The Maldives is to develop a swathe of three-star hotels in a bid to diversify its tourism base.

A “sizeable number” of 60 islands will be opened to the mid-range market, Maldives tourism minister Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad revealed. Talks are under way with a number of chains, including Holiday Inn Resort.

The Maldives currently has very few mid-range properties. It believes it needs to diversify its tourism product as it is heavily dependent on the luxury market.

The islands’ government further believes now is the time to offer a mix of accommodation after attracting British Airways (BA) to fly to the islands.

BA began serving the Maldives three times a week from October and its presence means that the existing charter capacity can now be directed towards the more budget-conscious traveller.

Dr Ali Sawad said the proposed developments were small-scale and had to be seen in the context of the whole archipelago, which comprises 1,190 islands. Of these, 200 are inhabited and 94 are resort islands.

He denied suggestions that the islands, which earn 60% of their foreign exchange from tourism, were heading downmarket.

“Mid-market tourism will not have any adverse effects on the luxury market,” he said. “We are clearly not talking about mass market, but we will provide access to a mid-income earner that is not available at the moment.”

“Luxury resorts are based on a unique product: one island, one resort. Mid-market will be on inhabited islands.”

Dr Ali Sawad said the first of the resorts, which he described as “three star-plus” would be operational within two years.

“As a small country, we cannot allow ourselves to slide down the scale of development,” he said.