Malé City Council has urged hoteliers and guest house owners in the capital to inform tourists of the importance of dressing modestly in the country’s inhabited islands.
Responding to a letter of complaint from the Islamic Ministry, city Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali Manik has made a public announcement calling upon patrons to be more aware of the issue.
“Please look carefully at these kind of things that happen in Malé’s streets, and Hulhumalé’s streets,” said Manik.
“People have to be careful on this, because this is an islamic country. In inhabited islands, people should not walk in bikinis.”
“The ministry has to take that kind of action. If it prolongs it may be something beyond control.”
When asked about the letter today, State Minister for Islamic Affairs Mohamed Ali denied any such message had been sent.
While the resorts islands have thrived on so-called ‘bikini and booze’ tourism for decades, Islamic Shariah is practiced among the local populace of the 100 percent Sunni Islamic country.
Despite the country’s billion dollar tourism industry being founded on high-end luxury resorts – located on individual ‘uninhabited’ islands – mid-market tourism has risen rapidly over the past five years.
The number of guest houses has grown rapidly after the rise to power of the Maldivian Democratic Party in 2008, tripling in number in the past five years – although the most recent government figures show guest houses to comprise just over 4 percent of the industry’s registered bed capacity.
While promoted as by the MDP as a way for communities and smaller businesses to tap into the country’s largest source of income, the rise in tourists staying on inhabited islands has caused concern amongst some Islamic groups who suggest tourists and locals ought to be kept apart.
“If the hippy-type of travellers come, along will come drugs and narcotics which even now our society is suffering from. Things like nudity are not acceptable in a place where people are living. The people complain that they are praying in the mosque and just outside there are tourists in bikinis,” Vice President Mauroof Hussain of the Adhaalath Party recently told the AFP.
One Malé guesthouse owner – who wished to remain anonymous – stated that moderation should be shown by tourists when walking the streets of the capital.
“Bikinis in public I think it’s unethical considering our traditions and culture.”
The owner,went on to say that he did not feel the issue to be a serious one, however, noting that most tourists were “very disciplined”.
Mayor Manik also expressed his belief that this was not a growing problem, saying that he had received no complaints from members of the public.
The current government – having been elected on a protection of Islam platform – is planning to experiment with ‘guest islands’, which aim to utilise uninhabited islands while still giving smaller entrepreneurs the opportunity to enter into the industry.
Speaking with Minivan News last month, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb said that while the current government was not against the guest house concept, he felt that publicising this small area of the industry could hurt the brand’s overall image.
“The thing is, from a marketing perspective, we have positioned the Maldives as a high-end destination. A-category guests will continue coming for as long as we market the country as an A-category destination,” he said.
Adeeb also noted that local concerns played a role in his reluctance to promote the guest house sector.
“Even locally, culturally, people get disheartened when we talk about guesthouses. So although I don’t much talk about it, guesthouse owners are aware that they have my full cooperation.”