Maafushi guest house feud caught on camera

Additional reporting by Daniel Bosley

Staff members from Maafushi’s Summer Villa guest house were caught on camera yesterday entering a rival establishment and assaulting a member of staff.

The owners of Summer Villa guest house were seen to barge into Kaani Village guest house after a disagreement regarding a picnic island to which the former establishment owns the booking rights.

Summer Villa’s Sales and Marketing Manager Mohamed Nabeeh told Minivan News that the incident caught on camera at Kaani Village followed an assault on him which was edited from the leaked footage.

Nabeeh said that he was the man who appears without a shirt in the video, explaining that it had been torn during the attack on him.

The CCTV footage shows a group of four men forcing themselves into the Kaani Village lobby and dragging out a man behind the reception.

Police have confirmed that an investigation into the matter is underway.

Attempting to explain the feud, Nabeeh said that the picnic island was fully booked but that Kaani Village threatened them saying that “they would not let us do our business” unless permission was granted.

“With in a few minutes Kaani Village management was at Summer Villa already smashing the belongings threatening and being violent and creating a commotion in front of all our guests,” alleged Nabeeh.

An anonymous source was quoted in local news outlet CNM as saying that Kaani Village was given the permission to take their guests to the island before later being revoked by Summer Villa, sparking the disagreement.

Minivan News was unable to obtain a response from numbers publicly listed for Kaani Village.

Nabeeh also stated that despite the commotion, he went to Kaani Village on their staff’s request to resolve the issue at which point he was assaulted and “badly injured”.

While expressing disappointment over the fact that Summer Villa does not have video evidence to show Kaani Village management attacking the guest house, Nabeeh stated “we couldn’t control from our side, because they got me injured badly for no reason first”.

Nabeeh provided Minivan News with photos that allegedly show the harm and damage caused by the Kaani Village management to their staff and property.

Maafushi, in Kaafu Atoll, has become synonymous with the country’s burgeoning guest house tourism industry, with the island hosting the highest number of guest houses outside of Malé City.

Related to this story

Guest House Association established by Maafushi businessmen


MNDF corporal arrested for rape

A corporal at the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) was arrested on charges of rape on Wednesday (August 27), reports CNM.

According to the online news outlet, the 27-year-old corporal was arrested on suspicion of raping a woman at a guest house in Malé.

Police have confirmed that two men were taken into custody in connection with the case. The second suspect was aged 23, police said.

CNM reported yesterday that the 23-year-old was arrested from Laamu atoll. His remand detention was extended to seven days by the Fonadhoo magistrate court.

The remand detention of the MNDF corporal was reportedly extended to 10 days by the Criminal Court.


Government launches guest house island project

With additional reporting by Daniel Bosley

Details of the government’s first guest house island on Thumburi, in Laamu atoll, were revealed last night.

“Once again today we are looking to diversify tourism, to shape it in a different way. It does not mean moving away from the existing concept of having one resort on one island,” said President Abdulla Yameen during the launch.

Part of the Progressive Party of Maldives’ election manifesto, the guest house island concept aims to diversify the tourism industries to include small and medium enterprises, without encroaching on inhabited islands.

While guest house tourism on populated islands has grown rapidly in recent years, some in the industry have expressed concern that it may damage the high-end resort image of the Maldives.

The project – which will involve the development of a 2,100 bed resort run by multiple local businesses – was described as  “communal tourism development” or “vertical tourism” by the president.

“So in this newly introduced concept, we are inviting various small and medium businesses who are interested in this industry to chip-in money – [it is a] type of tourism based on amounts which could be easily borrowed from banks as well,” he continued.

The president also revealed that further guest house island projects would be carried out within the special economic zones to be established under proposed legislation.

Speaking at yesterday’s event, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb explained that the decision had come in response to medium sized businesses who wished to gain a foothold in the resort industry.

Only Maldivians will be permitted to invest in such projects, with priority given to those not yet involved in the industry, explained Adeeb.

The Thumburi project will  make land available on the 17 hectare uninhabited island – as well as the linked Hulhiyandhoo island – for investors to develop hotels, a diving school, water sports centres, restaurants and shopping centres, while government owned companies will invest in the island’s basic infrastructure – electricity and sewage.

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) will lead the project and engage with investors who will then market their own products.

MMPRC is currently fielding expressions of interest and expects to begin development by the end of the year.

“In our mind, the ultimate objective of this [project] would be increasing job opportunities and providing the opportunity to go forward benefiting the economy for many young Maldivians, and to double our per capita GDP income when our five-year term is completed,” President Yameen said at yesterday’s event.

Despite the tripling of guest house bed capacity in the past six years, the industry continues to be dominated by the one island/one resort model.

Growing from just 22 registered businesses in 2009, to 171 currently listed, the guest house tourism project – initiated during the presidency of Mohamed Nasheed – was introduced as an attempt to allow local communities to benefit from the billion dollar industry.


Comment: Guest house business – my journey

This article first appeared on the Maldives Economist blog. Republished with permission.

Back in 2009, I started a new venture, along with a very close friend, Mohamed Shihan. Back then, it was something very new, something that nobody has started yet. We called this venture ‘White Shell’ as we rented a small house right on the beach of Maafushi. As the government opened up to allow guest houses in local inhabited islands, we were the first to submit our registration. As a result, White Shell Beach Inn, is the first guest house to be registered on a local island. So we became the pioneers in it.

Initially, we invested about MVR300,000 so that we could have 4 rooms fully furnished with AC, and very basic facilities. A small restaurant and a kitchen, and 4 employees. I was working full time in the public sector, as an economist in MMA, during my weekends – I was busy with setting up of the business, and marketing it. As I did not have enough funds for a professional webpage development, I had to learn on developing websites, and tried my luck with it. I developed our first website, uploaded it, and started the online marketing of it. Initial months of losses were borne by the monthly salary that I earned, and loans from my partner in business. We made sure the staff were paid on time, and utility bills paid every month. Some of my friends, and people from the tourism sector advised me that it would be a failure, as it is tourism without alcohol, pork, and bikinis.

Six months in business, with the various online marketing efforts, we were able to get guests from Russia, Poland, Germany, France, and the UK. With my efforts, I was able to put ‘Maafushi’ as a separate destination on various online booking sites, and travel sites. Before completion of the first year, I was able to rent the adjoining house, and later the house next to it, so that before the end of the second year, we were selling 10 rooms, and were running a successful beach restaurant. For the first one and half years in business, we were able to prove to everybody (especially those in Maafushi), that local island tourism can be successfully run for mid-market tourists, and it can be done without having alcohol, pork and bikinis.

During those months that we were the only guest house in the island, guests enjoyed their time on the beach, and Maafushi, without bikini (in covered clothes, of course), and there were no complaints from the locals. This was because, before the guests booked their holiday with us, they were given the information that it is a local island and that government regulation does not allow swimming in a bikini, just like they are aware that alcohol is not available. Hence, guests were fully informed and aware, and there was no room for complaints or dissatisfaction. Moreover, we got additional revenue because of this regulation – as guests preferred to spend their day in picnic islands, snorkeling, of fishing, and other activities, and that’s additional revenue for us.

We have altogether 20 guest houses in Maafushi now, and 144 rooms. Which means even if we didn’t consider the family rooms, that’d be 288 beds, and with 65% occupancy, that’s 68,328 bed nights per year. Assuming average duration of stay is 4 days, that’s 17,000 guests per year. With conservative estimates and past revenue records, it is estimated that about $9.7 million will enter the local Maafushi economy, and the guest houses will be paying the state – as bed tax and GST – a total of US$1.3 million (equivalent to MVR20 million).

The income per head from guest houses alone is $4,425 per head in Maafushi. The total income per head of Maafushi after adding incomes from other sectors will probably be the highest in the country. It is a perfect example of making economic growth more inclusive, and a case study for inclusive development. In fact, I presented a paper last year in Islamabad, during a South Asia Economic Summit.

With the 20 guest houses, more than 100 locals are being employed in various jobs – ranging from speedboat crew, receptionists, waiters, room boys, accountants, and guest relations officers. The majority of youth are actively engaged in economic activities, without having to spend their times in coffee shops or elsewhere, as they did before. Women with children are able to earn at least MVR10,000 a month doing laundry services. Last month we spent from our hotel MVR17,000 for laundry, which is done by a local family.

We – the White Shell – have played a key role in the expansion, and the success of Maafushi as a tourism destination through leading by example, and also assisting others in the setups. And thanks to MATATO, as we have recently been awarded the Maldives Travel Awards as the Leading Guest House, from the category introduced this year.

There is no doubt that this newly developed industry provides huge economic benefits to the local community and the government in the form of taxes. It also provides other positive outcomes like the guest houses taking charge of cleaning the beach area and streets, and taking care of waste disposal. The MWSC (water company), and STELCO are making huge profits from Maafushi, as the per unit rates are relatively higher in Maafushi compared to Malé. With more that 144 air condition units recently installed, Maafushi is spending heavily on electricity (there’s still more to be done in terms of using efficient energy sources).

There are many challenges as well, of course. With starting of many new guest houses, many have come to believe that the bikini is not a problem, and guests are being told so as well. Less seem to complain, however, as almost everybody benefits from the industry. We are yet to find an amicable solution to the issue, with serious discussions between the island council, tourism ministry, and the guest house owners. Other social issues/problems can also be addresses in a similar manner. Which means there’s still a lot of work to be done in order to make the business sustainable, environment friendly, and in order to make the this model a success in other islands. Wish you all a very happy new year.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Police arrest two men and a Maldivian woman engaged in sexual activity

Police have arrested a Maldivian woman and two men engaged in sexual activity in a guest house raid on Thursday night (March 28).

A further two intoxicated individuals were arrested during the raid at Dulcet Stay Guesthouse in H. Lhareethige, local media reported.

According to police, three out of the five people had been arrested while “engaged” in sexual activity, and that the men involved had told police that the woman “did it for money”.

Local media reported that two Maldivians, a woman and a man were also arrested for using drugs in another room in the guesthouse.


“Compromise” essential for growth of independent travel in the Maldives: Lonely Planet author

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

There remains huge potential to expand independent travel across the Maldives’ ‘inhabited islands’, though only a “tiny proportion” of tourists would presently accept legal restrictions in the country without it becoming more inviting for holidays, the author of a major new Maldives travel guide has claimed.

Under the country’s laws, traditional holiday staples such as the sale and consumption of alcohol and pork products, and women publicly sunbathing in bikinis are outlawed unless on designated ‘uninhabited’ islands set aside exclusively for resort developments.

Tom Masters, a travel writer and journalist who has authored the latest Lonely Planet travel book to focus on the Maldives – released back in October – said he ultimately believed local islands can provide independent travellers with “sufficient attractions”, even within the strictly conservative laws practiced outside of the country’s resort islands.

“However, I think only a tiny proportion of potential visitors would be happy to accept such a number of restrictions on their annual holiday, and so if some degree of compromise could be reached on issues such as alcohol or sunbathing, then the number of travellers opting for island tourism over that in an expensive resort would rise enormously,” Masters told Dhonisaurus.

Despite the claims, the Maldives Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has said that even with the emergence of a number of boutique guest houses around and the planned expansion of domestic flights routes in the Maldives, the market for independent travel will remain “quite insignificant”.

Ultimately, no law can be enacted against the tenets of Islam, according to the Maldivian constitution.

Even last month, debate took place in parliament about the legality of selling alcohol in the Maldives, both in terms of outside the country’s resorts and even on its exclusive island properties, with a bill potentially outlawing any form of alcohol sales being narrowly accepted by the People’s Majlis.

“Great changes”

The Maldives has undergone great changes in terms of tourism and national development since the Lonely Planet last published a guide on the Maldives in 2009, according to author Tom Masters.

“The last [Lonely Planet] guide was researched and published in 2009, a time of great optimism and change for the Maldives after the election of President Nasheed. The changes introduced by his government were a fantastic step in the right direction for tourism, I think, especially given the global financial climate, which made relying on high-end tourism alone a dangerous path,” he said.

“The biggest change was undoubtedly the opening of guest houses on inhabited islands and the creation of a national ferry network. These were both fantastic for the independent traveller and a great way to make visiting the Maldives affordable.”

While Masters remains optimistic for further developments in independent travel in the Maldives, he added these feelings were tempered by the challenges facing the market – not least in better managing the expectations of travellers within the context of local culture and practices.

“The travellers I met staying in guest houses were all very culturally sensitive and of course came knowing that alcohol, bikinis and pork weren’t going to be available. However, many suggested that in the future some degree of compromise might be possible – perhaps allowing beer drinking inside guest houses or the opening of closed-off ‘Westerner’ beaches where tourists could swim and sunbathe without upsetting locals,” he added.

“I also think that the ferry network needs to be invested in and improved, as at present it’s slow, unreliable and hard to access as an outsider. Online timetables, better vessels and more frequent boats would all make independent travel far easier and appealing than it is at present.”

Masters stressed that the Maldives remained “overwhelmingly a luxury destination” – a tag he did not anticipate would change drastically unless island tourism could be made more “inviting”.

“The financial demographic hasn’t much changed, but the geographic spread of visitors has enormously – the Chinese have risen from a tiny part of the market to one of its biggest groups, which in turn has changed the feel of many resorts where large groups of Chinese visitors predominate. The independent traveller is still a tiny and unknown quantity in the Maldives, but one that I’m confident will continue to grow as long as the new government doesn’t try to further restrict their behaviour,” he said.

“The question is whether that is in the new government’s interest. As the new government is made up of many resort owners, I’d be very surprised if they felt that encouraging island tourism was a priority, which I think is a shame.”

Forty years of tourism

With the Maldives celebrating 40 years since the inception of tourism, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has spent the year trying to claw back consumer confidence in the destination, which was damaged by political instability during the early months of 2012.

The ministry has also been working to outline a fourth long-term master plan for pursuing growth within the Maldives travel sector – now expected to be unveiled before the end of 2012.  Independent travel will be included in this focus.

From a Maldives perspective, the independent travel market market is represented mainly in the country through guest houses and safari/dive vessels, being described by veteran guide book author Adrian Neville as “a weakling in need of love and nurturing”.

Speaking to Minivan News last month, Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal told Minivan News that amendments approved in 2010 to the country’s Tourism Act had allowed for a renewed focus on guest house development.

“There is opportunity in the area [of independent travel] with growth in domestic flights that is being seen. [The island of] Hulhumale’ already has some very good quality guests houses and boutique bed and breakfast properties,” he said.

“However, guest houses represent a minute number of beds and that number will continue to remain quite insignificant.”

Until 2008, guest houses had been banned by Maldivian law since May 1, 1984.

Back in June, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb said that it was difficult to say where authorities stood on guest house development as the industry was still relatively niche compared to the established resort sector.

“The Maldives continues to be branded as a luxury destination within the tourism market. It is a bonus therefore that these guesthouses allow us to supply mid-market demand,” he said at the time.

“We are formulating our plan right now. This will look specifically into how many guest-houses have been built and how they contribute to the economy,” he said.

However Raki Bench, founder of the Guest-houses in Maldives website which offers specially prepared packages to experience a more independent holiday experience in the country, has been critical of the role played by the present and former government to develop the industry.

Bench added in recent years, despite previous government commitments to provide more mid-market accommodation for visitors wanting to explore the country’s inhabited islands, further support had been lacking.

“The government has not really been helping guest-houses at all. It is a small sector, but it is showing growth within the wider tourism industry. I don’t see any promotion from authorities,” added Bench, who said he was realistic about the economic reasons for this.

“I do understand why this is the case. After all what is the point in promoting an industry with a value of US$50 a night when you compare that to what resorts can make?” he said.


Business as usual at Maldives guest-houses after authorities issue “cautionary circular”

The government has insisted city hotels and guest-houses established on the Maldives’ inhabited islands remain open today, after a local media report suggested authorities had revoked the right of local councils to operate tourist properties on their land.

Sun Online reported yesterday that the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had called for an emergency debate in the people’s Majlis against an “order” by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture to cease the “operation of guest houses and hotels”.

MDP Chairperson and MP Reeko Moosa Manik was reported to have criticised the legality of an order issued on June 17, claiming the motion was a means to protect the interests of certain resort owners at the expense of developing independent travel.  Manik was unable to respond to Minivan News at the time of press.

Responding today to the Sun Online report, tourism authorities said there had appeared to be “confusion” about the content of a circular that as released by the ministry on June 17.

While not having seen the circular, former Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa said she did have concerns about the government’s attitude to guest-house development, alleging that authorities sought to reverse previous state commitments to decentralise powers to local councils. She claimed these powers allowed councils – in collaboration with the government – to have more of a say in localised tourist developments.


Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal claimed the ministry has issued a circular to make local councils aware that the allocation of public land for tourism development was to be approved by the ministry and not themselves.

“This circular from the ministry never mentioned guest houses or city hotels directly. Some local councils are allocating land for tourism developments like guest-houses,” he said.

According to Maleeh, the circular was devised as a “cautionary” response to ensure local councils only set aside land for hotels and guests-houses under license from the Tourism Ministry.  Maleeh contended this provision would ensure industry planning and safety standards were met.

“There appears to have been some confusion about the motion. Right now, any person can develop guest houses or hotels on private land,” he said. “To do this, they are required to go through the Tourism Ministry and follow regulations regarding safety and the number of rooms they are operating.  This is simply a circular to remind local councils that public land can’t be assigned by them for guest-house development.”

Maleeh claimed that all land being set aside for tourism development was required to go through a bidding process before gaining government approval.

Guest-house challenges

Just last week, Minivan News’ spin-off travel review site, Dhonisaurus, reported on the challenges facing the development of independent travel in the Maldives through industries like guest-houses.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb said at the time that the government was presently analysing the contribution to the economy of all tourist properties – including resorts, safari boats and guest-houses. Once this analysis was complete, the Tourism Ministry said it would then unveil how each sector will be developed though the country’s fourth tourism master-plan.

Speaking today, Deputy Minister Maleeh stressed that the country’s resort industry presently accounted for about 80 per cents of the total bed capacity available to tourists.

While guest-houses were estimated to account for 2.5 percent of tourism bed capacity, Maleeh claimed that the industry was “slowly picking up” – something that would be considered within the news tourism “master-plan”.

“Properties like guest-houses allow tourists to experience local culture here, there will definitely be a role for them,” he said. “However, the government wants to make sure these are successful ventures, but there may be issues to overcome for such properties. This is why the license to operate them must come from the tourism industry.”

“Running as normal”

One local operator of guest houses, who wished to remain unidentified, said that there has so far been no impacts on their business resulting from the tourism ministry circular.  The operator told Minivan News that an official tourism ministry inspection had been carried out last Wednesday (June 20) on a soon to be opened guest-house property, and there had been no indication of a change to their operations.

“As far as I’m aware, business is running as normal,” the spokesperson said.

Dr Mariyam Zulfa, who served as Tourism Minister under the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed until February’s controversial transfer of power, has however raised concerns that the circular could place a barrier on future hotel and guest-house developments on inhabited islands.

Zulfa stressed that while she had not seen the circular, from what she could gather, the circular highlighted a government policy now seemingly against granting permission for new guest-house properties.

“I take it to mean that the circular will place a bar on further local tourism development by usurping the power of local councils,” she said.

“During my time, we worked to try and empower local councils through a land use plan to take more responsibility for local tourism development. They still had to come back to the Tourism Ministry and obtain an opening permit for any property, but we wanted to give councils power to decide how to move forward.”

Land use plan

With all land allocation related to tourism development requiring presidential approval, Zulfa said that the previous government held a policy where every island in the country was required to have a land use plan approved by the Housing Ministry.

Zulfa claimed that on islands where land had been earmarked for tourism developments under this land use plan, any person with a business proposal for a guest-house or hotel could then go to their council for approval.

“The idea was that local government would have the authority to negotiate with local developers for the best deal for their communities,” she added. “The ministry would also be able to provide assistance if needed.”

Zulfa added that she found it “strange” that opponents of the former government had alleged the administration had been doing “whatever it pleased” in terms of distributing land.

“If we look as the islands set aside for resort development at the time, there was a US$600,000 charge per square hectare of land – an amount that was very close to previous investment regulations.

Zulfa added that the “significant” sum was devised after a tender process and consultation with the industry to ensure committed investors were being found to help fund developments.

“It seems strange to me that people are making it seem like we were giving away islands, when we had undertaken immense work and spent significant time in outlining these plans,” she added.

Earlier this month, the government refuted claims it had considered halting the lease of 60 islands awarded for resort development by the Nasheed administration.

Critics alleged that the CSR programme was against the law as the islands were awarded in the absence of an open bidding system, and had favoured MDP members.


School children lured to guest houses and sexually abused, warn police

School children are being lured to guest houses by adults and sexually abused, police have claimed.

Head of the police Family and Child Protection Unit (FCPU), Chief Inspector Ahmed Shujau, told the press that school children between the ages of 14 to 18 were being sexually abused after being lured to guest houses during school hours.

Shujau said that police had learned that the minors were usually befriended or seduced through the internet.

While school children were found to visit guest houses with children of the same age, he continued, there had been incidents where children were being taken by adults.

According to Shujau, 27 such cases were recently reported to the FCPU, 16 of which involved child sexual abuse while 11 cases were forced sexual assaults on women.

Shujau told revealed that the perpetrators included adult males and females as well.

The Chief Inspector advised parents to nurture closer relationship with their children and to always be aware of their child’s whereabouts.

The age of consent in the Maldives is 18 years and above. Unless proven otherwise, sexual relations with a minor is considered non-consensual under existing Maldivian laws.


Hotels, guest houses and safari vessels record rising patronage

The tourism industry has recorded a 10 percent increase in bed nights for the first three months of  2011 compared with 2010, a total of 1,852,564.

However while the majority of nights were spent at resort properties – 1,724,799 – this represented only a seven percent increase on 2010. In comparison, nights at hotels increased 25.5 percent (to 60,784) and safari vessels by 33.9 percent.

Guest houses remained a small segment of the tourism market with 7855 nights, although this represented a 25.5 percent increase on the same period last year. Guest houses continued to record very low occupancy rates of around 17 percent.

Occupancy rates for resorts increased three and a half percent on 2010 to 92.8 percent from January to March 2011, and were exceptionally strong in February – only two percent of the country’s resort rooms were empty during this month. Hotel occupancy increase 6.5 percent on last year.

Overall, occupancy rates across the tourism industry varied only marginally on 2010, dropping 0.1 percent.

Average duration of stay for the first three months of 2011 also showed little variation on the same period last year, continuing a slight downward trend of 0.1 percent to 7.5 days per visitor.