Hilton in talks following contract termination as staff allege political harassment from new management

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.


A flavour of “real Maldivian life”: The Observer newspaper

Writing for UK-based ‘The Observer’ newspaper, Ruaridh Nicoll asks if it is possible to experience luxury within the atolls of the Maldives without breaking the bank.

“Standing on the bone-white sand, gazing into the clear water, I watched a blacktip reef shark cruise past my big toe. It was a tiny shark, maybe 10 inches long, but it moved as if a major predator: I imagined that in its mind it was the terror of tiny things.

‘Do they bite?’ I asked.

‘No, they are completely harmless,’ said Ali, operations manager of Vilu Reef, a resort on the Maldivian atoll of South Nilandhe. ‘We’ve only had one incident with them. A small boy of maybe four managed to catch one, which is hard , and he carried it up the beach and dropped it in the swimming pool.’

There was, he said, pandemonium.

My gaze rose, over a sea richer in fish than your average aquarium, past cabanas on stilts over the water, past the reef to where a blue seaplane was landing with more guests. The Maldives, coral islands on long-extinct volcanoes, pulsed in the sun – a million visions of paradise.

I’d never thought of visiting the atolls, seeing it as a bit posh, a bit package. A friend from British Airways changed my mind. He complained that because so many visitors to the Maldives were on honeymoon (or were just plain rich), the front of their flights were always packed, while economy sat empty. I got to wondering whether it was possible to visit on the cheap.

Well, it’s not easy. One option is to avoid the tourist islands, of which there are a little short of 100, and go to the local islands, which number 200. That way you will get the flavour of the real Maldivian life, in all its Islamic constraints. It’s fascinating, but there’s no booze, you’ll spend days trying to get around on small ferries, and have to swim in a burqa (for men, that’s optional).

Most of us who work full-time would, I guess, rather indulge the dream. So I looked for a resort that wasn’t a five-star tower of marble and palm fronds and which offered deals out of season. The result was Vilu Reef, a truly international experience.

‘The Chinese are arriving in ever-larger numbers,’ said Ali. ‘And you know what’s interesting? Not many Chinese people swim.’

We were walking across the island, under the shade of the palms and through the lush and scented undergrowth, a journey which took all of five minutes.

‘Then what do the Chinese do here?’ I asked. ‘The island’s tiny.’

‘Well they walk round and round until they are bored and then they dive in. Our lifeguards are trained to look out for it. We pull them out and then we say, We can arrange swimming lessons.'”

Read more.


BBC, National Geographic experts joining LUX* Maldives 2013 underwater festival

The art of filming beneath the waves and “getting the perfect shot” are to be among the key focuses of the LUX* Maldives resort’s second ever Underwater Festival taking place between April 15 and April 21 this year.

Producers from the BBC and the National Geographic organisations will be among key guests at the South Ari Atoll-based resort for the festival – attempting to help attendees perfect the art of taking world class holiday snaps and films.

“This year, we have gone a step further and invited BBC and National Geographic producers to run courses on underwater video-making and video-editing in addition to the photography. We all come to the Maldives with the latest underwater cameras hoping to get the perfect shot, but always end up going home with bits of videos taken while snorkelling,” said a spokesperson for the resort.

“This time the festival will give the great opportunity to the attendees to learn the basics of making their very own underwater reportage.”

The resort will also be joined by world champion free diver Sara Campbell, who will be teaching guests relaxation and advance breathing techniques well beyond the realms of the average tourist to help with exploring the surrounding marine environments.

Guests staying at the resort during the festival will be able to participate in the various events for a supplementary fee, according to LUX* Maldives.

Last year’s festival, which ran from May 14 to May 20, was attended by guests including photographer Junji Takasago and free diver Jean-Jacques Mayol.  They joined the resort’s Resident Marine Biologist Chiara Fumagalli during the week to oversee the festivities and provide special programmes and presentations on diving and photography.

Further news and reviews encompassing all aspects of the Maldives tourism industry can be found on Minivan News’ spin-off travel review site, Dhonisaurus.


Beckhams cut short Maldives holiday due to rain: The Sun

“The Beckhams have cut short their £250,000 Christmas break in paradise in the Maldives – because it would not stop raining,” reports UK-based newspaper, The Sun.

“After three days of downpours, David, 37, Victoria, 38, and their four kids decided enough was enough.

They boarded a private plane back to Male airport in the Indian Ocean island group on Boxing Day before heading to somewhere sunnier.

It was a major disappointment for the family who had arrived at the One&Only Reethi Rah resort last Sunday, hoping to stay for 11 days.

A source said: ‘It really is unfortunate for them, especially because it’s such a beautiful place.

But there was hardly anything for them to do except wait for the rain to stop. They arrived too late to leave in time to snatch Christmas Day somewhere sunny so they left on Wednesday.'”

To read more, click here.


President on break following election tour

President Mohamed Nasheed is on a four day holiday following the conclusion of the local council elections, reports Haveeru.

The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair claimed the president had worn through three pairs of shoes during a campaign tour of 100 islands, during which he delivered 130 speeches.

Nasheed will spend his break at Muleeage, Haveeru reported, and return to work on Sunday.