The government is looking to revise the circular issued late last week requesting that resorts, hotels and guesthouses close down their spas over public allegations that they double as brothels.
“As specifying a certain distance from Male’ would not be a wise decision [in closing down spas] and that other resorts, which also cater for locals, are located close to inhabited islands, the government has decided to close down the spas in all the resorts on a fair basis and by giving a higher priority to the allegations made,” the circular read.
The decision to reconsider the circular was made after several resort owners and the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) expressed “serious concern”.
A statement signed by MATI Secretary General ‘Sim’ Ibrahim Mohamed released last week expressed concern with financial losses as a result of the decision as well as effects on holiday-makers currently in the Maldives.
MATI urged the government and opposition parties to “find a peaceful solution” to the dispute.
“The tourism industry wishes for all actors in the political sphere to prioritise the domestic economy, development and security over differences and disagreements among political parties and not involve the economy’s main industries in these disputes,” reads MATI’s appeal.
MATI’s Chairperson M U Manik and Vice Chair ‘Champa’ Hassan Afeef have made statements in the media urging the government to reverse its decision to shut down resort spas after considering the consequences for the economy.
Meanwhile the government has also announced that it is considering banning pork and alcohol across the country, in response to the large number of Maldivians who protested against the government’s current purported “anti-Islamic” policies.
Tourism Minister Dr Mariyam Zulfa told Haveeru yesterday that the circular was issued in response to demands made by the coalition of religious NGOs and opposition parties during the protest to defend Islam on December 23. These demands included the closure of places which support prostitution, namely spas and massage parlors.
Zulfa noted that a policy shift towards strict Islam would have a profound economic impact on the Maldives.
“We can only sustain our economy by following the moderate form [of Islam] which has been in the Maldives until now,” she told Haveeru. “We [ministers] are labelled anti-Islamic because we support the tolerant form [of Islam]. But that label is a disgrace to our parents as well.”
According to Zulfa, several resorts had raised concern over the circular, and while they “are aware of the reasons that led us to take the decision,” the ministry is investigating a compromise.
The Minister was unavailable for comment at time of press.
Minivan News understands that several tour operators have also been calling resorts to inquire if indeed their spas and massage services have been closed down. Hulhule Island Hotel, near Male’, has closed its spa indefinitely.
Maldives Association of Travel and Tour Operators (MATATO) earlier issued a statement condemning the government’s decision to close five Villa Hotels’ resort spas over allegations of prostitution. MATATO noted that local and foreign resorts, tour operators and travel associations had expressed concern over the decision and that the damage to the industry would be grievous.
“The spa and wellness concept is very popular among tourists,” read the statement. “We urge the government to keep politics away from Tourism and also advise various
Tourism stakeholders as well to do same, as majority of Maldivians depends on Tourism for their livelihood and is something to be dealt with extreme caution and care.”
Today, MATATO did not respond to phone calls.
Speaking at a press conference held the day before the circular was issued, President’s Office Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair justified the strong measure by saying that given the difficulty of distinguishing spas which endorse prostitution from those which do not, and that many high-profile Maldivians visit resort spas, it was important that strict measures be taken to protect those Maldivians’ good names.
Meanwhile, members of the coalition which made the demands have accused the government of “making a mockery of the demands” and “making excuses.”
Alleging that the government is targeting protesters, coalition spokesperson Abdullah Mohamed announced a sixth demand–that the government “stop causing harm to anyone who participates in the religious movement”.
The coalition has given the government until January 5 to fulfill the demands made on December 23, and has warned of further mass protests or direct action in the event that the deadline is not met.