Letter on treatment of visitors

Dear Sir

Wake up – this is no way to treat your visitors! As a regular visitor to your beautiful country, I feel it’s time to let you know what many international visitors to the Maldives feel about your poor airport service.

Should foreign visitors to the Maldives be treated to such poor service at the important time of arriving and leaving the country – especially when there are many other equally beautiful island countries around the world where they can spend their holidays?

Passport Control – here there are often long and unpleasant delays and queues on arrival. To make matters worse the guest has to go through the gauntlet of the impolite passport control staff. How difficult is it for them to offer a greeting to the guest as they arrive at the passport counter? “Good afternoon” – “thank you” – “goodbye…” It’s so easy and so simple. The passport control staff need a lesson in basic manners and why it is important for the benefit of their country that guests are treated with basic courtesy.

Food – There is a self-service cafeteria at the International Terminal – (apparently owned by a Maldivian – Mr Hassan Bagir), where there are no pricing notices and where a cup of coffee will cost the same as the most expensive cities in the world, London or Paris.

The service in this cafe is poor and unpleasant, and one has to ask for change! No wonder there were no Maldivians eating or drinking at the tables of this cafeteria – it’s only the ignorant foreigner who is foolish enough to order food and drinks here.

Souvenir shop – where the Hindi Film is so loud you cannot think clearly and the staff have no other interest than to watch the Hindi film. The badly displayed stock includes Sharks Heads (I thought Shark Fishing in Maldives is meant to be banned?)

Customs and immigration – It’s still unbelievable that visitors coming to the Maldives from somewhere like Sri Lanka or Thailand will have any Buddhist statues in their possession confiscated. This is crazy when you have an excellent museum in Male’ displaying Buddhist statues – representing a period of Maldives history!

I would like to suggest to the Airport Authorities and the Ministry of Tourism: Wake up, this is no way to treat your visitors!

I hear a new airport is going to be built in the Maldives – there is little point unless there is an understanding why customer service and basic manners are important in the competitive business of tourism.

Yours,
Concerned Visitor

All letters are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to submit a letter, please send it to [email protected]

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Sheraton Full Moon begins community assistance project with Vilingili children’s home

Sheraton’s Full Moon Resort has begun a first-of-its-kind community project to help Kudakudhige Hiya children’s home in Vilingili.

Manager of Full Moon, Justin Malcolm, said the Sheraton family is “globally focused on giving back to the community” in every country.

He said they had been looking for a community project in the Maldives for about six months since last year. After looking at the children’s home, Malcolm said, he realised “it is exactly what we’re looking to do.”

Malcolm visited the home, which had been having staff shortages due to financial difficulties earlier this year. Another problem has been overcrowding.

He said there are children aged two months to fourteen years and “a fair little work needs to take place to make it feel like a homely environment.”

He said since “the government doesn’t have enough funds” to to further assist the centre, “and it ticked all the boxes,” management chose Vilingili orphanage as their target project.

DSC01740
workshop at Full Moon

He added they felt it was a great opportunity to do something “meaningful” and said “the goal is to make the kids’ lives a little brighter.”

The project is a “long-term partnership” between the resort and the Ministry of Health and Family. Full Moon is the first resort in the Maldives to start a community project with the government, Malcolm noted.

They will also be “updating the facilities” at the home and will be providing a General Practitioner and two dentists to “assess the kids’ health.” The dentists will come in twice a year for check ups and their stay will be sponsored by the resort.

Malcolm added the home does not have air conditioning, and Full Moon hopes to sponsor the installation of AC in the near future.

He said this is an “important time in the Maldives” and believes “we are making history” by sponsoring this project.

“I believe we’ve chosen the right project,” he added. “I don’t see why this can’t be a long-term partnership.”

The project was launched yesterday at the resort, where they had fun activities for the children as well as an environmental awareness campaign, which Malcolm feels “is equally important” for the children.

The launch was celebrated on National Family Day and Malcolm noted the kids had “so much fun.”

Deputy Minister of Health and Family, Mariya Ali, said “Sheraton came forward and were interested in a community assistance project to help Kudakudhige Hiya, and we welcomed it.”

She said although the contract has not been signed yet, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is being developed. She explained because the project will involve volunteers, they are drafting confidentiality agreements to ensure the children’s safety.

children at vilingili
Kids painting corals during the launching celebration

Mariya added the project would “strengthen civil society,” as Maldives is such a big tourist destination and this is creating a link between the tourism industry and the local community. “It’s important to make that link,” she noted.

She said the impact on the children’s lives would be “enriching” and added the project will help the home in many ways.

Besides assisting with maintenance, Sheraton will also be holding workshops both for staff and the children. One of them, Mariya noted, would focus on nutrition and preparation of age-appropriate food.

She also noted the two dentists who are being hired and the GP would be of huge assistance to the centre.

Mariya noted the US$20,000 the Chinese government pledged to the home earlier this month have now been transferred to the Ministry of Finance for processing, and as soon as it is finalised, the funds will be allocated.

She said they would mostly be used to upgrade security in the centre.

Mariya said there have been many recent calls from resorts wanting to offer assistance to the home, such as providing food, for instance.

“It’s been a very good response,” she said. “We are working very rapidly on this.”

A Pay-Pal account will also be set up soon and a new campaign will be launched next week.

Director of Kudakudhige Hiya, Ahmed Gazim, said there will be “much improvement” through the Sheraton’s programme. Additionally, he noted, the senior staff are also carrying out awareness programmes for the kids.

“It’s all slowly improving,” he said.

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Shangri-La dismisses 14 striking staff, invites rest to return to work

Shangri-La Villingili Resort and Spa has invited striking staff to return to work, after 157 staff stopped working in protest over the dismissal of four villa hosts.

The villa hosts were dismissed after security and a duty manager discovered they had locked themselves in a guest villa with a PlayStation during a lunch break.

Senior management from the hotel chain flew into the Maldives earlier this week to resolve the situation, just as the Ministry of Human Resources and the Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM) became involved.

A statement from the resort today said while management “acknowledges and accepts employees’ rights under Maldivian
Law, because of the serious nature of employee behaviour, 14 staff members will no longer be employed by the property.”

“The management will fill the resulting vacancies with Maldivians,” it added.

Other employees “are invited to return to work”, the resort’s statement said, adding that “initial claims that 65 employees were dismissed are untrue.”

“The resolution reflects the desire to move forward in a fair and reasonable manner considering the needs of the local community and all employees. The resort is operating as normal and no guests have been affected,” Shangri-La said.

Minivan News contacted one of the striking employees camped on Feydhoo, who said the protesters would stick to their original demands, which include a written statement from the resort reinstating the dismissed employees.

“Most of the strikers have been given first and last warnings, which means next thing they do wrong they will be dismissed,” he claimed.

The resort’s general manager went to Feydhoo yesterday and called the 14 dismissed strikers one by one to an area secured by riot police, the striker claimed, to inform them of their dismissal.

Vice President of TEAM Mauroof Zakir said those dismissed included the four villa hosts “and 10 staff who management suspects have been leading the strike.”

He noted that the protesting staff had taken a vote yesterday over whether to continue to with the strike “and the majority decided to continue.”

More than 80 staff are continuing to strike, he said, adding that the resort was continuing to operate normally “because the majority of staff are expatriate.”

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Shangri-La staff sacked for playing PlayStation, 157 now on strike

Staff at the Shangri-La Villingili Resort are on strike after four workers were dismissed for allegedly playing on a PlayStation in a vacant villa.

A person familiar with the matter told Minivan News that the four men, who were ‘villa hosts’ at the luxury resort in Addu Atoll, took their PlayStation to a vacant guest room during their lunch break, “double locked the door and put up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.”

“The staff usually do not get a break during lunch time if the occupation of the island is high, but that day they got a break,” the source said, claiming the dismissal was “against the handbook of the resort.”

The source said the four men were dismissed after they were caught by security manager Jack David and Duty Manager Mohamed Ashraf. In response, 157 staff at the resort went on a four-day strike demanding their colleagues be reinstated.

The men were discovered when the house keeping manager found the room double locked and reported it to the duty manager, “as nobody was supposed to be inside,” the source said.

”The security manager and duty manager attended the place to see who was inside,” he said.

He claimed the security manager went to the back door of the villa just as one of the men inside opened it to see if anyone was outside.

”The security manager thought he was attempting to flee,” the source said.

”He pushed the man, saying ‘You do not know my background, I worked at the military for five years, your life is short now,’ and he fell to the ground and was hurt,” the source alleged.

The security manager “then ordered everyone to stay still until they finished investigating.”

He said that after taking pictures of the scene Ashraf told them the investigation was finished but did not allow them to leave.

”The of them the wanted to leave the room and go,” he said, “but security did not allow them to leave, and it because heated.”

He alleged that when one of them walked toward the door security pushed him back by neck.

”After shouting at each other for a while they managed to leave the room,” the source said.

Resort management gathered a council committee which included seven staff from the resort.

”The committee requested management to act according to the resort’s handbook,” he said, ”which stated that the four men should be given a ‘Category C’ punishment –  a written warning – while security management should be given ‘Category D’ punishment – dismissal.”

The source said the management wanted to give the same punishment to four staff and the security manager, “but everyone was against it, so we told the management that all the staff were against the decision,” he said.

”The next day the manager gathered us and said that he and the general manager had discussed the issue and decided to dismiss all five of them.”

He said that upon hearing the news staff across various sections of the resort were unhappy and petitioned management asking for the case to be reopened a dealt with according to the handbook.”

Shangri-La workers on strike
Shangri-La workers on strike

Bulk dismissal

”When we gave the petition to the manager he told us that everyone who had participated in the petition could also consider themselves dismissed and should leave the island immediately,” the source said.

”So all 65 of us gathered near the administration block demanding he take back the order and reinstate the jobs of the four dismissed villa hosts.”

He claimed the Shangri-La management refused to hold further discussion over the issue, and repeated that they were all dismissed and were to leave immediately.

”Police arrived that night and told us to leave the island within 10 minutes or they would use force,” he said, ”so we left on the resort’s ferry to Feydhoo in Seenu Atoll with the police.”

Police reportedly told the workers they could continue the strike on Feydhoo “in accordance with the law.”

”We are now in Feydhu continuing our strike and we now we have 157 Maldivian staff from Shangri-La with us,” he said.

”We will not stop until management decides to give us a written document reinstating the jobs of the four villa hosts.”

Vice President of the Tourism Employment Association of Maldives (TEAM) Mauroof Zakir said the association “fully supports” the strike.

”The International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) are also supporting the event,” Zakir said, adding that he was now at Feydhoo with the strikers taking part in the event.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed that police arrived at the island upon request of the resort management.

Shiyam said the management claimed the situation was threatening to escalate into a brawl and requested police remove the staff from the island.

Shangri-La’s Director for Communication Leslie Garcia said investigation of the case was ongoing and she was unable to provide more information.

Deputy Minister of the Labour Relations Authority Aiminath Shifaya meanwhile said that the ministry was trying to resolve the issue peacefully by negotiating with management and employees.

Shifaya said two representatives of the ministry were now present on Feydhoo.

”We hope that the issue would be solved by tomorrow,” she said. ”Both sides are co-operating with us.”

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Comment: Resort life – it’s all about pretence… lots of it.

In resort life everyone tries to be what he or she is not, according to circumstances. Sometimes this behaviour is required as part of the profession and sometimes it happens out of inclination. For example:

Managers

They come in all shapes and sizes. Some come with a perpetual frown on their faces whilst others hide their true expressions behind an engaging smile. But they all share in the pretence.

The guests

Most guests are also notorious at deception. It is an ingrained cultural habit to smile and make light of everything, however annoying.

However there are those who are exactly the opposite – the realists and the con-guests who will complain at the smallest inconvenience to get a free bottle of champagne or a discount on their stay.

Human resources

HR used to play God until the arrival of the dreaded labour laws. Now that the mantle of power to terminate staff indiscriminately on HR’s whims and wishes can at last be challenged in the labour tribunal, things are thankfully a little bit more even handed.

Reservations

Together with ’sales and marketing’, reservations would have everyone else believe that if not for them the resort is a few days from closing down and going out of business.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that most tourists just choose to come to our resorts after hearing about our beaches and small islands from the internet, mostly through tour operators.

Tour operators do not necessarily depend on reservations but sometimes they have an agreement with the resort for the allocation of rooms, which is ‘handled’ by these pompous people. In technical terms they are just clerks and data entry staff making a big fuss over their work.

Of course there are some sweet, down-to-earth reservations people who do not aggrandize their work but in resort life such humbleness is the exception rather than the norm.

Maintenance

The maintenance people generally include the engineers and the unseen crowd. They are happiest when something really major breaks down like an engine or a water plant, because that’s the only time they can shine and their work will be valued or respected by their superiors.

They are prone to making the smallest issue as big as possible just to get the attention of the managers, because that’s the only way up the corporate ladder from their level.

Waiters and room boys and girls

Generally honest and hard-working, these gentle people have a tendency to make a purely service task into a
technical one, which at a certain extent can be comical.

Launch section guys

Perhaps the most realistic in appearance and attitude are found in the ‘launch section’ team. They have a reason for that too – extended periods of time spent in monotonous journeys between islands and airports wear them down which makes them difficult to either please or irritate.

The IT guys

The IT guys are all smiles and kindness until a computer terminal is said to be terminally ill and the IT guy is called in. From that moment the IT guy is bossy, unfriendly, talks in jargon and generally looks down on the rest of humanity.

However a by-product of Moore’s Law is that advances in technology will soon make them redundant, as networks, computers and devices become more and more user friendly and intelligent. They had their day in the era of Windows 3.2 and dot matrix printers, when being an IT guy was not for the faint of
heart.

Nowadays the IT guy is pretty much only still alive thanks to Microsoft Windows and the uncommonness of common sense.

Chefs and the kitchen crowd

There is an unending war between the restaurant guys and the kitchen folk because all the hard work is done
in the kitchen but all the tips are received at the restaurant.

However as most resorts are mindful of this war, generally their salary is higher than the rest which is some solace to the animosity. The kitchen guys generally do not subscribe to false smiles and half-hearted greetings, because their life is hectic and hard.

Gardeners, labourers and the like

At the bottom of the ladder, these people are resigned to their fate or position and automatically have the rubbery smile and artificial greetings for all guests and superiors.

No such smiles for their peers and others, however – ambition is not lacking in this department, as gardeners are frequently fond of watering the plants around the GMs office hoping that he or she will take notice of the effort…

There is much hypocrisy to go around in resort life, but its worth it for the the fun. If all resort folk, including the guests, were to be expressionless die-hard realists, life in a resort would be tough indeed.

Republished with permission from MaldivesResortWorkers, a site for resort staff to anonymously discuss the industry, their employers, and the realities of resort work.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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Lease to conserve?

Blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, Gnaviyani atoll Fuvamulah is also geographically unique; an atoll and an island at the same time.

One of the major attractions of the island are the two kulhi (freshwater lakes). The smaller Dhandigamu Kulhi is often used by the locals to go swimming, but Bandara Kulhi has fared worse, degrading to such an extent that few now venture near it.

“It’s almost a garbage site now, a dump site. There’s is no one to look after the place,” says Hassan Saeed, the atoll councillor.

Nevertheless Bandara Kulhi remains one of the most serene and beautiful locations on the island. Stretching across 274 meters, access to it is via marshlands and narrow paths near taro fields.

Islanders used a built a jetty off the main road seven years ago to gain access to it, however neglect has caused it to crumble to the point of being unsafe.

A novel idea

Locals enjoying
Locals enjoying

In order to reverse the damage and reopen the kulhi, a novel but controversial idea has been floated.

“We recently had [a visit from] a survey team from the ministry of fisheries and agriculture, and the report they submitted advised us that a way to generate the budget to take care of the kulhi could be to commercially commodify it,” Saeed says.

Details are sketchy: “We are just sending out feelers right now, we will consult with the agricultural ministry as well as the environmental ministry, find out which criteria we have to set, and then invite proposals,” he says.

Leasing out the land for farming or a restaurant are some of the ideas. The party who winning the lease would be entrusted the task of making sure no waste is dumped in the wetland in the area, while the money would be used to protect and maintain the kulhi.

Some are apprehensive about the idea.

“We heard about this but I’m not sure how far they have gone with the idea,” says Abdul Azeez Ismail, chairman of NGO Fuvamulah Association of Developing Infrastructure (FADI) and a member of the society for environmental awareness.

Ismail is of the opinion that leasing the land to just anybody will lead to further destruction of the place. He has reservations about opening the area to just local tourism and believes a resort should be involved

“South province state minister Mohamed Naseer once mentioned it. There are resorts in Addu and Huvadhoo Atoll, so opening it to international tourists shouldn’t be a problem,” he says, adding that mostly it is only resorts that have the capacity to care and protect the environment.

“Fuvamulah is different to other islands. So much can be done here, and the kulhi is a gift to us from nature so we have to conserve it,” he says.

Bandara Kulhi (freshwater lake): a rare sight in the tiny islands of the Maldives
Bandara Kulhi (freshwater lake): a rare sight in the tiny islands of the Maldives

Beneficial or destructive?

Islander Hassan Mohamed, 68, says “better to lease out if it could be beneficial to the islanders.”

He recalls that in the past during the governments of Mohamed Amin and Ibrahim Nasir, the kulhi was leased out: “It was well maintained at that time. There were banana plantations nearby, weeds were cut, and surroundings were kept clean.”

During Amin Didi’s time coconut husks were lowered into the kulhi, after which it was used to make choir ropes that were sold. In Nasir’s time the leasee cultivated milkfish and whenever fish was scarce they sold it to the general populace.

“In recent years nothing has been done and the place is being destroyed,” Hassan says.

Most islanders seem to agree with him.

“If done properly leasing out the kulhi area would be good,” says 32 year-old Masitha Ahmed.

Executive director of NGO Blue Peace, Ali Rilwan, says everything depends on how much the place will be altered if it were leased.

“How much mangrove will be cut? Will it be only the bank of the kulhi that is going to be leased?” he asks.

Internationally Rilwan claims it is the norm to conserve some areas as strict nature reserves, while others are regulated to ensure nature and human activities can co-exist.

“There are nature parks that are leased to private parties to protect,” he explains. However he reserves his final judgment for “when we see an environmental assessment report. Then we can talk about the merits or demerits.”

Saeed sums the argument for leasing the area. “Is it better to let the area get destroyed? Or commodify the place in order to look after it responsibly?”

Photos by Ahmed Thaumeen.

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