While the Maldives Tourism Minister hosted a press conference in London to soothe the fears of the tourism industry over the ongoing political instability in the Maldives, opposition activists distributed leaflets outside.
Former Maldives High Commissioner to the UK Dr Farahanaz Faisal distributed leaflets highlighting police brutality in the crackdown on demonstrators on February 8, while the Friends of Maldives NGO distributed its travel advisory highlighting the involvement of several politicians and resort owners in the change of government on February 7.
Monday’s professionally managed event was attended by 25 journalists from a host of prominent UK travel publications.
The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) recently appointed Rooster Creative Public Relations Ltd as its official PR agent in the UK. MMPRC Acting Managing Director Mohamed Adam explained this decision.
“The purpose of having a full time PR and Marketing agency is to overcome the image that is continuously spoiling in the UK market due to the current political turbulence,” Adam said.
Adam’s aims were stymied somewhat by the presence of former Maldives High Commissioner to the UK Dr Farahanaz Faisal and the former Deputy High Commissioner, and brother of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, Naushad Waheed.
MDP supporters Farahanaz and Naushad took the opportunity to distribute leaflets focussing on police brutality in the Maldives. The leaflet described the Maldives as undergoing “one of the most painful and brutal periods of its history”.
Business as usual?
Despite the demonstrations outside, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gafoor remained upbeat about the prospects of the Maldives tourism industry. The minister told Travel Weekly that he was expecting one million tourists to visit the country in 2012, breaking previous records.
He spoke of having visited tour operators during his trip who are eager to launch charter flights to the Maldives and begin new projects.
Referring to the demonstrations, he said, “The press conference was not affected by that. The journalists did not seem bothered. The press conference was a success.”
Former Tourism MinisterDr Mariyam Zulfa has expressed confidence in the sector’s durability, saying, “I don’t think that the political situation is actually affecting the tourism industry as such because Maldives is a well-established destination.”
This current government’s veneer of confidence, however, is belied by the hiring of the professional PR group to protect its image and by reports that bookings were down six percent in February, according to Travel Weekly.
Speaking with Minivan this week, Dr Zulfa made clear the importance the MDP attributes to protecting the tourism industry.
“It has never been the MDPs intention and it will never be the MDPs intention to obstruct the progress that we have made in the tourism industry,” said Zulfa. “It’s not in our agenda to affect the traveller’s decision to choose Maldives as a destination at all.”
“But I think the tourist industry has a responsibility to provide correct information about Maldivian life in general.”
The awareness-raising efforts of the government’s opponents, indeed, do not appear to be registering with those travelling to the Maldives at present, supporting the views of Tourism Ministers past and present.
Asking the opinions of tourists at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport yesterday, the most common response was a vague notion that the Maldives had been in the news recently, without any specific details being recalled.
This was perhaps typified by the response of a couple from the UK who were asked how they felt about what was happening in the Maldives at the moment: “What is happening?” came the response.
Also outside the press conference was David Hardingham, founder of Friends of Maldives (FOM), who distributed a second set of leaflets publicising his group’s travel advisory.
FOM is a UK based NGO focusing on the protection of human rights, the promotion of social justice and democracy in the Maldives.
The content of the FOM leaflet was interpreted by the Maldivian media outlet Sun Online as claiming that the Maldives was an unsafe travel destination. Newspaper Haveeru also reported that the NGO was advocating a “tourism boycott”.
Referring to Sun’s article Hardingham said, “Responsible journalism involves getting both sides of the story – so we were disappointed not to be asked by Sun for our views as their article is one sided, has factual errors and is somewhat misleading – however it’s not entirely surprising as its owners are known to be supportive of the recent coup.”
Hardingham forwarded the leaflet distributed by the NGO (page one, two), which lists resorts and businesses owned by Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group, and Bandos Island Resort and Spa owned by Vice-President designate Waheed Deen, and urges “responsible” travellers to avoid these resorts specifically.
“The current political turmoil in the Maldives has deterred people from visiting the islands. Friends of Maldives urges tourists to continue to visit Maldives, as tourism is the mainstay of the economy. We feel the situation is not so bad, as the airport and resort islands are not linked to any population centres,” the leaflet notes.
The leaflet goes on to recommend the travel advice of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which currently has no restrictions in its Maldives travel notice.
The FOM leaflet continues to briefly outline recent events in the Maldives before asking that potential tourists “consider the idea of being a responsible traveller” by avoiding resorts that are allegedly involved in “the subversion of democracy, and human rights abuses in the Maldives”.