The Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) has warned the government that its plans to resettle Guantánamo Bay prisoners in the Maldives, and the recent Afghan peace talks that took place in the country, could “tarnish the prestigious name” Maldives has made for itself as a tourism destination.
“The association notes that the international media has been writing on the matter of bringing in the prisoners, who have been allegedly linked to severe inhumane crimes,” the association noted, adding that the BBC had described the government’s plan as “transforming a tourists’ paradise to a paradise for terrorists.”
Their concern was that tourist arrivals would decline due to the international perception of the country, creating a devastating domino effect in the country’s tourism industry.
Furthermore, they said “bringing Guantánamo Bay prisoners will badly affect the tourism industry and so this association calls on the government not to do anything that would pave the way for such a thing.”
MATATO board members have been planning a meeting on the issue this week, but it has been postponed twice due to several members being out of the country.
Secretary General of MATATO, Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, said they did not have quorum to hold the meeting yesterday, but are trying to gather enough members to hold it as soon as possible.
He told Minivan News yesterday “we are meeting regarding the Afghan talks, which is quite a sensitive issue.”
Board and council member of MATATO, Sharif Ibrahim, said whether or not the recent events will have a negative impact on the tourism industry in Maldives “is all about how you see things.”
Referring to the Afghan peace talks, he said the international community “might see us as a loving, peaceful country. Somebody had to step in and help. Some people will see this as a good thing.”
As to the resettlement of Guantánamo Bay prisoners, he said “it may have a negative effect,” but added everyone must keep a “broad mind” before jumping to conclusions.
“I haven’t seen any bad reactions yet,” he said, “I don’t think it will have a bad impact. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Although MATATO have voiced their concern, other associations are not so worried about the Maldives’ reputation, or its effect on the tourism industry.
Maldives Resort Workers posted an article on their blog titled ‘Gitmo resettlement will NOT damage Maldives’ reputation’.
In the article, they repeatedly argued that MATATO’s concerns of the resettlement of Guantánamo Bay detainees and the recent Afghan peace talks are exaggerated views, and are sure that neither issue will have a negative effect on the industry.
They gave several reasons back up their argument, saying that resorts in the Maldives are usually visited by “high spenders” who “generally have their heads with them. So they could not possibly be unaware of world politics or ramifications of it.”
They also argue that Guantánamo Bay detainee centre is “not a terrorist camp or training ground for terrorists,” and they support US President Obama’s bid to close it down. They also added that, “this time, the president [Mohamed Nasheed] is correct. Absolutely correct to ZERO decimals without error.”
The article further reads the opposition parties in the country are “taking advantage of the ignorance of the masses to gather support,” and they have applauded President Nasheed for refusing to answer journalists’ questions at a press conference last week.
“In this case,” it continued, “the opposition is using media to the hilt to discredit a rather commendable move by the president.”
They add that MATATO members are “just individuals who make a life selling package holidays to unwary tourists” and they are “the most worker unfriendly people who works [sic] in the tourism industry.”
The Maldives Association for Tourism Industry (MATI) did not wish to comment on the issue, because “we don’t want to lend anything to either side of the argument.”
The government has sustained any prisoners resettled in the Maldives would be first cleared of any criminal charges, and have repeatedly assured “they are not terrorists” and the transfer is “purely humanitarian.”
Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Ali Sawad, did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.