Comment: Travel awards for the less privileged

The World Travel Awards event held at Paradise Island on Sunday night was a resounding success for tourism in Maldives.

Out of a possible 57 awards in the Indian Ocean category, the Maldives won 35 including the ‘Leading Destination’ title. All the wins listed on the site seem to solidify Maldives’ position as the leading travel destination in the region.

In fact, this success certainly disproves the theory that the tourism industry has taken a hit from the February 2012 transfer of power.

So how does the pageant touted by some as the Oscars of the travel and tourism industry stack up against the likes of British Guild of Travel Writers’ (BGTW) Tourism Awards or the Michelin Green Guide?

The obvious difference between World Travel Awards and most of its competition is the former’s expansive list of categories and titles. The BGTW Tourism Awards has fewer categories in which thousands of potential businesses across the globe compete.

In contrast, businesses have a much better chance of taking a win from competing in the World Travel Awards. However, that maybe the only thing the World Travel Awards has going for it, because behind the veil of all the glitz and gala is a highly questionable business.

The first item of interest is the contact address given on the website. The address ‘SE1 8SJ, London’ comes up as a stall in the visitor centre in London’s Waterloo Station.

For an awards show with 20 years of history, a stall in a visitor centre seems a little too modest. What is more surprising is that the address is home to another 33 companies under the same ownership as the World Travel Awards Limited, the company running the awards.

The World Travel Awards Limited is currently owned by a single shareholder, a Mr Graham Edward Cooke, who has listed Bayham Hall, Bayham Abbey in Kent as his address in the company’s articles of association. The company was originally registered with four shareholders holding a total of 200 shares worth a total value of GBP£200.

In the latest annual return filed by the company, the capital situation remained the same whilst Mr Graham Edward Cooke had become the sole owner. The company secretary is a Miss Manyoung Han.

Like the registered address of the company, Mr. Cooke and Miss Han also have highly quizzical places of residence. The website lists 101 other individuals and 24 other companies sharing the same address as Mr Cooke, and 46 individuals and 8 companies sharing Miss Han’s address. This clearly indicates that both addresses are for mail forwarding services.

As for the company’s address, 33 other companies sharing it suggests that it too may be another mail forwarding service. As for the 33 other companies owned by Mr Cooke, they have all posted little or no profits and have had dozens of dissolution notices served across the lot of them.

Why then did the Maldives Tourism Promotion Board enlist the services of this company given its questionable reputation?

Perhaps the lack of reputation is in itself an advantage. Since the company never declared a capital greater than GBP£200 throughout its existence it would not be difficult to incentivise the declaration of more wins for the Maldives. This leaves two questions to be answered.

Firstly, did the government of Maldives truly know that the company they were dealing with was really a shell corporation? If it did not, then did they really pay exorbitant sums to advertise on the awards website?

The second question is, if the government did know the nature of the company, why then were they given such broad coverage?

Could that not be interpreted as the country’s admission of the weakness of its tourism industry? Should it not be engaging a stronger partner like Michelin instead?

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Paradise hosts third round of Taliban peace talks

The Maldives last week hosted a third round of peace talks between the Afghan government and members of Taliban-linked resistance group led by ex-Mujahideen Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the three key leaders of the armed opposition in Afghanistan.

Paradise’s manager Qaisar Naseem confirmed to Minivan News that the third meeting, “of 50 or so people”, was held at the resort around November 9.

“It was independently organised and involved some people from Afghanistan, but they were not [identified] as Taliban. There were people from the [Afghan] government as well,” he said. “They brought the media with them.”

The delegates caused no problems and were “very decent, very friendly, and talked to the other guests,” he said.

In a press conference today prior to his departure to Sri Lanka, President Mohamed Nasheed said the government was “aware of these conferences” but had no involvement.

“We do not at all feel that they bring a security risk. The security services of this country – police and other intelligence services – have a very good grip on who is doing what,” Nasheed said.

“Our position is that anyone wishing to have a conversation or bridge a gap to resolve a conflict is always very welcome in the Maldives.”

However, in the event of future talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, it is likely the gates of Paradise will remain closed.

Naseem said that while hosting the conference itself was harmless, the resort was “fully dependent” on European visitors, and management was acutely aware that the meetings could have a “negative impact” on guest perception.

“There’s no problems actually holding these events, but it does have an adverse effect on perception,” he explained. “To be honest, we’re not going to do it again.”

President of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), Mohamed Ibrahim ‘Sim’, told Minivan News that he had not had heard of any adverse reaction to the meetings from tour operators or the wider travel market.

“I don’t understand why there should be an impact [on perception],” he said. “The fact we are providing a safe haven for people with a peaceful agenda to come and discuss issues across a table does not detract from the image of the country.

“Some of these leaders are seen as terrorists and warlords, and the fact they are coming to the meeting emphasises the safety of the destination,” Sim said.

“We are a tourist destination and we don’t want to dragged into global geopolitics and the animosity between nations. We don’t want to antagonise anybody – that’s how a small and defenceless nation like the Maldives has been able to survive, and will hopefully continue to do so.”


Central Asia Online reported that during the five day conference delegates proposed to form a supreme shura (‘consultation’), the Shura-e-Aali Amniyat-e-Milli, under which representatives from Afghanistan’s political, ethnic and warring groups would review “all major government policies before they are introduced before the parliament.”

“Policies would have to be passed with a two-thirds majority of the shura to be passed on to parliament or be implemented,” the US government-sponsored news site reported.

Taking on an almost parliamentary function, the shura would also approve ministerial, judicial, and independent commission appointments, the site reported. In the meantime, a ‘peace commission’ would be created to broker a ceasefire between the government and insurgent groups. A communique on the final day also called for the “immediate withdrawal” of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

The meeting was the third in a series of gatherings held this year in the Maldives, and the second to be held at Paradise Resort.

The first, under a veneer of secrecy, was held at Bandos Island Resort and Spa in January at the same time as the US, Britian and Japan spearheaded a proposal to ‘bribe’ Taliban fighters to disarm.

State Minister for Defence, Mohamed Muiz Adnan, told Minivan News at the time that he was not aware of the group’s arrival until he “saw it in the newspaper”, and had no knowledge of the meeting.

The second event in May – held at Paradise – was more widely publicised, and filmed by television news network Al-Jazeera. It was organised by Almayoun Jarir, Hekmatyar’s son-in-law.

Image taken during May meeting at Paradise Island Resort and Spa.