Anantara donates over US$10,000 to Guraidhoo special needs home

Anantara Maldives today handed a US$10,000 cheque to the Home for Special Needs at Kaafu Guraidhoo.

The donation – raised through Cluster General Manager Torsten Richter’s participation in an Iron Man competition – represents the biggest corporate social responsibility project in the company’s history.

Speaking at the ceremony today, Deputy Minister of Law and Gender Iruthisham Adam said that awareness raising was needed to ensure the protection of the elderly and psychiatric patients.

“I think we have to recognise that these people are part of our society and we have a responsibility. They belong to some family, they belong to our family, they belong to us,” said Iruthisham.

Richter explained that the money will mainly be used to purchase medical equipment, which will then be imported by Anantara before being installed by the resort’s engineers.

Anantara – part of the Minor Hotels Group – currently operates four resorts in the Maldives, winning multiple awards at this year’s Maldives Travel Awards.

Chairman of Minor International William Heinecke presented the cheque to the centre today as well as launching the special needs home’s new website.

An additional US$1,500 was added to the donation through the Roy E. Heinecke Foundation – a fund named after William Heinecke’s father.

“All corporate citizens do as they’re required, but we have additional responsibilities – this is one of them,” said Heinecke, noting his company’s long term commitment to the Maldives.

One member of staff at the facility told Minivan News, however, that more major changes were needed, describing the today’s donation as “like sand in the ocean”.

“The people are suffering here,” said the staff member, “the management is not good”.

The Ministry of Law and Gender announced earlier this year that the government had plans to turn the centre into mental health institute, with the elderly and the mentally ill provided with separate facilities.

Deputy Minister Shidaathaa Shareef told VNews earlier this month that changes were proceeding according to plan.

“We are currently focusing more on programs on taking care of the patients, and we want to shift that focus to starting rehabilitation programs that are needed for patients with mental illnesses,” said Shidaathaa.

Of the 167 patients currently staying in the compound, just 19 were psychiatric patients, the staff member told Minivan News today, with the rest either homeless people or geriatrics.

The medical staff at the facility consisted of just one doctor and two nurses, they continued, leaving the facility unable to adequately provide even basic care.

“We are trying but we don’t even have the people to go and turn the patients in their beds to prevent bedsores.”

Additionally, the staff member repeated concerns expressed to Minivan News by former members of staff, that psychiatric patients were not being provided the opportunity to reintegrate into society.

“This place is called a rehabilitation centre, but it’s not really. The patients never leave the compound – maybe once or twice a year.”

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives reiterated calls on the government last month to address problems with the water and sewerage system at the home.

A team from the commission visited the home on September 16, conducting tests that found the water used for sanitation purposes in the home showed a high presence of e-coli bacteria, in contravention of WHO approved standards.

Anantara GM Richter explained today that equipment to deal with the water issues had been included on a list given to the resort by the facility.

Related to this story

HRCM repeats calls for clean water at special needs centre


MATATO expresses concern over airport outsourcing deal

The Maldives Association of Travel and Tourism Operators (MATATO) has expressed concern regarding rumours that a private Jet terminal and aeronautical services facilities at Malé International Airport will be outsourced exclusively to a foreign company.

“MATATO is very concerned that this will create an unhealthy market structure and put many local companies at risk,” read the statement.

Minivan News has learned that the cabinet’s economic council is currently discussing a deal with billionaire Thai businessman William Heinecke.

American-born Heinecke’s Minor International hospitality chain is reported by Forbes to consist of 1,500 restaurants, 100 hotels, and 250 retail outlets spanning 18 countries – including the Maldives’ Anantara resorts.

MATATO, which represents more than 50 local businesses, revealed that it had been approached by a number of concerned members whom it believed would suffer as a result of such a deal.

“Presently there are many local businesses that act as supervision agents, and ground handlers for the considerable corporate and private jets that visit Maldives year round. Many of these local companies depend solely on the income generated from this business,” read the statement.

The association requested that all stakeholders begin a dialogue that might consider alternative arrangements to an exclusivity deal which it suggests lacks market competition, leading to poor services and “consumer exploitation”.

“The absence of competitive pricing that benefits the consumer, allows companies with exclusivity rights to charge higher prices for services, and inconvenience buyers.”

Following the purchase of both the Maldives’ seaplane operators by US private equity group Blackstone last year, hospitality groups revealed a subsequent raising of prices and reduction of services, reporting a potentially negative impact on industry profitability.

MATATO today argued that the airport deal would “only lead to unnecessary outflow of foreign exchange, loss of job opportunities for locals, a significant amount of control of the local market to foreign bodies, among many other negative factors.”

Alternatives suggested by MATATO was for the current management of the airport – the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL)  – to retain control and upgrade the facilities itself.

MACL took over management of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) following the premature termination of the Indian company GMR’s 25-year concession agreement by the previous government.

Shortly after winning the presidency last year, President Abdulla Yameen pledged to redevelop the airport with new foreign investment, while the government would retain the overall management of the airport.

The expansion of INIA – to accommodate five million passengers per year – subsequently featured among the ‘mega-projects’ presented to international investors during a landmark investment forum held in Singapore in April.

Shortly after the Singapore forum, the Maldivian Democratic Party – in power when the original GMR deal was signed – called for GMR’s reinstatement, vowing to annul any new airport contracts should it return to the power.

GMR’s US$1.4 billion arbitration claim was also concluded in Singapore in April, though the court has yet to announce a verdict.


Saudi prince’s Maldives visit makes global headlines

The visit of Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz continues to make headlines today after the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper reported that the prince had booked out Anantara’s three South Malé atoll resorts for nearly one month.

Headlines in Saudi Arabia have suggested that Prince Salman – due to arrive tomorrow – will discuss potential investments and partnerships in energy, tourism, transport, and Islamic affairs, as well the provision of a soft loan facility of US$300 million for the Indian Ocean nation.

“The crown prince’s trip to the Maldives comes in response to the invitation extended by Maldivian President Abdullah Yameen Abdul Gayoom,” Maldivian ambassador to Saudia Arabia Adam Hassan told Arab News.

Anantara’s Dhigu, Naladhu, and Veli resorts – all within an hour’s boat ride from the capital Malé – were said to have been reserved for the 78 year old heir to the Saudi throne.

The Daily Mail has reported the comments of “furious” tourists who had reservations cancelled without forewarning or apology.

Staff at Anantara were unable to provide any further information when contacted by Minivan News today. Similarly, spokesman at the President’s Office was unavailable for comment.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry reported last week  that that prince’s official visit to the Maldives came on the invitation of President Abdulla Yameen and would form part of an Asian tour taking in India, Pakistan, and Japan. The President’s Office confirmed the visit but declined to provide further details.

The visit comes amid growing ties between the Yameen administration and the Saudi kingdom. Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed visited Saudi Arabia earlier this month, meeting with the Imaam of the Grand Mosque of Makkah.

The vice president stressed the importance the government placed on enhancing ties with the Arab world and in strengthening religious unity in the Maldives. Shortly after Jameel’s return, the government initiated its pledge to introduce Arabic lessons in schools as part of a drive to increase Islamic learning in the country.

After being invited by the Maldives Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, the Saudi Arabian Muslim Scholars Association in January agreed to provide a grant of MVR1.6 million to assist in the provision of Islamic education in the Maldives.

Jameel’s trip followed the January visit of Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, during which time an MoU was signed regarding the increase of air traffic between the Maldives and Saudi Arabia.

Prince Salman is currently in Japan and was today awarded an honorary doctorate from Tokyo’s Waseda University.


Maldives travel retail in the spotlight after airport sells US$39,000 bottle of whisky

This story was originally published on Minivan News’ spin-off travel review site,

Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) in Male’ has become the second duty free operator in the Asia Pacific region to sell a recently launched US$39,000 (MVR592,000)  bottle of whisky, reflecting what one retailer said is the growing significance of the destination for providers of high-end luxury goods.

Earlier this month, resort chain Anantara announced it would be offering guests a limited edition elephant-harvested coffee – priced at US$1,100 per kilogram – to target high-end gourmet appeal.

While the sale and consumption of alcohol products outside of the country’s airport and resort properties is prohibited under local law, the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MNNCI) said there remained definite potential for local industry and crafts to profit in a market like INIA, despite the MNNCI’s “concerns” over the development.

According to the Moodie Report, an influential travel retail publication, one Chinese passenger travelling through INIA this month purchased the limited edition commemorative Balvenie Fifty whisky just nine days after it had gone on sale at the site. Only 88 bottles are said to have been produced.

“With the Maldives being a top luxury travel destination in the Indian Sub-Continent, we believe that Malé duty free can act as a gateway to the great collection of rare and vintage malts,” distiller William Grant and Sons’ Indian Sub-Continent Brand Development Manager Neeraj Sharma told the trade publication.

GMR, the Indian infrastructure group with a concession agreement to manage and develop the new airport terminal and retail facilities, has taken exclusive rights to certain duty free items to be sold at INIA.

However the GMR contract, which was drafted with assistance from International Finance Corporation (IFC), has come under intense criticism in the country’s political circles, with some key MPs and now government-aligned parties accusing the company of corruption and seeking to “enslave the nation and its economy”.

GMR has denied the charge, contending that it is contracted to operate as a caretaker for the site, which continues to remain Maldivian owned.

However, in the same week when INIA was selling the exclusive whisky to a passenger, local groups supporting a move to “re-nationalise” the airport continued to campaign to sway public opinion against the developer, releasing a large balloon in the capital adorned with the message “go home GMR”.

The government and GMR are presently involved in an arbitration case in Singapore concerning GMR’s levying of an airport development charge.

Authentically Maldivian

MNCCI Vice President Ishmael Asif said aside from selling exclusive duty free goods, local manufacturers of products such as wood carvings and traditional clothing could also benefit from operating in INIA.  However, Asif stressed that local laws needed to be amended accordingly.

“There are no local laws right now protecting authentic Maldives products. The goods being sold as Maldivian often come from other countries and do not reflect our traditions and culture,” he claimed, pointing to the types of products sold in stores on busy retail streets like Chaandhanee Magu in Male’ as an example.

Asif claimed that legislation outlining quality and production standards could greatly boost the profitability and market for local techniques such as wood carvings of fish and dhonis (local boats) as well as smaller items like drums used in bodu beru – a local musical form combining rhythmic drumming and dancing.

According to the MNCCI, factories previously existed during the 1990’s specialising in such local woodworking techniques, which used paints and fabrics derived from local materials and colourings. Asif claimed that these factories were no longer in operation outside of some specialist operations supported by resorts based in Baa Atoll.

“We have been trying to work on a special logo that can be used to identify local Maldivian products, this is something that could be done and used at the airport,” said Asif.

The MNCCI added that in recent years, specialist retail groups had set up operations to try and provide authentic products to the country’s lucrative tourism trade, but had more recently struggled to maintain a property in the capital. The commerce group added that organisations such as the UN were now being sought to provide support to such enterprises to help maintain local cultural practices.

In terms of high-end luxury products, Asif added that traditionally INIA – formerly Male’ international Airport – had been viewed locally as a way to bring tourists to the country, rather than as a means of making money as a retail location.

“We are known [as a destination] for having expensive resorts, and the Maldives has tried to develop the best resorts in the world,” he claimed.  “GMR seem to feel this is only a place for the elite, [while] we need to accommodate everyone.”

GMR said that as part of a redevelopment of the existing airport terminal, new restaurant properties providing fast food and Thai specialities – particularly popular with Maldivians – would be opened to both passengers and local people.

Yet despite the untapped retail potential for Maldivian products at INIA, the MNNCI said it held “concerns” over the airport agreement with GMR, which was signed with the previous government, and complained it had not been consulted about developing local retail potential.

Asif has previously said that the MNNCI held concerns about the impact of the GMR deal on local businesses, alleging that a planning council related to the infrastructure group’s bid had not been open to the public or its members.

He pointed to the case of local enterprises such as MVK Maldives Private Limited, which in December last year was ordered by the Civil Court to vacate the Alpha MVKB Duty Free shop based at INIA after its agreement had expired.

However, speaking to private broadcaster Raaje TV last month, former Economic Development Minister Mahmoud Razee, who worked with the previous government and international partners on the GMR agreement, denied the deal had resulted in local enterprises being kicked out.

“The privatisation policy does not itself kick others out. It is about honouring the contract. No one has actually been kicked out, but private parties have opportunities to participate. The issue that has always existed is getting cheap capital for small scale businesses,” he said at the time.

Razee claimed that the GMR deal reflected a commitment by the former government to pursue privatisation as outlined in the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP’s) manifesto.

“Firstly, if or when anything is run like a business, private people are more skilled and efficient. They are far more competent and they work for profit unlike the government,” he claimed.  “This means it requires less cost for the government, but needs more outside investment or capital. Private people are more skilled and efficient in terms of managing. The end product thus is more beneficial.”


Resort group Anantara plots major anniversary expansion

Anantara, which operates a number of high end resorts and spas across Asia and the Middle East, says it will expand its property portfolio by up to 60 percent next year by extending its presence in markets such as the Maldives.

With the company set to commemorate its first decade in business during 2011, the launch of the Anantara Kihavah Villas in Baa Atoll – scheduled to open in January – marks plans to try and further boost the number of properties in lucrative areas like the Indian Ocean.

“We’ve come a long way since our first resort opening in 2001,” said Peter Carmichael, Anantara’s Senior Vice President, in a statement. “As we move into our tenth anniversary year we will open seven stunning new resorts that will offer guests luxury and tranquility in surroundings that are culturally and environmentally uplifting.”

In the Maldives alone, the company already operates the neighbouring resort properties of Naladhu, Anantara Veli and Anantara Dhigu in the country’s South Male’ Atoll.