MATI not taking sides on proposed resort lease amendments

Proposed amendments to the Tourism Act relating to lease extensions for Maldivian resorts are said to have divided opinion among industry insiders, according to the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI).

MATI Secretary General ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim told Minivan News that proposals presented to the Majlis yesterday by MP Abdu Raheem Abdulla, if passed, would allow 50 year lease extension payments to be made gradually on an annual basis.  Sim claimed that the decision to support or oppose the amendment had proven difficult for the association, with different resort owners welcoming and opposing the bill.

“MATI cannot take sides on this issue. While we have some people who can pay the money straight away, we know of others [resort owners], who would prefer the amendments,” he said.

According to newspaper Haveeru, Abdulla’s proposed amendment would allow contractors requesting an extension of their existing lease to pay a US$100,000 fee to pay instalments every year over the life of the contract.

Abdulla was reported to have forwarded the amendment over fears that news jobs would not be created in the country if the government received upfront payments from extension agreements.

Sim said that he believed that at present, the government preferred the system currently in use where lease extensions were paid within an 18-month period of a contract being signed by a resort.

A Tourism Ministry spokesperson confirmed that the Government’s official view was that it supported existing tourism laws that supported an upfront fee payment made over a shorter time-frame.

The spokesperson conceded that he had not fully read the proposals forwarded by Abdulla at present and was unable to elaborate on further on the exact changes they may entail for the industry.


Resorts must now invest after not doing enough for security, says MATI

Tourism insiders say that the industry has not done enough to provide security at the country’s resorts as authorities, while security officials and businesses continue to work on outlining new protective measures for properties across the country.

As security officials continue to await the outcomes from consultations by a steering group formed following a security seminar and workshop held last week to outline methods to reduce possible threats facing the country’s resorts, some property owners and managers appear divided over the severity of the challenges faced.

Speaking to Minivan News, ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) said that despite ongoing attempts to outline a nationwide resort security initiative since 2008, no such policy had as yet been put in place.

Following last week’s security seminars, Sim said he was confident that by working with the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF), the police, and the coastguard, progress was now being made in outlining long-term security strategies for tourism. He conceded though that the industry would need to bare more of the financial brunt to protect its interests in the future.

“Resorts do need more investment in regards to security, we haven’t done enough so far,” said the MATI head.

Sim said that last week’s seminar reflected growing industry concerns of late raised by the active Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture as well as industry bodies over protecting the country’s lucrative resort islands from possible theft and attack.

The country has this year alone faced two isolated, yet high-profile incidences of intrusion at properties such as Kihaadhuffaru resort and Baros Island Resort and Spa highlighting for some the magnitude of the threats facing the country.

Sim claimed that these concerns were not an “isolated” issue for tourist properties alone, but rather a symptom of rising levels of crime on inhabited islands such as the Maldivian capital of Male’ that had spilled onto resorts.

“This is not to say that the government is working on this issue [of crime], but really they need better laws in the country for offenders,” he claimed.

To try and combat fears over criminals targeting resorts, the MATI Secretary-General said he believed that improved networking between different resorts and ease of communication was a vital part of limiting potential attacks in the future.  He added that the closer cooperation between tourism officials and the police and armed forces in the country was also seen as another key aim.

However, Sim claimed that rather than bringing wide-ranging reforms to tourist and resort security, the country would be better prioritising commitments in areas where it was able to ensure effective changes could be put in place.

He added that a committee containing government and tourism industry figures was now working to address what sort of commitments should be prioritised on the back of last week’s security seminar.

“The best thing to come from these talks is that we are now attempting to work together [with the government and security forces]. We know we are not alone as an industry,” he said. “In the past, we have tended not to mix the leisure side of holidays with security, but this is something that we need to do.”

Security advisor

Speaking today to Minivan News, National Security Advisor Ameen Faisal said that he still haven’t received feedback from the steering committee of government and industry figures regarding outlining new proposals for resort security.

While Faisal added that he was not sure of the exact nature that potential changes could mean for how defence forces worked with the tourism industry, he was convinced it would not lead to a rise in their presence on resort islands.

“Personally, I don’t think operational changes will be seen in the manner that police and the MNDF operate regarding tourism,” he said. “There will probably be some training programmes conducted by police for resort security, but I don’t think we will see a physical presence by defence forces at these resorts.”

In addressing any perceived threats posed by Maldivian gang crime reaching the isolated environs of the country’s tourist properties, not all resort groups appeared to have share MATI’s beliefs that security problems were generated solely by offshore criminals.

One general manager for a leading multinational brand of resorts in the country said under anonymity that he believed the resort robberies were more likely to have resulted from serving or former employees with knowledge of the properties than from random attacks by gangs or opportunistic thieves.

In taking this view, the general manager said that he believed it was often imperative to try and effectively manage staff and their grievances that could often occur from very small and often easily rectified measures.


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.