MP reveals plans to build 600-room resort

Ruling coalition MP and tourism tycoon Ahmed Siyam has announced plans to build a 600-room resort on the island of Dhigurah in northern Noonu Atoll.

“On completion, the resort will be the largest tourism offering in the Maldives, creating more than 2,500 jobs for the local Maldivian community,” the MP’s company, Sun Siyam, said.

The resort on Dhigurah will have 14 different room categories, 15 food and beverage outlets as well as an underwater restaurant.

Siyam is also to open a second resort in Sri Lanka’s Kalpitiya.

“The Maldives has a form of home-grown service culture and industry know-how that is currently not being fully utilised to its full potential domestically, and certainly not on the international stage. Just like the well-known Swiss, Indian and Thai forms of hospitality, Maldivian hospitality can create desire and demand in any region,” he said.

Siyam also sits on the board of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry.


UAE group to launch first resort in Maldives

The United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Dutco Group of Companies reported on Sunday that it had acquired a high-end resort in the Maldives.

The new resort – which will be the group’s first outside of Dubai – will be relaunched later in the year as JA Manafaru, reported

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb was reported to have expressed his hope that Dutco’s investment will be the first of many from the UAE.

“The investment does not just end with the purchase of the Resort as JA Resorts & Hotels have also earmarked several million dollars to making several upgrades and soft refurbishments to the resort to ensure it is able to compete with the very best that the Maldives has to offer when it is relaunched later in the year as JA Manafaru,” the company told gulfnews.

Tareq Baker, the chief executive of the Dutco Group of Companies told the site that the investment in the Maldives is “a part of the company’s larger expansion plan of high-end properties both within the UAE and in other markets outside of the Middle East.”


Ongoing strike at Vilu Reef resort sees 18 staff fired

Vilu Reef resort has allegedly terminated 18 members of staff, with some given just one hour to leave, after employees had presented management with a list of grievances.

Speaking with Minivan News, Ahmed Rasheed – a Vilu Reef employee for two years before his dismissal yesterday – described his termination:

“They sent me with 5 police guards into my room. They locked the door and asked me to pack within one hour.”

Vilu Reef is part of the Sun Travel & Tours group – a company owned by the prominent businessman and Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) leader Ahmed ‘Sun’ Shiyam.

After compiling a list of grievances against the resort, Rasheed explained that he had prepared a petition on which he managed to get 153 signatures from fellow staff.

He recalled that the demands were then presented to the hotel management on March 17, who came back to the employees, suggesting “if you don’t want to stay here you can leave.”

After conferring with the staff team, employees then decided to strike, stated Rasheed, with around 50 resort employees congregating at around 11pm with their demands on Sunday (March 23).

The management called police, but assured staff that no would be terminated, said Rasheed. They agreed to carry out amendments to meet the requests as of the April 30, he added, “so the next day we went back to work.”

“I was fired after two days,” continued Rasheed. “They just give me a call and said ‘hey can you come to the office’, then they gave me a letter. They asked me to sign.”

According to Rasheed’s termination contract, the reason Vilu Reef fired him was because his post was no longer available.

The termination letter stated that the employees were being fired due to their posts “being made redundant” and were asked to leave with “immediate effective (sic) of March 25”.

The letter acknowledges that there should be one month’s notice for the termination of staff, and therefore the management “have decided to as an extra measure compensation payment in lieu of three months notice period.”

The next steps, according to Rasheed, are being supported by the Tourism Association of Maldives (TEAM).

“We are not a member of TEAM but we are really thanking them for their help. They are helping us to do something good. At least we have some people who are trying to get our rights back.”

Workers’ right to strike

TEAM Secretary General  Mauroof Zakir told Minivan News that TEAM would assist the staff in taking the case to the Employment Tribunal, though felt there would be “no hope” for a fair case.

“Shiyam is very strong here,” he noted, “one of the partners of the government.”

“Since 2012 the decisions are against international standards and international best practice,” he added. “It’s all corrupt judiciary, and high court decisions against employment cases are one of the key factors.”

According to the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act 2013, tourist resorts, ports, and airports fall into a category of places in which protests are prohibited.

The US State Department expressed concern about the change in this law in their recently released 2013 Human Rights Report.

Local NGOs Transparency Maldives and the Maldivian Democracy Network have also expressed their concern that the law has impacted upon freedom of peaceful assembly.

No-one from the management team at Vilu Reef was available for comment when contacted by Minivan News.

Earlier this year the prestigious One & Only Reethi Rah resort saw an estimated 90% of its employees partake in an organised strike against perceived ill treatment and discrimination.

The strike was called following the management’s failure to meet employees to discuss concerns regarding discrimination against local workers, and a team of police were dispatched to the resort.

In a similar case in September 2013, staff at Irufushi Beach and Spa resort reported a “firing spree” affecting staff members professing to support the Maldivian Democratic Party.

The resort, which in May 2013 abruptly terminated its agreement with hotel giant Hilton – leading to the overnight resignation of 30 employees – is also part of the Sun Travel group.

A source working at the hotel at the time of publishing stated, “Shiyam took over this resort in what the staff refers to as another coup d’etat at the resort level. Since then we have been gradually stripped of rights we are legally entitled to as citizens of the Maldives.”


Malé City Council urges local hotel owners to beware of bikinis

Malé City Council has urged hoteliers and guest house owners in the capital to inform tourists of the importance of dressing modestly in the country’s inhabited islands.

Responding to a letter of complaint from the Islamic Ministry, city Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali Manik has made a public announcement calling upon patrons to be more aware of the issue.

“Please look carefully at these kind of things that happen in Malé’s streets, and Hulhumalé’s streets,” said Manik.

“People have to be careful on this, because this is an islamic country. In inhabited islands, people should not walk in bikinis.”

“The ministry has to take that kind of action. If it prolongs it may be something beyond control.”

When asked about the letter today, State Minister for Islamic Affairs Mohamed Ali denied any such message had been sent.

While the resorts islands have thrived on so-called ‘bikini and booze’ tourism for decades, Islamic Shariah is practiced among the local populace of the 100 percent Sunni Islamic country.

Despite the country’s billion dollar tourism industry being founded on high-end luxury resorts – located on individual ‘uninhabited’ islands – mid-market tourism has risen rapidly over the past five years.

The number of guest houses has grown rapidly after the rise to power of the Maldivian Democratic Party in 2008, tripling in number in the past five years – although the most recent government figures show guest houses to comprise just over 4 percent of the industry’s registered bed capacity.

While promoted as by the MDP as a way for communities and smaller businesses to tap into the country’s largest source of income, the rise in tourists staying on inhabited islands has caused concern amongst some Islamic groups who suggest tourists and locals ought to be kept apart.

“If the hippy-type of travellers come, along will come drugs and narcotics which even now our society is suffering from. Things like nudity are not acceptable in a place where people are living. The people complain that they are praying in the mosque and just outside there are tourists in bikinis,” Vice President Mauroof Hussain of the Adhaalath Party recently told the AFP.

One Malé guesthouse owner –  who wished to remain anonymous – stated that moderation should be shown by tourists when walking the streets of the capital.

“Bikinis in public I think it’s unethical considering our traditions and culture.”

The owner,went on to say that he did not feel the issue to be a serious one, however, noting that most tourists were “very disciplined”.

Mayor Manik also expressed his belief that this was not a growing problem, saying that he had received no complaints from members of the public.

The current government – having been elected on a protection of Islam platform – is planning to experiment with ‘guest islands’, which aim to utilise uninhabited islands while still giving smaller entrepreneurs the opportunity to enter into the industry.

Speaking with Minivan News last month, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb said that while the current government was not against the guest house concept, he felt that publicising this small area of the industry could hurt the brand’s overall image.

“The thing is, from a marketing perspective, we have positioned the Maldives as a high-end destination. A-category guests will continue coming for as long as we market the country as an A-category destination,” he said.

Adeeb also noted that local concerns played a role in his reluctance to promote the guest house sector.

“Even locally, culturally, people get disheartened when we talk about guesthouses. So although I don’t much talk about it, guesthouse owners are aware that they have my full cooperation.”


Police retrieve stolen US$10,000

Police have stated that they have retrieved USD 10,000 stolen from a guest room in Kanuhura Island Resort.

They stated that, while US$8,500 of the stolen money was found in a transport buggy on Monday evening, the remaining US$1500 was found hidden under a rock in front of guest rooms early today.

While police are continuing investigation of the matter, which was reported to them Tuesday afternoon, no related arrests have been made at the time of press.


Herathera Resort to be sold to a Singaporean company for USD 33.3 million

Maldives Tourism Development Corporation Public Limited Company (MTDC) has announced that it will be selling the company’s first resort Herathera Island Resort to a Singaporean company for USD 33.3 million.

MTDC Executive Director Ahmed Niyaz stated that four companies had shown interest by the time the announcement of sale of the resort had expired on December 31, local media reported.

Niyaz stated the contract had been awarded to the highest bidder Singaporean developer Canaries Pvt Ltd.

“We decided to sell the island to whoever offered the highest price. Thus, as Canaries submitted the highest price, we are now in the process of handing over the award letter to them. We will do so within the next two days,” he said.

He further revealed that the second highest price had also been submitted by a Singaporean company, whle the third highest price was offered by Maldivian businessman ‘Champa’ Hussain Afeef’s Treetop Maldives company.

The fourth party to have expressed interest was a Malaysian company which, according to Niyaz, had been disqualified for not fulfilling the requirement of submitting a bank guarantee of USD 1 million.

Niyaz stated that Canaries Pvt Ltd must submit the full payment for the island within thirty days of the award letter being issued. If it fails to do so, the company’s bank guarantee will be claimed by the Maldivian government and the island will be sold to the next highest bidder.

The previous board of directors of MTDC had decided to sell the four star resort to Champa Hussain Afeef for USD 30 million. However, the decision had been revoked after the board was recompiled.


General Manager of Robinson Club Maldives found dead

Police have reported that the general manager of the Robinson Club Maldives resort has been found dead in a bathroom on the property.

Local media reported police as confirming that the German national was found in the bathroom of his room.

“The incident was reported to the police this morning. A police investigation team is currently in the resort,” said a police spokesperson, according to local media.

Local media reported that the cause of death was unclear.


Politics in paradise: Irufushi resort staff complain of political “firing spree”

Additional reporting by Neil Merrett

Staff at Irufushi Beach and Spa resort have expressed concern over a “firing spree” affecting staff members professing to support the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The resort, which in May 2013 abruptly terminated its agreement with hotel giant Hilton leading to the overnight resignation of 30 employees, is owned by Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) leader Ahmed ‘Sun’ Shiyam. MDA is the coalition partner of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), and is backing its candidate Abdulla Yameen in the presidential run-off.

According to staff at the resort, the management has been on a “firing spree” since the conclusion of the first round of elections, while some others have been suspended or warned of dismissal.

Minivan News obtained copies of three letters of termination, one dated September 19 and two dated September 26, instructing staff that their employment was “terminated with immediate effect”, and ordering them to collect their belongings and leave the island the same day. The letters did not give reason for the terminations.

Mohamed Rishwan, one of the first staff members who was fired from Irufushi, spoke to Minivan News about the “unfair circumstances surrounding [his] unexpected dismissal”.

Rishwan, who worked in the resort’s housekeeping department, was dismissed on September 26 and alleged the only response from the Human Resource Department to his request for a reason was “I don’t know. These were orders from the top management. Why do you need to support [MDP presidential candidate] Mohamed Nasheed?”.

“Our work and politics have been absolutely entangled by the current management. Staff at the resort are living in a constant state of fear of losing their jobs, despite performing at their best. The rumour is the HR Department plans to dismiss many others there who support MDP. Pressure increased after Nasheed won the majority of votes even on Irufushi in the first round,” Rishwan said.

According to results from Irufushi’s ballot box in the first round of voting on September 7,  59 staff on the resort voted for the MDP, 38 for the PPM, six for the JP and one for incumbent President Mohamed Waheed.

“When I demanded to meet the HR head after I was suddenly and unexpectedly dismissed, Shiyam’s brother met with us. He said there was no reason except that the resort no longer wanted us there. He then spent the rest of the meeting asking us why we supported Nasheed, promoting Yameen and his policies and trying to dissuade us from supporting MDP,” Rishwan continued.

“I told him I no longer wanted to live in fear, under such extreme political pressure, being discriminated against for political reasons. We were even harassed in the staff quarters by supporters of the opposite political ideology. The staff of Irufushi have been stripped of many constitutional rights and live under the repression of this new politicised management.

The Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) on Thursday committed its 5000 members to “prolonged” strike action should the election be delayed.

“The management have ordered all staff to register at the resort for voting. They’ve also said at staff briefings that all staff must vote for Yameen, and that no one should dare try implementing the workers’ strike that Nasheed spoke of,” Rishwan alleged.

“One colleague refused to register to vote at the resort, saying he will finish his duty and go to his nearby home island to vote citing that it was his constitutional right to do so. He was immediately fired. Some of my former colleagues are now saying that they will not dare cast a vote at all,” he said.

Another source, currently working at Irufushi, spoke on condition of anonymity of what he described as a repressive atmosphere among resort staff.

“Things are very difficult. I need to hold this job, so don’t name me. Shiyam is firing anyone he even suspects of supporting the MDP. Most of us are under what I would say is psychological trauma right now, afraid to speak our minds as there is so much pressure from above. We can’t all afford to lose our jobs, but is political affiliation any reason to be legally dismissed from a job?”

“MDA is forcing staff to sign up for their party, that’s the only path to job guarantee or promotion these days. They are also hiring groups of youth who live on this island but do nothing besides preparing campaign banners for the MDA coalition. I’ve been working here for many years, but I feel like a stranger here now with so many new, hostile faces. The sudden lack of usual liberties is very disheartening,” he said.

“There’s been at least five dismissals in the last week, and no one knows who is next. You see, this is our livelihood, how we support families. This is why everyone is bowing down to this repression, even if reluctantly, and attempting to hold our jobs.”

“Sun Shiyam has addressed all staff in extremely disrespectful, and even vulgar, terms. Let me quote what he said at a staff briefing: ‘You MDP lot are making ‘haram’ use of my money as your wages. You are not entitled to any of it. I will make sure I push out every single one of you MDP dogs from my resort. Mark my words.’ You see, this is the reason the staff are in fear. We need to let word out and let the world know,” another staff member told Minivan News.

“The management holds nightly staff gatherings where they slander Nasheed and praise Yameen. Staff are made to agree with all they say, or face dismissal within two days. They have said that they want 100 percent votes for Yameen from Irufushi in the second round, and that it is mandatory for all staff members to register to vote on Irufushi itself.”

“In fact, we’ve been told that if Yameen doesn’t win 100 percent, they will see what percentage Nasheed gets, and fire an equal percentage of staff based on who they suspect might have cast those votes. Most of us are now saying we will just cast invalid votes, or just not vote at all,” he said.

“Shiyam took over this resort in what the staff refers to as another coup d’etat at the resort level. Since then we have been gradually stripped of rights we are legally entitled to as citizens of the Maldives.”

Resort response

General Manager of Irufushi Beach and Spa Resort, Abdulla Thamheed, rejected allegations that the resort had fired staff members for politically-motivated reasons.

He said that after Sun Travel and Tours took over the site following the company’s decision to terminate its agreement with Hilton in May, a number of staff members had been fired for “not sharing the resort’s values”.

“These people were not on the same page with the company, so we have gone our separate ways,” he said.

Thamheed said the resort had not been affected by calls for strike action by tourism workers over the indefinite suspension of the run-off election.

He also questioned the motivation of any Maldivian seeking to damage the country’s luxury tourism industry, stating that most staff members had families they needed to support.

“No one is interested in striking [on the resort],” he said.

Before answering questions on the allegations of politically-motivated sackings at the resort, Thamheed requested he be quoted on the record as expressing concerns over “why a white European” was allowed to working at a Maldives-based publication such as Minivan News.

“The fact you are a white European doesn’t mean you can come to a third world country and break into our privacy,” he told Minivan News. “You are a white European and a failure in the UK. I have managed many five star resorts and met journalists from newspapers like the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph,” he said.

Upon confirming the reporter’s nationality as a UK citizen, Thamheed expressed his view that the journalist was a stereotypical reminder of the Maldives’ colonial past.  Asked to clarify his comment, he accepted that the Maldives itself had not been colonised by the UK.

“You see yourself as an imperialistic and colonial person, who believes they have imperial superiority over us. No one will give you a job outside this country,” Thamheed said.

He added that although his comments were “not personal”, but questioned Minivan News’ ethics as a news organisation and said the reporter could not be called a journalist for producing what he believed was “biased, one-sided propaganda”.

Thamheed went on to state that as a white European in the Maldives, the Minivan News reporter would not have sought to contact someone for a story in their own country during evening time.

“I have met many top journalists from newspapers like the Sunday Times and the Telegraph. Do you really think this is how journalists are supposed to behave?” he said.

Thamheed requested that his words be remembered by the journalist and quoted directly in this article.

“I don’t think you will be able to sleep tonight,” he said. “I am very happy I have spoken to you.”

MDA leader, MP and Irufushi owner Ahmed ‘Sun’ Shiyam was not responding to calls at time of press.


Attorney General’s Office to decide on Yacht Tours injunction appeal in “days”

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) will announce in the “next few days” whether it will appeal an injunction preventing the state from taking over several properties operated by J Hotels and Resorts over a rent payment dispute.

Deputy Solicitor General Ahmed Usham told Minivan News today that the AGO was presently reviewing the Civil Court injunction issued earlier this month in order to decide whether to contest the matter.

“We have a time limit of 90 days – excluding public holidays – to file an appeal,” Usham said.

The government has sought to revoke the lease for Alidhoo Resort in Haa Alif Atoll and Kudarah Island Resort in South Alifu Atoll from J Hotels and Resorts’ parent company Yacht Tours Maldives since late last year.  The state had previously provided the operator a seven day period to hand over the properties.

However, Yacht Tours Maldives – formed by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdulla Jabir – has continued to contest the government’s right to reclaim the land.

In the Civil Court injunction issued on June 4 this year, the Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture was told it could not take over the resorts until a final ruling had been made over the issue of unpaid rent claimed to be owed by Yacht Tours.

Yacht Tours Director Ibrahim Shiham last week accused the government of trying to come on to the Kudarah resort property on June 3 without a court warrant to take over the property, alleging authorities had sought to create a “political drama” out of the case.

The Tourism Ministry told local media at the time that Yacht Tours had continuously failed to pay back the rent and fines in installments as previously agreed following a first termination notice being sent.

Minivan News was awaiting a response from Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb at time of press.