Sun Travel and Tours has abruptly terminated its agreement with hotel giant Hilton to manage the Maldives Iru Fushi Resort leading to the resignation of 30 employees at the property, staff have alleged. The termination has also led to some guests cancelling their bookings at the property with local operators.
Hilton said that its agreement to run the resort was cancelled officially on May 3 by the Sun Travel and Tours company.
“The cessation of Hilton Worldwide’s management of that resort was unforeseen and due to factors outside its control,” the hotel chain said in an official statement.
A staff member at the Noonu Atoll-based resort, who asked to remain anonymous, alleged the property’s owners had given Hilton barely 24 hours notice before terminating the agreement.
The staff member said Sun had given little information for the reason for the termination, stating that Hilton’s management team was notified on April 30 that their services would no longer be required.
According to a letter sent to staff that was seen by Minivan News, Sun took over management of the property on May 1 and began removing all Hilton branding from the resort, which will now be known as the Maldives Iru Fushi Resort and Spa.
“As I understand, management were informed by letter at about 3:00pm on April 30 that the owners would be taking over. Even Hilton did not know what was happening. There is a lot of shock, it is a very smoothly run resort,” the resort source claimed.
Despite a pledge by management at Sun Travel and Tours management to retain all staff at the site, the staff member said some employees were now concerned about their job security.
The staff member said 30 of an estimated 500 staff employed at the resort has resigned in the four days following the termination of the Hilton contract. Bookings had already been cancelled due to of the loss of the Hilton name, the source said, while other guests were already in the process of trying to amend their bookings.
Sources at several large local travel operators based in Male’ confirmed to Minivan News today that some bookings for the property had already been cancelled.
The resort staff member praised Hilton’s conduct in handing the property over in a peaceful manner, claiming that the company had in some cases offered to transfer guests to the company’s other resort in the country, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.
“Hilton have been so patient in this matter and left the place so professionally. Although its GM had left, the management urged us not to resign right away and to think of our families,” the source claimed.
After Hilton management were informed of the cessation of the management agreement, the source alleged the company was given less than 24 hours to vacate the premises, with access to the site’s computer equipment and offices cut off by 12:00pm the following day (May 1).
“I am a Maldivian myself, but I am ashamed of these guys and the way in which they have [taken over management],” the source claimed.
No statement from Sun
Sun Travels and Tours Pvt Ltd is owned and operated by MP Ahmed Shiyam, a local businessman and media magnate, who last year founded his own political party known as the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA).
Shiyam was not responding to calls at time of press, though senior MDA official Ali Mauroof recommended Minivan News contact Abdulla Thamheed, “our general manager” at the resort.
Thamheed later requested that media inquiries on the resort be addressed to Sun Travel and Tours offices in Male’. Minivan News was still awaiting a response from the company at time of press, which had yet to release an official statement as of May 5.
Political activities: TEAM
The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) meanwhile claimed it had received 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 alleged he had received several reports of widespread uncertainty at the resort from staff, alleging a number of guest rooms were being provided to MDA supporters and members.
“The resort’s operations are being jeopardised by a complete lack of understanding as to who are paying guests and where people are staying,” he alleged. “It sounds like a real mess there at the moment.”
Zakir said that TEAM had also received complaints by staff concerned over job security at the resort amid reports that individuals signing up to the MDA were being offered employment at the site.
“More than this, there is the direct damage to the industry of losing a major name like Hilton from the country,” he claimed. “We haven’t heard anything from the Tourism Ministry about this and will be looking to meet authorities over the matter tomorrow.”
Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb and Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.
The staff member meanwhile claimed that during the second day of working under the new resort management, a speedboat belonging to MP Shiyam had arrived with an entourage of people who had been campaigning for the MDA on nearby local islands.
“This party have been staying here with the owner [MP Shiyam] while they conduct political activities,” claimed the source.
As well as using the resort’s offices for MDA administrative matters such as photocopying and producing promotional material, the member of staff alleged that politicisation of the resort had been ongoing even while Hilton was in charge of site.
“Management have already hired two new guys linked to [MDA]. As I understand they were employed without undergoing any of the regular formal processes. Those who are here do not feel this is a safe place to work right now,” the source alleged.
Police called over harassment of female guests
Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef meanwhile confirmed that police had attended the resort on May 4 in response to allegations that three female Maldivians staying at the resort had been harassed.
Haneef said police arrived at the site yesterday afternoon 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.
The resort source alleged police had been called to the resort over allegations of attempted sexual assault of female guests on Friday (May 3) by an individual he claimed was part of the resort owner’s group.
“This individual entered the room belonging to these ladies and threatened them if they tried to make a noise,” the source alleged. “They managed to scare the man off and he escaped. These ladies complained and the police were called. This person was not a guest,” he said.