The impact of four nights of violent protests in Male’ has been felt by Maldivian tourism representatives attending the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, the region’s largest such expo.
“Travel operators in Taiwan have said they are postponing and cancelling group bookins because of negative perceptions [of safety] in the Maldives,” a tourism source attending the expo told Minivan News.
“We just had another two confirmed bookings cancelled today because of reports of riots and instability. We worked hard to get these bookings and the potential domino effect is really worrying – people panic.”
The source noted that the average spend of couple holidaying to the Maldives was US$7000.
Reports in major newswires Associated Press (AP) and AFP on the Maldives’ protests were widely syndicated in world media, drawing largely from comments made by spokesperson Gayoom’s spokesperson Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef.
“Police are chasing protesters. Some of those injured have been rushed to hospital,” Shareef told AFP by telephone after last night’s protests, adding that scores of people had been arrested, “including parliamentarians Ali Arif and Ahmed Mahloof.”
“Arif and Mahloof were later released, but we have no news of Naseer’s whereabouts. Our legal team is trying to trace him,” Mundhu said.
Police said that Naseer was released at 1:30am, an hour after he was arrested. Minivan News spoke to Naseer today.
The previous evening, Shareef informed AP that 5000 people were demonstrating in the capital and dozens had been “crushed brutally”, including women.
“The opposition also blames Nasheed for failing to manage the economy – worth over a billion dollars – by recently devaluing the currency, while food prices have risen by as much as 30 percent,” AFP reported.
“Shareef said the protests aimed to emulate those across the Middle East and North Africa, pushing for political reforms in dictatorial regimes.”
Hong Kong yesterday became the first country to put out a travel warning on the Maldives, raising the country’s threat level to ‘amber’ alongside Israel, Iran, Indonesia, Russia and Pakistan.
China’s Xinhua news agency reported a government spokesperson as saying that “Those who plan to visit the Maldives or are already there should monitor the situation and exercise caution.”
Chinese visitors to the Maldives now constitute the greatest number of tourism arrivals, and are a major emerging market. A sharp increase in recent years offset a decline in European arrivals caused by the global recession in 2008.
The Maldives Association of Travel Industry (MATI) has meanwhile issued a statement claiming that reports on the situation were “exaggerated and ill-informed.”
“The series of demonstrations and public unrest by political groups opposed to the government of the Maldives have, over the last few days, led to some reports in the international press of civil unrest in the country.
“The Maldives is safe for visitors and remains peaceful and stable. The police and other authorities have the political situation well under control,” MATI stated.
Further protests – which the opposition maintains are ‘youth-led’ despite the active organisation of opposition MPs – are planned for the weekend, with reports of islanders travelling to Male’ to participate.