Conrad resort claims resolution found to on-site strikes

Strike action at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort was bought to an end last night as staff at the site returned to work following alleged disputes over service charge policy, management have said.

In a statement issued today, the resort, which is part of hospitality conglomerate Hilton Worldwide, claimed that operations were returning to normal after being affected in “a small way” by a number of its staff convening in their quarters on Tuesday (22 March) to call for increases in the amount received from service charges.

As the country continues to review labour laws that would outline policies for striking at resorts, possibly outlawing protests by workers on the “shop floor”, the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island said this week’s industrial action had not result in any customers prematurely checking out from the site.

With the wider national Labour Act still awaiting approval in the Majlis, the Conrad resort said that it had attempted to try and open up negotiations with staff following commencement of the strike action on Tuesday evening.

“The hotel respects the rights of all employees to express their points of view in a lawful and non-disruptive manner. As such, team members were invited to discuss the issue with the management team in order to resolve the matter quickly and fairly,” the resort stated. “The staff were unwilling to discuss the matter despite several approaches.”

By yesterday morning (March 23), figures from the Crown Company, which owns the resort in question, as well as representatives from the labour and tourism ministries arrived to discuss the strikers’ grievances – initially without success. However, the company has claimed it was able to find a resolution by 7:00pm on Wednesday evening with staff returning to work “immediately”.

Although the Conrad Rangali Island was unable to provide details to Minivan News of the exact changes it might be making to its operations to conclude the strikes at the time of going to press, the resort claimed in a previous statement that it was willing to review its operations.

“The management’s position is that it is happy to re-evaluate the calculation of the service charge. Additionally, the resort will arrange for independent auditing of accounts to demonstrate that the service charge is distributed in its entirety,” the company said yesterday in a statement.

“The staff had already been informed on Tuesday that salary increases will be offered across the board and are expected to be higher than in previous years following a month-long survey of wage levels in the country.”

‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) said following the resolution of the strikes that regulations that would outlaw strike action on resort property were currently under the consideration of the country’s parliament.

Sim claimed that the regulations, expected to be passed as part of a new Labour Act outlining a framework for the nation’s work practices had been drawn up by lawyers along with the assistance of a number of bodies including the President’s Office.

“There is regulation in the works that would govern strikes in the country,” he said. “It has been made very clear in public notifications from the labour ministry that has clarified that ‘wildcat strikes’ should not be tolerated.”

Although the strike regulations are still being reviewed within the Majlis, Sim said that they would likely be passed in their final form as part of a national labour act rather than an individual bill relating to industrial action.

He claimed additionally that the regulations were not related to outlawing strikes, but ensuring instead that industrial action did not take place on the private property of resort owners.

To this end of trying to ensure worker’s rights, Sim said he believed that the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture had already sent details of correct resort grievances procedures to the striking workers, which he claimed had not been followed.

Workers’ groups in the country such as Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) have been openly critical of initial drafts of the strike regulations though, which it claimed were less about regulating industrial action but rather outlawing them altogether.

TEAM president and serving Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Easa has previously claimed that the organisation openly supported regulations that accepted that there has to be a reason to instigate strikes, as well the manner of how they should be conducted.

Back in November, a bill outlining possible standards for strike action was passed to the Majlis’ National Security Committee concerning possible amendments to regulations for industrial action at the country’s resort properties

The bill was initially passed to parliament in August by the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) in attempts to try and curb strikes such as those seen last year at Kurumba resort that reduced occupancy rates to zero for a period.

Parliamentary debate over the bill has seen both fierce opposition and support from figures across the tourism industry, who have argued that current unregulated strike action is detrimental to travel income.


Workers’ group hopes for strike bill committee amendments

The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) claims it remains hopeful that the passing of a bill to the National Security Committee regulating industrial action by resort workers can still be amended from its current form.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Easa, president of TEAM, told Minivan News that the worker’s group was now waiting to see if amendments relating to the bill made during the committee hearing would address concerns realting to the impact on the right to strike.

In August, the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) submitted the bill to parliament aimed to regulate industrial action conducted by employees in the Maldives, shortly after a strike at Kurumba resort reduced occupancy to zero.

Parliamentary debate over the bill has obtained both fierce opposition and support from figures across the lucrative tourist industry over arguments that current unregulated strike action is detrimental to travel income.

While Easa claims to be in support of a bill that would provide rules and regulations outlining how workers should conduct strike action, the MP believes the current bill is not such a document, but rather “is mainly drafted to stop strikes.”

The MP argues that the bill in its current form would be unconstitutional and contravene article 31 of the constitution that gives Maldivians the right to strike and article 16 relating to human rights.

It is these arguments that TEAM will hope to pursue in the committee in a bid to amend the bill to set out regulations that it would be willing to back in realation to acceptable strike practice.

The TEAM President claims that he remains more in hope, than optimism that changes will be made to the bill, alleging possible vested resort industry interests within the committee that spans numerous political parties including the MDP and the opposition.

However, should the bill return to the Majlis unchanged, Easa claims he would notify both the President’s Office and the international community in the form of organisations and political bodies like the UN and EU about his concerns.

“The bill is totally against democracy,” he adds. “What we are looking for are regulations that accept that there has to be a reason to strike, and this is how it should be done.

Secretary General of industry body the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), Sim Mohamed Ibrahim, said that the organisation, which reprsents a number of the country’s major resort groups, were not looking to prevent strikes. However, he added that the association was looking to prevent strikes from taking place directly on private resort property.

“No striking on the resort is a fundamental right of the owner,” he said. “You don’t strike on the shop floor.”

Sim added that although there may be reasons for workers to strike, these points should not be made in a manner that “inconveniences tourists”. The Secretary General added that this stance need not preclude striking in different environments to the resort.


Miss France pageant a Maldivian tolerance test for tourism, says MATI chief

While perhaps cliché to suggest that visually-immaculate beauty pageant participants can help change the world, Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim believes hosting the Miss France 2011 competition is at the very least a positive development for travel in the country.

Speaking to Minivan News, Sim said that beyond providing a touch of glamour to the Maldives, hosting such a high-profile international event highlights the wider aim of expanding the country’s appeal to guests of varying religions, politics and attractiveness.

Part of this year’s Miss France event, thought to be one of the European nation’s biggest annual televised spectacles, will be held at the Coco Palm Bodu Hithi resort in the North Malé Atoll before moving on to Caen, Normandy for a crowning ceremony to be held on December 4.

Having originally started back in the 1920s, this year’s contest sees 33 participants from across France staying at the resort between November 11 to 18 to partake in a number of photogenic activities such as water sports, Maldivian cooking, exploring local natural curiosities and even filming a music video.

Although the concept of women parading around in haute couture and swim wear is seemingly at odds with the more conservative day-to-day values expected of women living in the Maldives, concerns over cultural sensitivity appear to be missing the point for the industry. Sim says he hopes Miss France 2011 will be the the first of many events that will reshape perceptions of tourism in the Maldives by encouraging greater acceptance of the industry among local people.

Sim claimed that amidst concerns over growing religious fanaticism in the maldives, displaying greater tolerance towards a large number of events and guests welcomed to the country was vital to the overall survival of the country’s lucrative holiday business.

Unless a sufficient replacement source of income can be located, Sim said, the country is likely to continue looking to similar high profile events to boost its image as a secluded desert island escape for global travellers.

“It [Miss France] has found its way to the Maldives, there are likely to be many more [high profile] events to come,” he said.

Although still a moderate Islamic nation, beyond the potential credence of hosting a bevy of French beauties at one of the country’s resorts, Sim suggests that trying overcome the intolerance creeping into some sections of Maldivian society remains a key aim for both the travel industry and government.

Having been a Muslim nation for hundreds of years, fears of growing extremism in the Maldives are, according to Sim, a more recent development for a nation that has generally tried to peacefully coexist with neighbours and foreigners.

Whether to the benefit or detriment of the Maldives, Sim says that the Miss France event also highlights the need to diversify the country’s appeal beyond hotel stays to meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions – collectively termed ‘MICE’.

As a striking counterpoint to the country’s hosting of Miss France 2011, the Maldives garnered a different sort of global attention earlier this year after holding peace talks between members of Afghanistan’s parliament and various other political and armed groups linked to the nation’s ongoing insurgency.

President’s Office Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, confirmed back in May that that all in involved the peace talks had valid passports and visas. The talks, which did not directly involve the Maldivian government, were reported to have taken place at the country’s Paradise Island Resort.


Minivan News responds to MNJA allegations of ‘irresponsible journalism’

The following is an English-language translation of a press release press release issued by the Maldives National Journalists Association (MNJA) on October 28 2010, in response to our coverage of the Vilu Reef ‘wedding’ video.

The verbatim translation of the filthy language used by a ‘celebrant’ in a symbolic wedding ceremony conducted on a Maldivian resort published by Minivan News is not the type of journalism that should be practised by a responsible newspaper. The publication of filthy language by anyone, in whatever language, falls outside the standards of professional journalism.

This organisation condemns the use of unacceptable language of low standards in any newspaper or website that can be read or accessed by children, adults and families. We would also like to take this opportunity to note that the translation published in Minivan News will damage Maldivian tourism and business.

SIM Ibrahim Mohamed
President of the Maldives National Journalist Association

Minivan News responds:

Minivan News heartily agrees that the Maldives National Journalists Association (MNJA) should be concerned about the filthy language used by a Vilu Reef staff member in the leaked video, in which paying tourists seeking to renew their wedding vows are mocked and degraded by up to 15 complicit resort staff.

However Minivan News feels such concern would be better voiced by the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), easily done as the two organisations are headed by the same individual, Sim Mohamed Ibrahim.

Minivan News is in fact surprised that MATI has yet to comment on an incident which has sparked worldwide concern about the humiliating and degrading treatment of guests on a resort, and hopes it has not adopted a head-in-the-sand approach to an issue of such national importance.

Furthermore, Minivan News believes that the duty of a ‘responsible’ news publication is to bring such sensitive issues to light, without fear or prejudice, holding big business to account when its behavior damages the Maldives’ cherished reputation for tourism excellence.

We sincerely hope that MNJA/MATI stops ‘shooting the messenger’ and uses its respect and political clout to ensure that such shameful behaviour does not happen again in the future.

Minivan News


Surge in Chinese arrivals just a passing fad, cautions MATI

China has eclipsed the traditional European tourism markets of the Maldives to become the highest contributor of tourist arrivals to the country, but that gain is unlikely to last, says the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI).

Figures from the Ministry of Tourism indicate that that 15.3 percent of all arrivals this year originated from China – a staggering growth rate of 137 percent compared to the first eight months of 2009.

UK arrivals, traditionally the Maldives’ greatest market, sits at 14.9 percent followed by Italy at 12.6 percent. Average length of stay has dropped to 7.7 days, compared to the same period 8.1 last year.

Secretary General of MATI, Sim Mohamed Ibrahim, told Minivan News that Chinese tourists regarded the Maldives as a “novelty” destination, and that the growth would not last.

“The Chinese can swamp a destination in terms of numbers, but this is not the tourism the Maldives is about. Our product attracts sunseekers – Europeans,” he said.

“The Chinese who come do not come for the sun and the beach – they come because the Maldives is a novelty, a safe destination, and because of their new-found freedom to travel. Resorts are saying there are not many repeat visitors from China.”

Sim said that while it was “a good thing” that the spike in Chinese arrivals had filled in a seasonal gap in the market, Chinese tourists were comparatively low “yield” compared to other markets.

“137 percent growth is huge, but that’s heads-on-beds,” Sim said. This had not “had the impact on yield as much as it should” because of lower-than-average length of stays, uptake of full board packages and a general disinclination among Chinese visitors to spend on resort restaurants, bars and excursions.

“What we’ve seen January to August is that while most traditional markets have grown, except Italy, there hasn’t been much difference in arrivals figures from Jan-August last year. But Germany, France and the UK are all registering growth and picking up.”

Seasonal dips in the Maldives market during warmer months in the northern hemisphere have historically been filled with the arrival of Russians and Japanese, Sim explained.

“he Japanese market is not growing – it used to be a good market but it hasn’t been showing growth, and we need to do more work in Japan,” he said.

Early visitors from Russia used to be among the highest yield tourists, “but they have since become more seasonal like everyone else.”

“South Africa would be a good market for us, but it requires good flight connections, perhaps via Mumbai.”

The Maldives was proving a victim of fashions in the travel industry, Sim noted, particularly in the high-end segment.

“Right now the Seychelles and Mauritius are in fashion. We haven’t done much in terms of destination marketing, and we have lost the buzz we used to have. We have no new products that people can afford, there’s been mismanagement of the local economy, and it’s been hard for the new government to put things back together,” he said.

“Environmental doomsday messages” had not helped attract investors either, he added.

“Hopefully the new budget will have more money for destination marketing.”


Government’s bill reduces tourism revenue “but improves investor confidence”

The government has proposed an amendment to the Tourism Act that reduces the rent resorts pay as well as extending the lease period to fifty years, a move which would significantly reduce the government’s income from the tourism industry in the short term.

The bill was proposed by MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who said the main aim of the bill “is to improve investor confidence and performance of the tourism sector.”

Solih said rent would be charged depending on the resort’s area and not number of beds. Resorts are now to pay US$7 for each square metre.

Resorts would also be categorised according to their size; the smallest group being from 100,000-200,000 m²; the second from 200.000-400,000 m², and the largest is above 400,000 m².

Solih said this will ease the burden on resort owners and will help resorts currently under construction around the country.

He noted that this would reduce the government’s income from the tourism sector from Rf 1900 million (US$148 million) to about Rf 1300 million (US$101 million).

Creating an investor-friendly environment

Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Ali Sawad, said the amendments to the Tourism Act will create more macro-economic opportunities in the Maldives.

“It is geared towards achieving three objectives: the first is transforming leases to land rent. The second is phasing out the bed tax, and the third is increasing the lease from a minimum of 35 years to a minimum of 50 years.”

Resorts currently pay a flat rate of US$8 per occupied room, per night, known as the ‘bed tax’, however the resort industry has criticised this as a disincentive to increase capacity and promote expansion, and limited potential revenues in the future.

Dr Sawad said since all the revenue streams are linked, any amendments to the bill will have a “ripple effect on the economy” and would create an environment for greater investments as investment costs are decreased.

He assured that the amendments would bring in more revenue starting from next year, but admitted the government would see “a slight drop [of revenue] during the transition. It’s all part of a larger fiscal policy.”

The amendments to the bill would ultimately “not lower revenue” from the tourism industry, as they were intended to make investment in the Maldives “more attractive.”

Former Minister of Tourism Abdulla Mausoom said “we definitely have to create a positive investment environment in the country,” because in the last year and a half, “investor confidence has been down.”

He said the outcome of both the tourism bill and the taxation bill “are not certain.”

“The Maldives is very small and our natural resources are limited,” Mausoon said. “The government has a responsibility to look after our resources.”

He said he believed “it is not in the best interest of the country” when an investor is willing to pay a better price and the government had set a lower fixed price.

“We should facilitate and investor-friendly environment without eliminating the competitiveness of the market,” he said.

Mausoon suggested the government set a minimum fixed rate and have bidders propose higher bids from there. He said most of islands desired by resorts were what he termed, “micro-islands” or those less than 10 hectares in size (less than 0.1 km²).

“The government has a responsibility to safeguard our assets,” Mausoon said, noting that if investors are willing to pay more, “they should be allowed to pay more.”

‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) said “we think this a very forward-thinking bill. Obviously there are little tweaks needed, but overall it’s a good bill that has come at the right time.”

Sim said “the government has worked closely with the tourism industry to develop this bill” and had consulted with the industry “at every stage.”

Bed tax and island lease vs. GST and land rent

Currently, the cost a resort pays the government is based on the number of beds it has. Dr Sawad said on average, the government was making anywhere from US$3,500-20,000 per bed every year, generating a total of US$47 million in revenue from the bed tax per year.

He said a “conservative estimate” of how much revenue the government’s proposed Goods and Services Tax (GST) is expected to bring in was over US$60 million a year. He noted that the tax revenue would continue to increase as the tax net widens.

Dr Sawad said the bed tax would be phased out in the next three years when the GST is in place.

He also said the leases for resorts currently brought in around US$78 million, while the land rent should collect about US$60 million a year.

“By addressing the lease rent head on, we will be able to reduce investment costs, which makes for a more attractive investment,” he said.

However Mausoom said the land rent increases the uncertainty for the tourism industry, because there is no guarantee as to how many beds will be developed on then land: “A resort owner can build as many rooms as possible.”

“This US$7 per square metre is very misleading,” he added, noting that “the government will only be getting three set rents: US$1 million [per month] for the islands in the smallest bracket. For the middle bracket it will be US$1.5 million, and US$2 million for the larger islands. It doesn’t make sense.”

He pointed out the smallest bracket—those islands smaller than 200,000 m²—“should catch at least US$1.4 million, if you multiply it by US$7 per square metre. It’s totally misleading.”

Another thing he believes is unfair is the government’s decision to wait until the GST is in place before ratifying the Tourism Act. “They can’t put a condition like that,” he said, “it’s putting an extra burden on resort owners.”

Mausoom also said he believed there were “many discrepancies” in how the MDP is trying to consolidate the different bills and acts concerning fiscal policy, and said “the government has to start singing the same song. A song that is nice to the Maldivian people, nice to the investors, and nice to the tourists.

Sim explained that the amount the government will lose in land rent (compared to the current lease and bed tax scheme) would be offset by the GST levy, “which would go hand-in-hand with this bill.”

He said adding the business profit tax, GST and land rent, the resorts will “probably pay more than they do currently alongside existing government revenues from customs duties.”

He added that the three year waiting period to phase out the bed tax “is a bit long and [we] will try to lobby for one year.”

Sim also noted that the major issue with the Maldives’ tourism industry is capacity: “The industry can only grow through an increase in capacity. The current situation is good for people who have established, successful properties, [but not for new investors].”

The new system, he said, would offer businesses “certainties” and reduce the current level of “maneuvering” occurring within the industry.


Government spending on tourism marketing comes under scrutiny

A tour operator has claimed that the government should not spend so much money marketing multi-million dollar resorts, particularly since it receives such limited revenue from the industry in return.

Ahmed Firaq, chairman of tour operator Inner Maldives, said the government should not be so much money on tourism advertisement marketing resorts as many had their own marketing campaigns.

Firaq told newspaper Miadhu that the “amount of money being spent on tourism advertising is the same money which could go into the development of social services”.

Government tourism advertising

State Minister of Tourism Thoyyib Mohamed Waheed said the government’s budget for tourism, including marketing, is planned each year in advance.

“The money [for marketing] comes from both stakeholders and the government,” Waheed said, mentioning that the industry adds to the budget if it is asked by the government.

“If there is not enough funding, we approach the industry,” he said.

Waheed said the “industry is quite cooperative” but added the government “does needs more help and support from it.”

Secretary General for the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) Mohamed Maleeh Jamal said after the 2004 Tsunami the marketing budget “drastically increased” to about US$9 million per year.

This number remained unchanged until the 2008 economic depression, when the budget decreased to its current amount of US$2.5 million, used mainly for destination marketing.

Sim Mohamed from Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) said the government has “very little money to play around with. When this government took over, [the country] was broke.”

Sim said marketing was essential in times of crisis, particularly following events such as the 2004 tsunami or the financial depression, as “you need to let people know you are still here.”

Jamal noted that MATATO’s main concern “is the total number of rooms is increasing and the [marketing] budget is down. If it is reduced further, in the long run we will be disadvantaged.”

Jamal estimated this year’s spend on tourism marketing across the Maldives to be around US$30 million. The industry, he said, was providing around US$20 million for specific product marketing.

He said in a time when the tourism industry is being “expanded north to south” the government should at least maintain the previous budget, if not increase it.

With the new tourism taxation bill being considered in parliament, (a bill that will phase out the ‘bed tax’ which currently stands at US$8 per night) the government will be getting an additional six percent in revenue from the tourism industry, “but they are still reducing the marketing budget,” Jamal claimed.

Marketing the Maldives as a tourist destination

Sim agreed that “the government should get out of [marketing] all together” and “business should be left to businesses.”

But he expressed his appreciation for the government’s efforts to help the industry, saying “we like what the government is trying to do.”

Sim believes “the government should regulate and set national and industry standards” and not focus so much on advertising.

“It is tour operators who sell the Maldives,” Sim said, and “they are doing a good job at it. We should keep them happy.”

He added that “the tourism industry is not about resorts alone, but also employment, transport and aviation.”

He also questioned on whether the government should be spending any money on marketing the Maldives as a tourist destination, saying “it sells itself.”

And although there are other similar products on the market, Sim says the Maldives offers “unique features” and not a lot of money is needed to market it as a travel destination.

However Jamal said competition in the region is a major concern. He noted that the Sri Lankan government has allocated US$50 million to tourism marketing this year, a significant amount compared to how much the Maldivian government is spending.

“We need to maintain occupancy,” Jamal said, adding that the Pacific islands, the Middle East and African countries like Mozambique were quickly becoming major competitors.

One of the main marketing strategies for the Maldives, according to Jamal, is “destination branding”. This brings another major concern for MATATO to the surface.

Jamal said tour operators “now say the Maldives is sinking”, and asked why travel agencies would send their customers to a “sinking” destination.

Other traditional marketing strategies for the Maldives have been road shows and travel fairs. Jamal says road shows in China, Eastern Europe and the Middle East have been cancelled for this year, and that the Maldives is attending eight fewer travel fairs than it did last year.

“We don’t see much [advertising] in magazines,” Jamal said, adding that existing advertising contracts with television channels BBC, National Geographic and CNN will expire this June “and there is not enough budget to renew them.”

“The success of the tourism industry in the Maldives depends on whether or not we maintain advertising,” he said.

On his return from Copenhagen President Mohamed Nasheed said the Maldives’ growing significance on the world stage as an icon of climate change – and the associated free publicity – was worth far more than the government could ever spend on paid advertising.

Tourism Revenue

One of Firaq’s complaints was that the government should be spending this money on development for social services and not on tourism advertising.

When asked about Firaq’s statement that the revenue from the tourism industry should be spent on developing social services and not on marketing, Waheed noted that the money “doesn’t come straight to the ministry, but it goes to the Treasury.”

The Treasury then decides how the money is allocated; some of it goes to social services and some goes back to the tourism industry.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair said “there is no direct relationship between tourism revenue and social service development.”

He added that the expenses of tourism marketing are jointly assumed by MATI, the Tourism Ministry and the Tourism Board.


Alcohol licenses to be issued to hotels on inhabited islands

Hotels with more than 100 beds will be allowed to sell alcohol on inhabited islands – such as Male’ – according to new regulations approved by the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development.

In addition to tourist hotels, bars at the airport departure terminal will be authorised to sell alcohol. Diplomats at the ambassador level will also be eligible for liquor permits.

The illegal imports law 4/75 authorises the ministry to formulate such regulations. The new law applies to both alcohol and pork products, and will go into effect from 1 March.

The new regulations for liquor licenses were proposed in November 2009, but were withdrawn shortly afterwards due to public outcry and opposition from the Islamic Ministry.

State Minister of Trade Adhil Saleem said a hotel seeking to acquire a liquor license under the new regulations would be required to follow the government’s “strict rules” on the sale of alcohol.

Hotels will not be allowed to have a bar that is visible from the outside, and it must only serve foreigners. Furthermore, the alcohol can only be sold and consumed in designated areas of the hotel.

Maldivians cannot be employed at the bar and all employees of the bar must be registered with the economic development ministry and undergo a police check. Security cameras must be installed in both the serving area and storerooms, and back-up recordings kept.

Moreover, an inventory of the alcohol in storage and daily sales must be maintained and made available to police on request.

Saleem believes a side effect of the new license regulations will be “the proper disposal of empty liquor bottles”.

“Now, it’s not an issue if you find an empty bottle of liquor on the streets of inhabited islands,” he said, suggesting that with the new licenses establishments must dispose of bottles properly.

Sim Mohamed from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) said the changes in alcohol licensing would have little effect on the tourism industry, “as most people travelling to Malé do so for business, or stay only for the day.”

Mauroof Zakir, spokesperson for a coalition of NGOs against the sale of alcohol on inhabited islands said the issue is intrinsically a serious one.

“Maybe the government thinks it’s only a few people with beards who want to stop this,” he said. “The government is doing what it likes without considering what the people might want.”

He said the Islamic Foundation and the coalition of NGOs “will not support this and will take action against it, within the law.”

Regulations at a glance:

a) alcohol and pork cannot be served outside the bar area, for instance from mini-bars in hotel rooms

b) Maldivians cannot be employed at the bar, while all employees must be registered at the ministry after a police clearance

c) the bar should not be visible from outside and should be located at a place that is not easily visible to those who visit the hotel

d) the hotel should have a separate warehouse to store pork and liquor items and it should have proper security

e) a daily inventory must be kept, including the amount in storage and the amount served

f) the inventory should be made available to police upon request

g) only expatriates registered at the ministry after a police clearance should be allowed to store and remove items from the warehouse

h) there must be a CCTV at the warehouse

i) only those with foreign passports can be served at the bar and Maldivians with foreign passports cannot be served

j) the security guard at the bar must check passports before entry

k) the hotel must establish a private security system approved by police

l) it will be illegal to remove pork and liquor items from the bar or selling it outside the hotel

m) inebriated customers should not be served before they regain sobriety nor should they be allowed to leave the hotel

n) the hotel must establish a breath-testing mechanism approved by police for patrons before they leave the bar

o) cameras must be installed if police request it and CCTV camera footage must be kept for a month


Five year record for tourist arrivals in January

The President’s Office has reported that 67,478 tourists arrived in the Maldives during January 2010, making it country’s strongest January in five years.

Moosa Zameer, head of planning and statistics at the ministry of tourism, observed it was “the best [January] we have ever had.”

But Sim Mohamed from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) was less optimistic about the numbers, saying they are “a bit misleading” and “must be studied carefully”.

Although the number of arrivals under tourists visas may have risen, Sim said many of these tourists are only ‘surface arrivals’ – such as passengers on a cruise ship who arrive for a day or two, and then leave.

Several such regular services have started bringing tourists from India and Sri Lanka, he noted.

According to Sim, the final arrival figures for tourists could be reduced by 30-40 per cent before they can accurately show the number of tourists who are staying for significant amounts of time – and spending money in the country.

Under normal circumstances, most tourists coming to the Maldives are at “the high end of the market – those who have the disposable income to go wherever they want to go,” he says.

But with the recent economic crisis, many resorts and airlines have reduced their rates significantly, he explained, with some resorts cutting their rates up to 30-50 percent. More airlines opening their routes to the Maldives also means more competitive air fares.

Because resorts are operating at lower rates, “there isn’t a significant rise in financial activity in Malé or even in other islands,” Sim said, but “it’s still a win for the government since they get bed rent.”

Zameer believes that the rise in tourist arrivals is not only accredited to cheaper rates at resorts, but to all the “work in promotions carried out after the [economic] crisis at the end of 2008.” He believes both the private sector and the ministry have put a lot of work into promoting the Maldives as a tourist destination, even for those who are more budget conscious.

Traditionally, the key markets for tourism in Maldives have been the UK, Italy, Germany, France, Russia, China and Switzerland, according to MATI. But this trend has already seen a change this year.

Zameer says there has been a “shift in the market,” as European seasonal tourist numbers are dropping and the Chinese and Indian markets are emerging. Kuwaitis have also helped the market “enormously,” he says.

Zameer believes people are starting to realise this is the right time to travel, and they can “go to the destination they have been waiting to go to.”

Sim agrees “there has been a big rise in tourists coming from India. There is also a very sharp rise in Chinese arrivals after Chinese New Year, and there will be another one towards Easter, mostly Italians.”

He added that MATI is “feeling good vibes” from the market, especially from Germany and the UK.

“We might not see a significant recovery in 2010, but down the line, in 2012, we might see a further rise in the tourism industry.”