's partner on the hotel. "Nothing is locally available."

Mubadala is a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government.

The resort is on the private island of Vagaru, about 190km from Malé, the capital island of the Maldives. Virtually all of the highly exclusive resorts in the Maldives are on private islands.

The Viceroy property will have 61 villas on a 17-acre crescent surrounded by coral reefs.

Prices at the resort will range from US$1,440 (Dh5,289) a night for a bungalow to $17,500 a night for a three-bedroom villa. Those rates do not include the transfers, with the round-trip by seaplane from Malé costing $550 per person.

Construction on the resort will be completed by the end of the year, Mr Panigrahi said.

"I was just on the island for a project assessment. We're not too far off. Maybe another 45 days."

Developing the property cost more than $90 million, he said.

Viceroy says it plans to open the resort in the first quarter of next year.

Mubadala originally planned to open the resort last December, it said last year.

"They decided to do a lot of changes, and they brought in another interior designer and that all took a bit of time," Mr Panigrahi said.

This year, Viceroy said it expected to open the project by September.

Mubadala is the majority investor and came in last year after other shareholders pulled out of the resort, on which work had already started, Mr Panigrahi said.

The Maldives development is an important part of the hotel company's strategy to expand outside of the Americas. Mubadala also has a 50 per cent stake in Viceroy, the hotel management company.

EoN has also developed two resorts for Jumeirah Group, the Dubai operator of luxury hotels that manages the Burj Al Arab. EoN was the main investor in both projects.

Jumeirah Dhevanafushi in the Maldives opened in April.

The resort is on an island 400km south of Malé. As part of the property, a "water village" with villas and hotel facilities has been built 850 metres from the island's shore.

The Jumeirah Vittaveli, a second Maldives property managed by the Dubai luxury operator, is scheduled to open next month, said Jumeirah Group.

These projects were both delayed because of cash-flow problems, Mr Panigrahi said.

"The projects stopped for a while," he said.

But Dubai then provided some funding to help complete the developments, he said.

In the first nine months of this year, just 272 UAE nationals visited the Maldives, according to data from Maldives ministry of tourism. Although the number is small, it represents an increase of 36.7 per cent on the same period last year.

China has become the biggest market for tourists to the island destination.

"Europe year-on-year is flat or down because of the recession," said Simon Hawkins, the managing director of the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation.

But the sharp increase in the number of visitors from China has helped to push up the Maldives's visitor numbers over the past few years, despite the global economic downturn.

rbundhun@thenational.ae

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