The Maldives Tourism Ministry has suspended the permit allowing local tour operator Atoll Paradise to take holiday bookings, following allegations the company – now under police investigation – has defrauded customers and international travel agents.
Tourism Ministry Senior Legal Officer Faseeh Zahir told Minivan News that the government had temporarily revoked Atoll Paradise’s licence to operate as a travel agent, and fined the company MVR 1 million (US$65,000).
“We have received several complaints from customers and foreign travel agents in recent months that bookings have been cancelled [by the company], but no refund has been given,” he said. “There are allegations of fraud and of the company not acting according to regulations. This is not just a case of one guest, we have received several complaints.”
Faseeh said that although the company’s permit to operate as a travel agent had been temporarily revoked, Atoll Paradise would still be required to honour all existing bookings.
“However, from today, Atoll Paradise is not allowed to take any new bookings from clients,” he said.
According to Faseeh, the Tourism Ministry has received several complaints of alleged fraud by Atoll Paradise over the last two months as authorities have sought to hold talks with the company.
He said the ministry had noted some “misconduct” by the company and decided based on complaints received to both fine and revoke Atoll Paradise’s permit until all alleged outstanding payments and grievances had been settled.
With the ministry not itself being an investigative authority, Faseeh added that police had also been informed of the Atoll Paradise case.
Police Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed that an investigation was now expected to begin into the company’s operations following the allegations of fraud.
According to Faseeh, any decision to return Atoll Paradise’s permit would depend on the outcome of the police investigation, as well as whether the company could resolve the complaints against it from clients and travel agents.
Atoll Paradise is one of the Maldives’ largest locally-owned tour operators, with the company in May winning several accolades including the Maldives’ and Seychelles Leading Tour Operator at the World Travel Awards (WTA) Indian Ocean ceremony.
The company was also awarded the title of the World’s Leading Luxury Boutique Tour Operator at the 2012 WTA ceremony.
Atoll Paradise’s office in Male’ was not responding to calls at time of press. The company had also failed to respond to email enquiries at time of press.
The Tourism Ministry said today that Atoll Paradise was not the first local tour operator to have its permit revoked by the government over allegations of misconduct.
Ministry Legal Officer Faseeh said that ministry had last year revoked the license of one local operator accused of acting outside the law.
He urged guests intending to book a Maldives holiday through a local operator to be aware of their rights and ensure they had been provided with a booking agreement specifying terms of cancellation. Resort bookings in the luxury honeymoon destination can reach many thousands of dollars.
Faseeh said local tour operators were required to communicate and agree terms for cancelled bookings, as well as communicating them to the client upon confirming a booking.
He added that guests wishing to seek clarification on a booking or travel agency could directly contact the ministry or industry body, such as the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO), via e-mail.
Any complaints against a tour operator could meanwhile be registered through the Tourism Ministry’s website here.