The UK, Australia, Canada and China have updated their travel advisories on the Maldives, warning of intensifying political instability and encouraging their nationals to take care, especially in the capital city of Male’.
“Demonstrations have already started in the capital, Malé and on some non-resort islands. Further demonstrations are likely. Previous political demonstrations have led to violence and arrests. Friday afternoons are traditionally potential flashpoints,” stated the September 27 notice on the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Service’s travel advisory service.
The guidance urged visitors to keep away from demonstrations: “There is no indication at present that any political unrest will affect tourist resorts or airports, but if you have any concerns you should check with your hotel or tour operator,” the statement read.
The Australian alert on the government’s Smart Traveller website flagged Male’ yellow and urged travellers to “exercise a high degree of caution” in the capital due to “unresolved political tensions and risk of further unrest and violence.”
“Since February 2012, there have been regular political protests in Male, some of which have turned violent. The political environment remains uncertain and further violent clashes could occur. You should avoid public gatherings and protests, particularly in Male, as they may turn violent. Extra care should be taken when moving around Male’ after dark,” stated the advisory.
The Canadian alert urged travellers to “exercise a high degree of caution” due to civil unrest, stating that “the political situation is volatile following the indefinite postponement of the second round of presidential elections by the Supreme Court. Demonstrations by political parties are likely to occur.”
The Chinese advisory, updated on September 27, noted that while the Maldivian social order “is generally stable”, “partisan conflicts around the presidential elections are intensifying.”
The Chinese Embassy in the Maldives urged Chinese visitors – who make up 25 percent of all tourism arrivals – to monitor the local security situation, contact and confirm the hotel booking before departure, and avoid non-essential travel to Male’.
Friday’s protests were also extensively reported by Chinese state-run press agency, Xinhua.
The US Embassy in Colombo previously issued a travel notice to US citizens planning to travel to the Maldives, stating that the run-off presidential election previously scheduled for September 28 “has been postponed.”
“The U.S. Embassy recommends that US citizens exercise caution, avoid large crowds, and monitor media coverage of local events,” the advice read.
The vast majority of tourism to the country is through package tours and holidays, with guests arriving on the airport island of Hulhule and being taken by boat, seaplane or domestic air transfer directly to their resort islands without stepping foot on Male’.
The tourism industry’s traditional market has been the UK, Italy, Germany and Russia, however following the 2008 recession this market has been displaced with a surge in Chinese arrivals. Smaller but growing markets include the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
The Maldives is indirectly dependent on this luxury tourism industry for over 70 percent of its GDP and up to 90 percent of its foreign currency exchange. As small island nation with scarce natural resources and very little agriculture, the Maldives also has near-total reliance on imports, particularly for tourism commodities.
The Tourism Employment Association of the Maldives (TEAM) last week indicated that it would encourage its 5000 members to strike should the election be delayed, while the Maldives Port Workers Union (MPWU) went on strike today “to send a message to the government”.
While the political situation in Male on Sunday remained tense ahead of an expected but unscheduled Supreme Court verdict on the fate of the run-off election, protests over the past several days were confined to just several intersections in the capital.
Yesterday’s protest near Male’s main tourist street attracted small crowds of passing Chinese and German tourists who took photos of the rally. A group of four Germans, asked what they thought was happening, said “I don’t know, something to do with the flags?”
Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb told Minivan News yesterday that international media coverage of proposed strike action predicting “travel misery” for UK tourists travelling to resort was “irresponsible”, and challenged the veracity of reports such as that in the Independent’s travel section.
“The scuba dive tanks will stay empty, the pool towels unchanged, and there will be nobody on hand to mix a cocktail [should the protests go ahead],” wrote the paper’s Whitehall editor, Oliver Wright.