The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has said it has “not officially” received complaints that staff at the Iru Fushi Resort in Noonu Atoll have faced alleged political harassment after the property’s owners terminated a management agreement with Hilton.
Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal told Minivan News this week that while the tourism ministry closely monitored working standards and staff treatment across the industry, it had not been informed of any concerns so far resulting from the change in management at the resort on May 1.
Despite the claims, the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) said an official letter had been sent to the Tourism Ministry last week raising concerns over allegations that employees were facing intimidation over their political beliefs from fellow staff and management at the Iru Fushi Resort.
The allegations of harassment were said by the trade union to have intensified since local company Sun Tour and Travels opted to terminate Hilton’s management of the site at the beginning of the month – adding no official response had been received from the Tourism Ministry.
Sun Travel and Tours, which is owned and operated by local businessman and media magnate MP Ahmed Shiyam, announced May 1 that it was terminating Hilton’s agreement to manage the Noonu Atoll-based resort. No reason has so far been given by the resort owner for the termination despite repeated requests for an interview by Minivan News.
“The cessation of Hilton Worldwide’s management of that resort was unforeseen and due to factors outside its control,” the hotel chain said in an official statement following the termination.
Sources on the resort, speaking to Minivan News on condition of anonymity, have previously accused Sun Tours of allowing MP Shiyam’s Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) to offer jobs at the site exclusively to its supporters, while also threatening and harassing staff with differing political view points.
“When Hilton was here, there was freedom to talk about politics, whatever party you supported,” an employee at the resort claimed earlier this month. “No one was holding campaigns here for parties or anything, but now just talking about politics is a problem. This has happened recently.”
The same staff member at the time accused certain employees of acting as “MDA spies” for MP Shiyam’s political party, leading to fears about job prospects at the site for those with differing political views.
“People are really afraid to talk here now. We know that some people here represent the MDA [party] and we have heard them warn others ‘we have the power now’ – these are words they are using,” the source claimed. “We do not have job security right now.”
The resort is now being run as the Maldives Iru Fushi Resort and Spa.
MP Shiyam had his phone switched off at time of press, while company spokesperson Mohamed Hameed was out of the country when contacted by Minivan News.
Deputy Minister Maleeh said that tourism authorities had not been “officially” made aware of the allegations raised by Iru Fushi staff, adding that from the ministry’s experience, the vast majority of the country’s resort workers and management were all working together to benefit the wider industry.
“If there is an issue, we will go and inspect resorts and make sure staff are being treated in line within the stipulated requirements,” he said.
Maleeh said that various conditions and standards concerning treatment of resort staff were outlined by ministry regulations such as the number of toilets being provided to employees and their living arrangements. Maleeh added that a large number of operators complied with these practices.
“Some resorts currently even provide a staff pool,” he said.
Maleeh said that while the tourism ministry was able to carry out inspections of resorts where there were reported staff issues, it had not been given any information that wuld require it to carry out such checks at the Iru Fushi resort.
He added that in the case of a management termination, the ministry itself looked to avoid involvement in cases involving two private parties in the country unless there was deemed to be a significant contractual issue.
“Even then, a contract like this is normally governed by international law or arbitration anyway,” Maleeh added.
Hilton has meanwhile said earlier this month that discussions were continuing with Sun Travels over the decision to abruptly terminate its agreement, though no further details were being provided by the company at present.
Despite the decision by Sun Travels to terminate Hilton’s management contract for Iru Fushi, the hotel giant still presently operates the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort in the Maldives for a different company.
Maleeh claimed that the Maldives ultimately still remained a very attractive destination for multinational hotel chains and boutique hospitality groups alike, adding that the ministry had received “no complaints” regarding their treatment in the country.
“The reason that the Maldives is so popular is not only is it a place where contracts are known to be honoured, but it also offers a return on investment that is very strong,” he said.
The deputy minister said that there continued to provide a very favourable investment climate for hospitality companies.
Maleeh said that upon returning from a recent visit to the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference that took place earlier this month in Dubai, there remained a strong interest and appetite for emerging hospitality groups to enter the Maldives tourism industry.
The Maldives already has 100 exclusive island resorts being operated in the country by both local and multinational companies.
However, TEAM Secretary General Mauroof Zakir has told Minivan News he that the trade union remained concerned at the response of tourism authorities in the country to complaints raised by staff following the termination of Hilton’s agreement.
Zakir said that after having submitted an official letter to the tourism ministry earlier this month, no response had yet been received over its concerns.
Just last week, TEAM alleged it had received received information that management had been hiring local MDA members to replace staff members who resigned since the change in management.
Zakir added that he had also been informed by various members of staff that Sun Travels had since brought in a number of experienced managers from its wider resort operations to ensure the property was being run more smoothly on the back of alleged difficulties following the changeover.
“Things seem to be much more under control at the site now, staff told me,” he said last week.
However, Zakir has continued to maintain that there was concerns that authorities were failing to properly review the nature of the resort termination and its impact on staff as a result of political influence.