Hilton has said discussions are continuing with operator Sun Tour and Travels over the local company’s decision to abruptly terminate its contract to manage the Maldives Iru Fushi Resort last week.
The claims were made as staff at the property alleged some workers are now facing harassment over their political alignments following the termination of the resort giant’s management contract.
Sun Tour and Travels announced on May 1 that it was terminating Hilton’s agreement to manage the Noonu Atoll-based resort, with sources on the island accusing the local tour operator of giving the multinational company barely 24 hours notice to cease their operations before they were asked to leave. The resort is now being run as the Maldives Iru Fushi Resort and Spa.
The Hilton group, which continues to manage the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island property in the country, today confirmed to Minivan News that it was still in discussions with the resort’s owner, Sun Travel and Tours regarding the matter. Hilton said it could not therefore confirm what action it would take to resolve the matter.
Sun Travel and Tours is owned and operated by MP Ahmed Shiyam, a local businessman and media magnate, who last year founded his own political party, the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA).
Current resort General Manager Abdulla Thamheed today said he was “not the right person” at Sun to speak on the decision to terminate the Hilton contract, requesting Minivan News instead contact a media official at the company’s head offices in Male’. The nominated spokesperson was not responding to calls or e-mails at time of press.
However, a member of staff at the resort, speaking on condition of anonymity, said workers were continuing to perform their duties at the site, despite claiming that 40 employees had resigned since the termination of the Hilton contract last week.
“Staff are working as hard right now as they were before,” the source claimed. “We need the money for our families.”
Job security fears
The employee alleged nonetheless that a work environment had “recently” developed resulting in staff being “fearful” of talking politics on the resort during their free time.
Since the termination of Hilton’s agreement, the resort source accused certain management and staff at the resort backing MP Shiyam’s MDA party and making verbal threats against workers who held different political beliefs.
“When Hilton was here, there was freedom to talk about politics, whatever party you supported,” the source said. “No one was holding campaigns here for parties or anything, but now just talking about politics is a problem. This has happened recently.”
The staff member accused some staff 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.”
Outside of talking politics at the resort, the same source alleged that staff had lately found their access to televised news media being restricted in the staff area to private pro-government aligned broadcaster DhiTV.
The employee said requests by some workers for access to other private broadcasters such as VTV and Raajee TV – media owned by political and business rivals of Shiyam or perceived as being aligned with the opposition politicians – were currently awaiting management approval.
The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) today claimed it had continued to receive complaints from workers at the resort before and after the termination of the Hilton management agreement concerning attempts to politicise staff.
TEAM Secretary General Mauroof Zakir said he had received information that management had been hiring local MDA members to replace staff members who resigned over the last week.
However, Zakir added that he had also been informed by various members of staff that Sun Travels had brought in a number of experienced managers from its wider operations to the resort to ensure it was running more smoothly after alleged difficulties following the changeover.
“Things seem to be much more under control at the site now, staff told me,” he said.
Zakir had expressed concern about a lack of response from tourism officials and industry bodies about the nature of the change of management and allegations of political influence at the resort.
Minivan News was awaiting a response from Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb and Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal at time of press.
Sources at the resort have alleged there have been a number of cancellations from Hilton loyalty members over the decision to terminate the company’s contract, as well as complaints from some guests concerning security at the site after police were summoned to the property earlier in the week.
However, the same source stressed that the Sun Travels and Tours had provide compensation packages for guests at the property following the change in management.
Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed this week that police had attended the resort on May 4 in response to allegations that three female Maldivians staying at the property had been harassed.
Haneef said police arrived at the site to investigate after receiving a complaint from resort management over alleged harassment of some guests by an unidentified suspect.
He claimed that police had insufficient information to identify a suspect at the time of press.
Earlier this week, sources at several large local travel operators based in Male’ confirmed to Minivan News that some bookings for the property had been cancelled as a result of Hilton no longer operating the site.