Tourist arrivals reach half a million in 2014

Tourist arrivals in 2014 reached half a million at the end of May, registering an increase of 11.9 percent compared to the same period in 2013, the Ministry of Tourism has revealed.

“By individual market performances, China continues to show remarkable performances maintaining its number one position as the market leader with more than 27 percent shares. At the end of May 2014, a total of 141,249 tourists arrived in Maldives from China, which was 23.3 percent increase over the same period of 2013,” the ministry noted.

The Maldives welcomed a total of 518,166 guests from January to May 2014 with Europe contributing 48.3 percent of arrivals.

However, the Asia and Pacific region overtook Europe in the month of May with 55 percent of arrivals or 50,354 tourists.

Total arrivals from the region from January to May (229,847) also increased 24.7 percent compared to the same period last year.

“India, Japan and Korea were the second, third and fourth markets respectively from this region. Indian market saw an increase of 13.1 percent during the period in review contributing 3.5 percent as market shares at the end of the period.”

The Tourism Ministry also noted that the number of registered tourist establishments at the end of May was 460 with 30,510 beds, “out of which on average 291 establishments with a sum total of 27,004 beds were operational during the period in review.”

“These include 105 tourist resorts (23,029 beds), 17 hotels (1,510 beds), 112 guest houses (1,539 beds) and 57 safari vessels (927 beds),” the ministry revealed.

“The overall bed nights of these establishments saw an increase of 5.9 percent during the period reaching a total of 3,262,667 nights. While the occupancy rate recorded an increase of 2.3 percent to attain an average of 80.2 percent for the period, average duration of stay of the tourists saw a decline of 0.4 percent. The average duration of stay for the period was 6.3 days.”

Meanwhile, in its monthly economic review, the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) noted that tourist arrivals in May reached 91,296 visitors, which was an increase of 15 percent in annual terms.

However, when compared to the previous month tourist arrivals showed a decline of 13 percent. The annual increase in arrival was contributed by the increase in the number of arrivals from Asia, despite the decline in number of arrivals from Europe,” the central bank observed.

“In May 2014, total bed nights rose by 4 percent in annual terms while the average duration of stay declined by 9 percent. With the increase in bed nights, the occupancy rate increased marginally to 68 percent in May 2014 compared to the same period last year.”

Chinese market

A consultation meeting was meanwhile held earlier this month – facilitated by Mega Maldives Airlines – between Maldivian government representatives and Chinese travel agents to discuss the potential of further increasing Chinese tourists to the country.

The Maldives was represented by Deputy Tourism Minister Hussain Lirar and Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) Managing Director Abdulla while the travel agents included CYTS, CAISSA, Russian Vision, Beijing Sunshine, Wendy Feeling, CTRIP, and Tuniu, Mega Maldives noted in a press release.

According to the airline, “significant ground work was done to address the concerns raised by the market as well as working on ways in which both parties can work to further improve the market.”

The government’s recently introduced guest house island policy was meanwhile received with enthusiasm by the Chinese tour operators.

“The agents were enthusiastic about the development of 2000 bed capacity in the mid-market range while at the same time retaining the resort concept and were keen to work with the local partners to block rooms in the future,” the statement said.

“The agents highlighted the importance of further marketing campaigns in China and developing a safe environment for the Chinese tourists.  The agents also further emphasized the importance of having more Chinese speakers in the resorts and airports that are equipped to give safety information to the tourists.”

Mega Maldives Airlines CEO George Weinmann meanwhile reportedly proposed incorporating a Travel Industry China-Maldives Association together with the Chinese travel agents and industry partners in the Maldives.

“The seminar was concluded with both parties agreeing to continue the dialogue to further improve the Chinese tourism arrivals to the Maldives,” the statement read.


How will guest house islands benefit the community?

With the unveiling of the first guest house island plan this week, industry experts have questioned whether the government’s new guest house tourism policy will benefit the local communities in the same was as past approaches.

“The guest house is a policy – a development implement,” said former Minister for Economic Development Mahmud Razee.

“It should be an equitable thing – if it is purely a tourism policy that is only on a selected island, then we are moving away from the fundamental issue of enabling all Maldivians to benefit from tourism.”

The model’s first project – the Thumburi ‘Integrated Resort Development’ scheme – was launched on Monday night (June 23), being branded as a way to “responsibly diversify the tourism product of the Maldives”.

Recent guest house development – reintroduced by the Maldivian Democratic Party after a decades-long hiatus – was intended to open up the billion dollar tourism market to small and medium sized businesses.

While the placement of guest houses on local island was also intended to stimulate the local economies, concern was expressed by religious groups regarding the impact on local communities.

President Yameen’s guest house island policy – included in his election manifesto – instead plans to recreate the more traditional resort concept, with the participation of multiple smaller entrepreneurs.

“Once again today we are looking to diversify tourism, to shape it in a different way. It does not mean moving away from the existing concept of having one resort on one island,” said Yameen at Monday’s launch.

Yameen also revealed that future developments would take place within proposed special economic zones, which will cede local authority to incoming foreign investors as part of  a system of incentives agreed upon at the government’s discretion.

‘A new concept for a world class brand’

Describing the project as “a new concept for a world class brand”, the Thumburi brochure reveals plans for several beach hotels with rooms ranging from US$100-200 – far less than that currently charged by the country’s budget resorts.

The development of the project will be overseen by the government’s marketing corporation, the MMPRC – who unable to respond to further queries at the time of press.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb has previously told Minivan News that, while his government would continue to support individual guest houses, there was a reluctance to promote them for fear of damaging the country’s brand as a luxury tourism destination.

“The thing is, from a marketing perspective, we have positioned the Maldives as a high-end destination,” explained Adeeb.

“A-category guests will continue coming for as long as we market the country as an A-category destination. Guests for B,C,D and E categories are something we automatically get.”

General Manager of Sales and Marketing at Triple A resorts Willem Fokkenrood, however, disagrees with this assessment, suggesting that this type of exclusive approach is outdated.

“Does guest house and B&Bs damage Hawaii’s image? No, it just puts more money into the pot.”

Fokkenrood also suggested that placement of the of the guest house concept on single islands would “defeat the purpose” of the model.

“People want to have guesthouses so the local people can reap the benefit from it. If you open a guest house island, what benefit are you talking about?” he asked.

“Because you get to stay with the local population, it’s a draw for a lot of people to say ‘I have stayed in the real Maldives’.”

Fokkenrood felt the key difference between the new concept and the traditional guest house model would be the addition of pork and alcohol products – illegal on the Maldives’ inhabited islands – to the mid-market sector.

“That would change the game, then it becomes a direct competitor to these established resorts,” he said.

Razee, however, felt that the policy may represent an attempt to reassure current industry leaders – described as oligarchs in a recent UNDP report – that the mid range market would progress in a “more controlled fashion”.

Minivan News was unable to obtain further comment from the Tourism Ministry on this subject.


President Yameen abolishes Transport Ministry

President Abdulla Yameen has abolished the Ministry of Transport and Communication last week and transferred its functions to other ministries.

According to the President’s Office, “regional airports will be under the administration of the Ministry of Tourism, Transport Authority will come under Ministry of Economic Development, and Communication Authority of Maldives will be administered by Ministry of Home Affairs.”

In the wake of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives severing its coalition agreement with the Jumhooree Party last month, President Yameen dismissed Transport Minister Ameen Ibrahim from the post.

Ameen had been appointed to a cabinet slot assigned for the JP under the coalition agreement signed between the parties ahead of last year’s presidential election run-off.


Q&A: Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb

Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor speaks to Minivan News about his mandate, his aspirations for his five year term in the cabinet position, and his political career.

Adeeb served in the same cabinet post during the previous administration of former President Dr Mohamed Waheed. He is also currently the elected Deputy Leader of ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Political Career

Mariyath Mohamed: What are the main things you hope to achieve in these five years as Tourism Minister?

Ahmed Adheeb: As you know, I initially became Tourism Minister in the last government, with the endorsement of PPM, with about two years left of the term when I assumed office. At the time, we worked to complete some of the then-existing work, for example completion of the Fourth Tourism Masterplan.

There were also many other legislative issues. As an example there is the case where tourist resorts were being formed under the old law on uninhabited islands. Then there were other resorts which had not been completed as agreed, and many islands from which the government was not receiving due payments. I believe that I was able to sort out a lot of issues like this.

At the time, it was not a PPM agenda that we were following, and the government was a rather large mix. Our aim at the time was to sustain tourism. As you know tourism is a sector which is very much connected to the country’s economy. When I assumed office, the political turbulence had caused the cancellation of many bookings, including charter flights from China. Maldives is a place which usually has bookings made two or three months ahead of the estimated date of arrival, and so booking cancellations mean that the rate of arrivals were dropping.

I came and made a set up to deal with the issue. The civil service team at the Tourism Ministry has a lot of experienced personnel with long term institutional memory. They have a lot of practical experience, for example in how they tackled the 2004 tsunami disaster and the effects of the Gulf War, and many other such incidences.

As I see it, I assumed office in the middle of a crisis too, so I pulled together the crisis management team and we made a cell to deal with the matter. We had the resorts report back to us on a daily basis with records of how many booking they had made and how many bookings had got cancelled every single day. We used this as a barometer at the time, and commenced work. I went to the ITB fair in Germany as well as the WTM in London and held press conferences.

I believe it is crucial to face press and respond to their enquiries. At that time, the opposition was raising its voice, accusing us of having come to power through a coup d’etat and we addressed those allegations. What I mean by that is, I pointed out that a Commission of National Inquiry had been established with Commonwealth intervention on mutual agreement and called on the opposition to not draw conclusions while the investigation was pending. I called on them to give us time until the investigation was completed. And in any case, I don’t believe tourism must come to an end regardless of the political volatility, as it is something closely knit with the livelihood of all Maldivian citizens and the country’s economy. We said that more than a political agenda, our focus is on marketing tourism. It was well accepted and if you check headlines from then you will find our interviews in the Telegraph and other such news agencies.

I believe we were able to sustain the tourism industry within those two years. In 2012, I worked hard to reach a target of 1 million tourist arrivals, but were able to reach 965,000. However, last year we reached the target. I am happy with the 1.2 million arrivals, I believe we were able to reach a good target.

This government has recently come into effect and as PPM’s deputy leader, I too did a lot of work on our manifesto, mainly on the economic sector. Our plan is to create three special economic zones, and to develop even the tourism sector through these. The model in mid-Maldives, of Malé and the atolls connected within the seaplane’s zone, is a very ideal one to be replicated in North and South of the country. This can only be achieved by building certain infrastructure in these zones. A law on economic zones needs to be drafted.

Additionally, we need to explore what needs to be done to implement what is in the Tourism Masterplan. Whether we should increase beds, and how to do that, and so on. As you know, the current bed capacity of the country is 25,000 and I believe this needs a fast-paced increase. During the new year season, there was a fall of about 2000 beds due to overbooking. There’s also the Chinese New Year. So I believe we need to very quickly increase bed capacity, whether it be in resorts, city hotels or other new products.

I especially want to also note that the real estate market in Maldives is also something we can promote through tourism.

MM: After having previously worked in the Maldives Customs Services, and then the Chamber of Commerce, how did you enter the political arena?

AA: I worked in the Air Cargo department of Maldives Customs Services for three years. During my time there, I became familiar with trade and import. All imports into Maldives, including even seafood, is usually brought in by air freight. I became familiarised with trade and at the time decided to go abroad for further studies.

After completion of my degree, I worked in stock exchange in Sri Lanka. I then completed my Masters programme, returned to the Maldives and worked in private consultations. In 2009, on invitation of the existing board of Chamber of Commerce, I contested for a post on its board of directors. I served as a board member then, and as its treasurer. I stayed there since about 2011.

I believe that as people who research the economy, we all have our views and certain set principles on everything, including privatisation, foreign exchange, and how an economy must be moulded. That, I believe, is our ideology. I believe in openness, Maldives is a very open country. Maldives cannot develop at its best unless it is opened up for investments and we need to bring about certain economical reforms.

If we look at the last five years, it is mostly political reforms that have been brought, and that too at a very fast pace. Meaning, for example, we can now say Maldives is one of the countries where press freedom is granted most openly. However, in an economical perspective, reforms have not been brought yet. Being a country with a low population and with low savings, foreign investments are very important.

In that sense, the Chamber of Commerce is a very political organisation internally, in that we fight for businessmen’s rights, and lobby for changes. I was involved in this, and was often invited to TV shows and other media programmes. I often did research for various businesses, and this always includes economic research of the Maldives. With these updates, I was always outspoken about any issues we may have with the policies of the government then in power. I have always given opinions on these matters to media in my own name. For example, when the government implemented the change in dollar rates, I revealed my view in my own name in the media. Our prediction proved more true than the estimates of the government’s policy makers at the time, for example they were unable to solve the foreign currency issue by the introduction of a dollar band. We said even then that it was a wrong step and called on them to reverse the decision.

Although I am junior by age, I have conducted a lot of research and work. For example, back when current President [Abdulla] Yameen was in People’s Alliance, I did a lot of technical work for the party, including budget reviews, analysis, and providing details of these to the party’s parliamentarians. I used to debate a lot on economical matters with Yameen at the time. He is a very academic and technical person in the field.

It then led to Yameen inviting me to take on the responsibilities of a cabinet minister during the change in government in 2012. I responded that I cannot take on responsibilities of a cabinet minister unless it is in my field of expertise, i.e in the business area. That I would not know how to handle something like the health or education sector. That if it was in the business sector, I would know well to take policy decisions. So I accepted the post of tourism minister and took it as a challenge. I was 29 years of age then.

Many friends and family members advised me to not take up the position, owing to the political atmosphere of the time. However, as I see it, it is very easy to stand outside and criticise matters. But when one has to actually implement things within the legal framework, it is a completely different experience.

Every decision we must make in a position like this is a tough one, but needs to be taken firmly. It is impossible to please everyone with any decision we make. We must also be able to digest criticism levied against us by media or other sources.

There are certain things I have observed since I assumed this post. Cabinet ministers are policy makers. The policies we decide on must be implemented by the civil service, but it is the Permanent Secretary that will deal with the day to day management of civil servants. I will not engage in the hiring and firing of civil servants. I distinguish between the two.

The other thing is I believe every tourism minister must maintain good public relations. We cannot solve the existing issues without building rapport with all investors. I work to understand their concerns, and to get win-win results for the government through the understanding of these concerns. And in that way I gained their acceptance.

I also always ask elders and more experienced persons for advice, including policy makers and former presidents. I believe in treating them respectfully.

A lot of people were of the mindset that I would not be up for this challenge as I was appointed at such a young age. I took it up as a challenge and have been careful in my work. This is because I realise that if I fail, it will reflect not just on me alone, but there will be a reluctance to appoint young ministers in the future.

I do get a lot of criticism, but I believe getting criticism from the opposition is a success in its own right. I also strongly believe that criticism that comes for my decisions is not out of a dislike of me personally, but something that comes along with the cabinet position. So I take it all professionally, as it is an indication that I am doing something right. I have always been told that one will have enemies if they stand up for something.

I don’t differentiate between people of different political ideologies. I believe a person’s political affiliation is a very personal thing and we must be willing to work alike with everyone. I have been trained in politics through the democratic system, and so find it easy to handle the criticism and work through it all.

MM: How do you currently manage time between fulfilling the responsibilities of being both a cabinet minister, as well as the Deputy Leader of PPM?

AA: A deputy leader of a party is also a policy maker there. If the party’s president is unable to attend councils or larger committee meetings, I chair them. Council meetings are normally held once a month unless there is an election approaching. But in these we just decide on policies.

I always differentiate between policy making and implementation. Once we decide on policies to observe, and for example ways to obtain funds, it is the office staff and volunteers who will then work to implement these. I never micromanage things. So it is easy to manage time at a policy making level.

The difficulties arise because once you become a high level politician, either in state level or party level, a lot of individual citizens want to contact you directly. It is often difficult to respond to them in a timely manner, but I do attempt to call them back even if later. But I believe that this is something I need to improve on.

MM: Are you able to fulfill both responsibilities at your best capacity?

AA: I believe I do. If you ask other party members, or council members or parliamentarians, they too will tell you that since I adopted this position as deputy leader, I have taken up huge responsibilities within the party. Even if you ask the former president of other cabinet colleagues, they will tell you that I am a man who always stands up and remains firm even during difficult times and through chaotic times. As I see it, you have to be courageous in taking up responsibilities, and should not shy away from the repercussions that come your way.

MM: What are your future plans for your political career?

AA: A lot of people ask me that. I am only turning 32 this year. I am definitely not a presidential candidate. Even in 2013, a lot of people asked me if I was going to be a running mate or candidate of some party or other. I responded even then that I am not that ambitious. I only consider things as they come to me through given opportunity. I don’t proactively look for positions. My political career will be built on the next five years. Implementation of our economic policies is a huge dream of ours, and that is what will give me the most satisfaction. I see the achievement of this dream as far more important to me than attempting to get higher positions than the one I am in now. This is also the party president’s vision.

As I see it, we have only recently gained the opportunity to show our own results. It is through the results that we manage to show in these five years that my political career, too, will be shaped.

The country has a huge youth population. While there was a difference of opinions when I was appointed during the former administration, due to my young age. But Yameen well understands that with the huge youth population in this nation, it will be difficult to develop the country without youth inclusion.

What I have to say to youth is, if you have a dream, show your capacity and exploit your potential. Being a country with a small population, there is a lot of vast opportunity here.

Section Two: Tourism Policies

MM: The current cabinet is split into economic and social councils. What are your responsibilities on the Economic Council and which other colleagues sit on it?

AA: The economic council has five ministers, including the youth minister and is chaired by the President. I am the co-chair.

There is a Social Council and the Economic and Youth Council. Even in previous governments, there were separate committees, but the cabinet also met on a regular basis, which led to these committees meeting less frequently. But as the president wants to reach results at a fast speed, he holds the council meetings every single day. I believe that with about ten years of cabinet experience, this initiative by the president adds to added effectiveness and better time management. Now each cabinet minister can better focus on matters that directly involve them.

However, on major issues that involve the full cabinet, there are full cabinet meetings.

MM: What are the government’s plans for establishing guest islands? Are these to be on uninhabited islands alone? What then is the distinguishing factor between a guest island and a tourist resort?

AA: Yes, it is targeted mostly to uninhabited islands. The thing is, it is a huge infrastructure investment to build a tourist resort. It becomes an expensive place to go to when they invest in water set-ups, sewerage systems and all before building rooms. We at advanced stages of making a model where we are speaking with MWSC to make water set-ups, sewerage systems and electricity set ups in an island, after which we can give plots to individual businessmen. For example, common restaurants can be managed by one party, water sports by another party, twenty rooms by one company, another twenty rooms by another company and so on. In that way, we are creating numerous businesses there. We are planning to introduce this as a test model to see if many mid level businesses can co-exist and run a guest island in this manner. MWSC is already on board to set up the utilities, and the businesses will just need to pay monthly bills to them.

While it will be difficult for a small business to invest in a full resort, there are many small and midlevel businesses that can invest in small sections of an island. We can even replicate this in uninhabited areas of large inhabited islands. First we intend to test this on an uninhabited island. We plan to begin implementation around March this year.

MM: The government has also recently announced that permits to run guesthouses will only be given if the said guesthouse is to be built on an island with existing water and sewerage systems. Will this cause more income to islands which are already somewhat developed, while marginalising less developed islands which may perhaps even be better suited for tourism in other manners?

AA: There is a lot of confusion around this matter. There are four tourism sectors: tourist resorts, tourist hotels, guest houses, and yacht marinas. Under the Tourism Law, tourists are not allowed to spend nights at any place other than places registered under one of these sectors. This is not to say that one cannot invite a friend to stay over at their house, but it cannot be done commercially. This is also for the protection of tourists as well.

We often get proposals to build city hotels. What we are saying is, how can you build a city hotel without an investor also building a sewerage and water system there. How can it be managed otherwise?

What we are encouraging is for people like those councils from large islands that ask for state land to be leased to build a city hotel to also condition investors to build utility systems there. The opposition is, however, often confusing this with the guesthouse licenses which we already do authorise.

Under a law, we have to authorise the opening of guesthouses on any private land as long as it fits in with the set guidelines. Former President Nasheed had released about twenty licenses, and even I have released about a 160 licenses since then. That is going steadily forward and we encourage it.

We even assist in solving any issues that may have. For example, to assist the guesthouse community in Hulhumalé, we authorised some cars to carry tourists from the airport to Hulhumalé over the connecting road. Even in Maafushi, we have addressed many issues.

The thing is, we just don’t talk about guesthouses so much. 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. Guests for B,C,D and E categories are something we automatically get. Even guesthouses are able to get guests to stay for 80 or 90 dollars because Maldives is marketed as a high end destination and for guests it is a dream come true to be able to stay here for that price. If the government begins to market tourism at guest house level, this will drop down drastically. This is the strategy we employ.

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. The circular was meant to let investors know that it is feasible to run a 20 room hotel only if the utility services are also set in place.

MM: What is the implication of the cancellation of charging bed tax, which has been in effect from January 1? What is the government’s plan of action to make up for this loss in revenue?

AA: The bed tax is supposed to be cancelled from January 1 this year, but this is not considered when the budget is expanded. We are asking for an extension until June.

Normally, budget and government revenue earning bills are passed together. But here, the parliament goes into recess after passing the budget, leaving the income bills pending for after that. And even then, they often just fail.

This causes the budget to expand, but there’s no way for the government to earn enough to implement it. The T-GST [Tourist Goods and Services Tax] matters even more to the state income. The state keeps expanding, the allowances and salaries keep increasing, but the income for all of this still depends on the 25,000 tourist beds. Unless we expand this, how can we increase what we earn? We can’t keep expanding the state, and then squeezing the existing tourism sector without expanding it.

MM: As a low lying island state, do you think climate change is a serious threat to the Maldives, and may have large adverse effects on tourism? Does this ministry have any existing plans to deal with these effects?

AA: After the 2004 tsunami, the country now has a good response system to disaster. Each resort has a high rise shelter in case of such an emergency and evacuation plans for all guests to see. The tourism sector, in developing resorts, pays attention to sustainable development and prioritises the environment.

The current government does not believe Maldives needs to be a guinea pig for the climate change cause. I mean, it is not the Maldives that conducts activities which are harmful to the environment.

However, we cannot go around saying Maldives will sink in 20 years and then ask for investments of 50 years in the tourism sector. This causes investors to be reluctant to invest in the Maldives. We do not believe we are at risk of suddenly sinking and think in a perspective of protecting investments.

Although we don’t speak about this at a marketing level, we do want to make Maldives a model in sustainability. We do take action on the matter though we do not speak of it much at a marketing level. We do not want investors to lose confidence, so we cannot do both. Let us first develop to this stage.


Maldives reaches one million tourists target for 2013

The Maldives has reached one million tourist arrivals for the current year, with the Tourism Ministry announcing that 1,000,203 had visited the country as of Monday (November 25).

The Maldivian government had narrowly failed to reach this milestone target in 2012, after a year of political turmoil and an economic slump in key markets.

“It’s a major victory for the whole country,” recently re-appointed Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb was quoted as telling media yesterday.

“This victory has been made possible amidst boycott campaigns and other such obstacles. Resort owners, ministry employees and MMPRC have worked really hard for this.”

Repeated delays to the scheduled presidential elections recently brought threats of prolonged strike actions from leading tourism industry groups, including the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM).

In late October the People’s Majlis accepted a bill that would criminalise any actions calling for a tourism boycott, supporting or endorsing a boycott, participating in a boycott, or any act that would incite fear amongst tourists.

Previously this month, the Finance Ministry revealed that “political turmoil” had caused growth in the tourism industry to stall in 2012, though it did anticipate that the sector – responsible for around 28 percent of GDP in each of the past five years – would return to growth this year.

The Tourism Ministry revealed yesterday that the “Maldives received 925,413 tourists at the end of October 2013 and 783,999 tourists at the end of October 2012, which is an increase of 18% compared to the same period of last year.”

“A total 284,926 Chinese tourists visited the Maldives which is 30.8% of the total arrivals to the Maldives and is the highest arrival from a single source market,” continued the ministry’s press release.

The large numbers of Chinese arrivals to the country’s idyllic resorts, the Finance Ministry has suggested previously, was increasing arrivals whilst reducing the relative value of the industry.

“As the most number of tourists to the country now come from China, we note that the low number of nights on average that a Chinese tourist spends in the Maldives has an adverse effect on the tourism sector’s GDP,” read the Finance Ministry’s ‘Fiscal and Economic Outlook: 2012 to 2016’ statement this month.

Recent tourism statistics show that, whilst there was a slight growth in European arrivals this year, the overall share of the market is now dominated by Asia.

Prominent resort owner and leader of the government-aligned Maldivian Development Alliance Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam has blamed the relative decline in the European market on the state’s failure to properly market the destination.

The official hashtag of London’s World Travel Market was hijacked by Maldivian pro-democracy activists this month, making global headlines by linking prominent resort owners with the overthrow of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

A similar tactic was used by anti-government protesters in 2012 as the government re-launched the ‘Sunny side of life’ slogan that had been temporarily replaced under Nasheed’s tenure.

In order to celebrate the one million tourist milestone, the Ministry of Tourism together with Maldives Marketing & PR Corporation and the Airport Reps Association of Maldives will be holding a week of celebrations at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport between December 25 to December 31.


Anil Adam appointed new deputy tourism minister

Anil Adam has been appointed as the new Deputy Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, the President’s Office has announced today.

Adam will replace Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, who was dismissed as deputy tourism minister by the government last week at the behest of his former party, the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP).


Minister of state for tourism resigns, cites “unacceptable” conduct of Minister Adheeb

Mariyam Mizna Shareef resigned from her position as Minister of State for Tourism, Arts and Culture yesterday (June 19), stating on social media that she had quit over unspecified “differences” with Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb

Taking to micro-blogging site Twitter after announcing her resignation yesterday (June 19), Mizna wrote that she had found the manner in which he ran the ministry to be “unacceptable”.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Mizna declined to comment on the post, adding that she wished to keep a low-profile and stay out of the political arena.

News of Mizna’s resignation came following the President’s Office announcement earlier the same day that it had dismissed Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal and Minister of State for Economic Development Abdulla Ameen from their posts at the behest of their former party.

Maleeh alleged yesterday that could see no other reason for their dismissals beyond the decision of both Ameen and himself not to back President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s election campaign.

Both men have pledged to back the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential candidate MP Abdullah Yameen during September’s election.

Mizna today confirmed that her resignation as state minister had not been related to the dismissals of Maleeh and Ameen, though she did not elaborate further.

Posting on Twitter following her resignation, Mizna claimed that she had tried to enact change within the ministry during her time in the post, but claimed “things [were] going from bad to worse” despite her attempts.

“Only way is to remove Adheeb,” she concluded.

Mizna’s comments on Twitter prompted a flurry of activity on the social networking site, including one post from an account claiming to be that of a PPM Council Member.

Mizna meanwhile accused Adheeb of being “busy giving away lagoons, sandbanks and uninhabited islands.”

Mizna Shareef’s Twitter profile could not be viewed as of this afternoon.

Ministry response

Minister Adheeb was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press today.

Adheeb told newspaper Haveeru that his “only crime was being the PPM deputy leader.”

“I have become the target of everyone. It has become their purpose to slaughter me politically. But if there’s a corruption issue involving me shouldn’t they go to the Anti-Corruption Commission or a Majlis committee? But [instead] certain individuals are trying to bring me into disrepute. I regret the corruption allegations made about me. But I will not budge. I won’t budge for a government post,” he was quoted as saying.

Tourism Ministry spokesperson Hassan Zameel told Minivan News that Mizna had not raised any official concerns with the ministry relating to allegations of misconduct against Minister Adheeb.

“She may have discussed these matters with the minister or her colleagues, but we have not received an official complaint,” he said. “The ministry can only recognize complaints if someone has put these concerns to us officially in written form.”

Zameel added that yesterday’s resignation of former State Minister Mizna and the dismissal of former Deputy Minister Maleeh would have no significant impact on the day-to-day running of the ministry.

He added that the ministry would continue to operate with the minister and state minister making political decisions, while civil servants would continue to oversee the rest of the authority’s work.


Government-owned company ceases Club Faru resort operations

The Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) decided to cease operating the Club Faru resort as of May 15 this year, according to local media.

In January, the Tourism Ministry took control of the resort from the site’s previous owners following the expiry of their lease agreement.  The ministry handed control of the resort to the government-owned MTDC until phase two of the Hulhumale’ reclamation project was completed.

MTDC Managing Director Mohamed Matheen told local media that the Tourism Ministry had been notified to take over resort’s operations.

“There are no tourists on the island right now. We stopped the operation of the island, and have been temporarily taking care of the island until a decision is made,” Matheen said.

The MTDC previously requested an extension from the Tourism Ministry to the time period during which the company could operate the resort.

“We wanted to operate the island until the reclamation of Hulhumale’ begins. Even though we let tourists come to the resort, our plan was to empty and hand over the island by giving one month’s notice,” said Matheen.

“But we still don’t know when the reclamation will begin. But we have to keep some staff there to monitor the island until the government takes over,” he added.

Currently, the number of staff on Club Faru has been reduced to “about twenty”, according to Matheen.

Discussions with two foreign companies regarding phase two of the Hulhumale’ reclamation project – which includes Club Faru resort – are ongoing, according to the Housing Development Corporation (HDC).  The HDC is in charge of the Hulhumale’ development.


Cancellations and resignations after Iru Fushi Resort terminates Hilton contract

Sun Travel and Tours has abruptly terminated its agreement with hotel giant Hilton to manage the Maldives Iru Fushi Resort leading to the resignation of 30 employees at the property, staff have alleged.  The termination has also led to some guests cancelling their bookings at the property with local operators.

Hilton said that its agreement to run the resort was cancelled officially on May 3 by the Sun Travel and Tours company.

“The cessation of Hilton Worldwide’s management of that resort was unforeseen and due to factors outside its control,” the hotel chain said in an official statement.

A staff member at the Noonu Atoll-based resort, who asked to remain anonymous, alleged the property’s owners had given Hilton barely 24 hours notice before terminating the agreement.

The staff member said Sun had given little information for the reason for the termination, stating that Hilton’s management team was notified on April 30 that their services would no longer be required.

According to a letter sent to staff that was seen by Minivan News, Sun took over management of the property on May 1 and began removing all Hilton branding from the resort, which will now be known as the Maldives Iru Fushi Resort and Spa.

“As I understand, management were informed by letter at about 3:00pm on April 30 that the owners would be taking over. Even Hilton did not know what was happening. There is a lot of shock, it is a very smoothly run resort,” the resort source claimed.

Despite a pledge by management at Sun Travel and Tours management to retain all staff at the site, the staff member said some employees were now concerned about their job security.

The staff member said 30 of an estimated 500 staff employed at the resort has resigned in the four days following the termination of the Hilton contract. Bookings had already been cancelled due to of the loss of the Hilton name, the source said, while other guests were already in the process of trying to amend their bookings.

Sources at several large local travel operators based in Male’ confirmed to Minivan News today that some bookings for the property had already been cancelled.

Peaceful handover

The resort staff member praised Hilton’s conduct in handing the property over in a peaceful manner, claiming that the company had in some cases offered to transfer guests to the company’s other resort in the country, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.

“Hilton have been so patient in this matter and left the place so professionally. Although its GM had left, the management urged us not to resign right away and to think of our families,” the source claimed.

After Hilton management were informed of the cessation of the management agreement, the source alleged the company was given less than 24 hours to vacate the premises, with access to the site’s computer equipment and offices cut off by 12:00pm the following day (May 1).

“I am a Maldivian myself, but I am ashamed of these guys and the way in which they have [taken over management],” the source claimed.

No statement from Sun

Sun Travels and Tours Pvt Ltd is owned and operated by MP Ahmed Shiyam, a local businessman and media magnate, who last year founded his own political party known as the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA).

Shiyam was not responding to calls at time of press, though senior MDA official Ali Mauroof recommended Minivan News contact Abdulla Thamheed, “our general manager” at the resort.

Thamheed later requested that media inquiries on the resort be addressed to Sun Travel and Tours offices in Male’. Minivan News was still awaiting a response from the company at time of press, which had yet to release an official statement as of May 5.

Political activities: TEAM

The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) meanwhile claimed it had received complaints from workers at the resort before and after the termination of the Hilton management agreement concerning attempts to politicise staff.

TEAM Secretary General Mauroof Zakir alleged he had received several reports of widespread uncertainty at the resort from staff, alleging a number of guest rooms were being provided to MDA supporters and members.

“The resort’s operations are being jeopardised by a complete lack of understanding as to who are paying guests and where people are staying,” he alleged. “It sounds like a real mess there at the moment.”

Zakir said that TEAM had also received complaints by staff concerned over job security at the resort amid reports that individuals signing up to the MDA were being offered employment at the site.

“More than this, there is the direct damage to the industry of losing a major name like Hilton from the country,” he claimed. “We haven’t heard anything from the Tourism Ministry about this and will be looking to meet authorities over the matter tomorrow.”

Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb and Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

The staff member meanwhile claimed that during the second day of working under the new resort management, a speedboat belonging to MP Shiyam had arrived with an entourage of people who had been campaigning for the MDA on nearby local islands.

“This party have been staying here with the owner [MP Shiyam] while they conduct political activities,” claimed the source.

As well as using the resort’s offices for MDA administrative matters such as photocopying and producing promotional material, the member of staff alleged that politicisation of the resort had been ongoing even while Hilton was in charge of site.

“Management have already hired two new guys linked to [MDA]. As I understand they were employed without undergoing any of the regular formal processes. Those who are here do not feel this is a safe place to work right now,” the source alleged.

Police called over harassment of female guests

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef meanwhile confirmed that police had attended the resort on May 4 in response to allegations that three female Maldivians staying at the resort had been harassed.

Haneef said police arrived at the site yesterday afternoon to investigate after receiving a complaint from resort management over alleged harassment of some guests by an unidentified suspect.

He claimed that police had insufficient information to identify a suspect at the time of press.

The resort source alleged police had been called to the resort over allegations of attempted sexual assault of female guests on Friday (May 3) by an individual he claimed was part of the resort owner’s group.

“This individual entered the room belonging to these ladies and threatened them if they tried to make a noise,” the source alleged. “They managed to scare the man off and he escaped. These ladies complained and the police were called. This person was not a guest,” he said.