Minority opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) has requested Maldives Police Service to take immediate action against President Mohamed Nasheed and Minister of Tourism Mariyam Zulfa for ordering all resorts to close down health spas.
In a letter, DQP alleged that the government officials were conspiring to damage the Maldives’ image as a popular holiday destination.
The party’s statement added that the government’s “irresponsible” action is making headlines in the international media.
Police confirmed that they had received the letter, and would deliberate the matter.
DQP officials had not responded to inquiries at time of press. DQP Leader Hassan Saeed told local media this week that the government’s actions were causing “irreparable damage” to the tourism industry, from which “it would not be easy to come out of even after 25 years.”
An official at the President’s Office however argued that the opposition should bear responsibility for the fallout from December’s mass protest to ‘Defend Islam.’
“The opposition has been whipping up, and in some cases financing, extremism for months and spreading lies saying the government wants to introduce other religions. They can’t now complain about the economic damage they are ultimately responsible for.”
While resort reviews and booking services still make the first page of a Google search on the Maldives, headlines noting spa and resort closures amidst religious extremism and political turbulence have lately joined the mix.
Today’s Google searches for “Maldives”,”Maldives spa” and “Maldives resort” pulled a news feed exclusively addressing the political-religious whirlwind of the last week in which the government announced it was closing resort spas and considering a ban of pork and alcohol in response to popular demands favoring Islamic policies.
Over 229 articles are listed from leading outlets including UK’s The Guardian, India’s The Hindu, global Agence France Presse (AFP), and the BBC.
In keeping with the Maldives’ fame as a tourist destination, the headlines are eye-catching.
Global feed Associated Press (AP) ran the headline “Maldives closes hundreds of luxury resort spas,” while Sydney Morning Herald vigorously announced that “Sex claims force luxury resorts to close spas”.
Zimbabwe Metro simply stated “Maldives bans all spas after religious protests”, and Argophilia Travel News sardonically wrote, “Maldives spa ban: ulterior motives perhaps?”
Clicking beyond the headline, readers worldwide find content ranging from skeptical to sensationalist.
In their reports, America’s CNN today reported that “honeymooners and international hotel owners” were caught in “an acrimonious showdown over religious between the government and opposition parties”, while Mail & Guardian Online pointed out that the Maldives “reputation as a paradise holiday destination has come under pressure from a minority of religious fundamentalists who are growing in influence.”
Rather than ignoring the demands of the ‘Defend Islam’ demonstration on December 23, CNN observed that “the government raised the stakes” by issuing an order to close all massage parlors and spas.
Tourism accounts for approximately 70 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) indirectly; a significant portion of resort profits are earned from spa services.
Although the stories do not always present an accurate picture of the situation, they are ubiquitous.
Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) Secretary General Sim Ibrahim Mohamed said the industry “has serious problems with people not understanding what is going on.”
Sim said that the situation was generally “murky, with one thing leading to another and another”, and added that “most of our communication is in Dhivehi–press conferences, press releases, notifications, debates. It’s very difficult for the international community to report accurately because they don’t understand our language.”
Stepping back from the details, Sim explained that tourists trying to book a relaxing holiday are not soothed by a media storm at the destination, particularly when it involves certain hot-button words.
“Fundamentalism, radicalism, extremism–since 9/11 these have been very sensitive words. And they don’t go very well with tourism.” Sim added that the industry has suffered “many booking cancellations” in the past several weeks.
The media flurry is also being addressed by those inside resorts. The blog Maldives Resort Workers, which allows resort employees to express their opinions on a carefully-manicured industry, noted in the post “The media circus continues” that Maldives’ formerly polished profile is gradually becoming dark and contorted as the issue drags on.
“What is not so funny in these political manuevering is: the negative publicity this generated across the media despite the high value tourism we have. The administration clearly needs to dismiss their spin doctors who didn’t warn them about this media storm,” wrote one commentator.
Religious Adhaalath Party, one of the parties which had organised the mass protest against the alleged anti-Islamic agenda of the current administration, has also expressed concern that the media coverage is “damaging” the Maldivian people.
“I don’t want international media to treat Maldives poorly, I want them to do their job carefully and justly. You can’t see any country like Maldives in Islamic world, so why would we want to damage these people? These are Muslim people and they like moderate views,” said chief spokesperson Sheik Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed.
Shaheem yesterday told CNN, “We respect tourists…we are very happy with the tourism industry in the Maldives.”
Adhaalath Party previously released a statement inviting tourists to visit the Maldives and promising protection, after the UK released a travel advisory.