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Pacific Asia Travel Writers Association (PATWA) International Council has awarded a “Lifetime Contribution in Tourism” award to Hassan Sobir, former Maldives’ Tourism Minister who is currently the High Commissioner of Maldives to the United Kingdom. The award was given on Saturday at the PATWA International Awards ceremony during the ITB Berlin Fair 2005 in Germany. The award was handed over to Sobir by the Tourism Minister of Egypt. Sobir was given the lifetime achievement award in recognition for his invaluable contribution to the promotion and development of tourism in the Maldives while serving as the then Minister. Afterwards, Sobir addressed the ceremony on the topic “Tsunami: Its Impact on Global Tourism” in which he pointed out that global tourism suffered a three percent loss due to the December tsunami. Since the tourism industry in the Maldives contributes an estimated 70 percent to the country’s GDP, the impact from the tsunami for the Maldives economy is proportionally significant, he said. However, on a positive note, Sobir said the tourism industry in the Maldives is slowly getting back on its feet. He also praised writers who have done a remarkable job in producing responsible articles and good publicity for the Maldives.

The International Tourism Exchange (ITB), the world's biggest tourism fair which began on Friday in Berlin, Germany, ended on Tuesday.

Maldives participated the fair along with Crown Tours representation.


At its opening, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder made a plea for travellers to return to Asia's tsunami-hit destinations.


Schroeder said that tourism was the most important form of international aid for Indian Ocean countries after the tsunami in December.


"Alongside the private and state relief aid there is now one thing that is crucial -- tourists should not take their eyes off the affected regions," said Schroeder, whose countrymen are among the world's most prolific travellers.


"That's the only way to help give the region hope for the future. If tourists stay away it will hit the people there hard," he added in a speech to global industry leaders.


Schroeder was the first German leader to speak at the fair for 8 years.


Rebuilding tourism and foreign travellers' confidence in regions affected by the tsunami was a central topic of the ITB, which recorded more than 140,000 visitors to view displays by a record 10,400 exhibitors from 180 countries.


"The best way for us to help is to spend our holidays there," said Germany's Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, who just back from a holiday in Sri Lanka.


Wieczorek-Zeul said tourists' reticence in visiting areas that have been rebuilt or were not affected was having a devastating economic effect.

Soneva Gili Resort & Six Senses Spa in the Maldives, received the top honours as Hideaway of the Year 2004 , from the prestigious Hideaways magazine, at a gala ceremony held in Berlin . The occasion also celebrated the 10 th anniversary of the publication.

The award, which was the result of a survey of more than 4,000 discerning travellers, was received by Six Senses founder and Chairman, Sonu Shivdasani, on behalf of the resort, which opened less than three years ago.


Of Sonu, Hideaways wrote: “The man behind this year's winning hideaway is one of the hotel industry's most successful visionaries. Together with his wife Eva, a top Swedish model who has graced the front covers of more than one hundred top international magazines such as Vogue and Marie Claire and who today is responsible for designing all the interiors in her role as Creative Director, he has managed to create with Six Senses, one of the most successful hotel groups in just a few years”.


“Criteria for the poll included assessment of features such as location, architecture, interior design, standard of comfort in the rooms and suites, cuisine and obviously the service”.


Ironically, the Hideaway of the Year is currently undergoing refurbishment following the Indian Ocean tsunami. Although not seriously damaged, nor experiencing any loss of life or injury from the event, the decision was taken to close the resort until repairs are completed. During this time, Soneva Gili is adding the world's largest all-over-water presidential-style suite: The Private Reserve at Soneva Gili, which will be unveiled together with the resort's re-opening on May 1st.


Soneva Gili Resort and Six Senses Spa salutes the first and second runners up – Raffles Singapore and The Oriental Bangkok, respectively. Soneva Gili's sister resort, Soneva Fushi – also in the Maldives – was awarded a position in the world's top 25 Hideaways.

Maldives and Nepal, two South Asian countries with highly developed tourism industries, have discussed promoting the two destinations at a dual package.

Maldives’ Tourism Minister Dr. Mustafa Lutfi and Nepal’s Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Buddhi Raj Bajracharya have exchanged ideas on blending the two countries’ great and diverse tourism products in a package and promote them in generating markets, officials said.


Exchange of visits at various levels were also discussed to materialise the concept.

Four resorts out of the 21 that were hit by December's tsunami have re-opened. They are Gasfinolhu, Kihaadhuffaru, Vilureef and Velavaru.

Another four resorts opened earlier in February. With the opening of these 8 resorts, presently 73 percent of beds (12,434 beds) are in operation, the tourism ministry said.


"This is good news. This demonstrates that tourism industry is up and running well," an official commented.


The other tsunami-hit resorts, which amount to 3,702 beds, are expected to become fully operational before and by June. Maldives tourist occupancy presently is at 50 percent and is picking up pace, according to officials.


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