Concessionary travel for Maldivian civil servants on way, reports Times of India

Maldivian civil servants are likely to be given concessionary travel status by India, reports the Times of India.

The Indian government is said to be considering granting leave travel concession (LTC) for government employees to Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives in order boost tourism.

Sources in India’s tourism ministry told the Times that 200,000 civil servants in the region could benefit from the arrangement.

“But there will have to be some reciprocal arrangement. We are working on that,” the paper quoted ministry sources as saying – adding that neighbouring governments had been contacted.

The theme of the Kathmandu Declaration – signed at the conclusion of last month’s SAARC summit in Nepal – was ‘Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity’.

“It is still harder to travel within our region than to Bangkok or Singapore, and more expensive to speak to each other,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reported to have told neighbouring heads of state during the summit.

The Times noted that travel between the Maldives and India had dropped by 10% between 2012 and 2013.

Indian visa regulations were tightened just weeks after the premature termination of a US$500 million airport development deal with Indian infrastructure giant GMR in late 2012. Indian authorities at the time claimed the decision to have been intended to draw attention to the Maldives’ treatment of expatriate workers.

Shortly after President Abdulla Yameen’s trip to Indian in January, the Indian High Commission in Malé announced that all restrictions had been lifted – with High Commissioner Rajeev Shahare noting that the Maldives now enjoyed visa privileges afforded to no other country.

Source: Times of India


Atoll Paradise attributes troubles to “lengthy delay in securing bank finance”

Tour operator Atoll Paradise has issued a statement “apologising unreservedly for any frustration caused to any of its customers due to recent cancellations.”

Atoll Paradise is one of the Maldives’ largest local tour operators. However, the Tourism Ministry last week suspended its permit amid allegations it had defrauded customers and international travel agents.

Tourism Ministry Senior Legal Officer Faseeh Zahir told Minivan News the government had have received several complaints in recent months that bookings had been cancelled by the company without being refunded.

“There are allegations of fraud and of the company not acting according to regulations. This is not just a case of one guest, we have received several complaints,” said Zahir. The company has also been fined MVR 1 million (US$65,000).

In its statement, Atoll Paradise said it “wished to make it clear that it is a reputable business organisation and the recent unfortunate developments stemmed from a lengthy delay in securing bank finance to sustain its business operations.”

Cancellations were “unavoidable”, the company said, while “strenuously emphasising” that no employee of the company “ has ever engaged in fraudulent activities towards any external parties.”

The company acknowledged it had encountered “some cash flow difficulties” in 2013, stemming from an “unexpected delay in a bank loan facility.”

“This delay is not to be blamed on anyone (neither person nor corporation), as financial proceedings can sometimes encounter unexpected obstacles and include complexities and lengthy legal clearance procedures beyond the initially expected scope,” the company contended.

“Although the management had explored all available options and done its best to avoid having to cancel any bookings, such cancellations could not be avoided anymore, if Atoll Paradise did not want to further disappoint its customers by leaving them stranded at the airport after their arrival in the Maldives,” the statement read.

“These actions, although difficult to make, were taken in accordance with the Booking Policy of the company, and all customers will be refunded with minimum delay,” the company promised.

Atoll Paradise said it was working with the Ministry of Tourism on “resolving these unfortunate issues so that all pending refunds can be processed without any further delay and normal business operations of the company can commence as soon as possible. It is important to note here that several refunds have already been processed prior to this decision by the Ministry. All customers are informed periodically on the status of their refund.”

Disgruntled customers waiting on refunds

Several of the company’s customers meanwhile contacted Minivan News following publication of last week’s article, with details of their grievances and extensive documentation and correspondence with the company.

The Barras couple initially booked their 14 night, US$24,698 holiday at Dusit Thani resort through Atoll Paradise in July 2012 for mid-February 2013. However three weeks before travelling the couple were forced to cancel their booking for medical reasons, and were promised a refund of US$23,113, including a US$350 ‘admin fee’ and five percent ‘bank charge’ on January 24, as a “one time exception”.

In a long series of successive emails, assorted company staff repeatedly apologised and promised repayment in several days, providing reasons including “It will take 1 to 2 billing cycles for the amount to be posted back to your account”, “I can only file for the refund request by Monday due to bank holidays here until Sunday”, and “we are moving all of our principal banking from three different banks to just one which is Mauritius Commercial bank.”

Several staff members informed the couple that Atoll Paradise had already paid the resort in advance, and was waiting for a refund.

The couple contacted the resort’s management directly, only to discover that the resort had never received payment from Atoll Paradise, and had cancelled the booking immediately on first request.

“The money you paid [to Atoll Paradise was not remitted to us, nor was there any communication regarding a refund since no monetary transaction had transpired between Dusit Thani Maldives and Atoll Paradise for this particular booking,” wrote Dusit Thani’s General Manager Desmond Hatton to the couple on April 9, 2013.

After waiting three months for the refund, the couple began to add their concerns about the company to others on Tripadvisor.

“Your case has been raised this with our Executive Management team, to try and get a better understanding as to when we can rectify this internal issue, as you know this has been pending a while and as such we are not delivering the exceptional service we are known for, this is very disappointing and I can assure you this matter is not being taken lightly,” the couple were informed in April by a staff member called ‘Laura’.

The Barras were then contacted by Atoll Paradise’s Director of Business Development, Chloe Esme Bagir, who informed them that “due to the extent of your unruly comments on the internet, it is now being dealt by our Legal and Accounts Department and will be reviewed in strict adherence to our published Booking & Cancellation Policy. We will reply to you once we get their decision.”

At the time of their contacting Minivan News, the couple were still awaiting payment of their refund.

“Since we didn’t go, the hotel didn’t get paid … so [Atoll Paradise] decided to keep the money for themselves. What kind of company does this?” asked Tristan Barras.

In an email to Minivan News, Atoll Paradise advised that Barras “cancelled shortly before arrival and thus lost 100 percent of the amount paid, in accordance with Atoll Paradise Booking Policy.”

Booking cancelled four days before flight: “I appreciate this will have come as somewhat of a shock”

In another case, Nitchima Chia from Thailand booked a two bedroom pool villa at Centara for six people on March 6-10 through Atoll Paradise, paying US$6,235 upfront via credit card.

Four days before the group was due to depart, having already paid US$3450 for flights from Bangkok to the Maldives, Chia was informed by Atoll Paradise that due to “unavoidable circumstances arising within our operations” their booking, among others falling between May 1-16, had been cancelled.

The company gave Chia the option to refund the full booking value, or reschedule the booking after July 1.

Noting that the group had days left to get on the plane and that the flights were non-refundable, Chia urged Atoll Paradise to move them to another hotel, or refund the full expenses of the trip: “July is impossible as the kids need to go to school during this time,” she said.

Atoll Paradise replied: “I appreciate this will have come as somewhat of a shock, however we are unable to honor any bookings within this period.”

“Atoll Paradise is in the process of relocating to a newly built office compound. This is a project we have been working on for the past 12 months to expand and grow our business. Due to this we are having difficulty in managing some our arrivals for this period efficiently,” the company wrote.

“Your booking with Atoll Paradise is cancelled and will not be reinstated.”

In another email, Atoll Paradise advised that “as only the accommodation is confirmed with us, we cannot hold any responsibility for the flights”, and urged Chia to contact her travel insurance provider.

Chia was initially promised a refund within four weeks with a “cut-off period” of eight weeks. However, on June 6 she was informed that the “refunds are taking a further delay due to lack of funding. We are confident we should receive these funds within the month of July. Please give us a little more time to settle this.”

On July 5, the company informed Chia that it understood this delay in your refund “is causing a lot of frustration for you”, and assured her that “the delay in your refund is not intentional.”

“The entire management team are working tirelessly to expedite the refund process for all our clients. Our bank has already agreed a facility for us, agreement already approved and signed. Due to lengthy legal documentation, the funds from our bank have taken longer than initially anticipated hence these delays. We anticipate the refund will be in your account end of this month and latest first week of August.”

Chia subsequently contacted the Royal Thai Consulate in Male.

Some customers, speaking about their experiences with the company on a 28-page Tripadvisor thread, reported success in securing chargeback payments direct with their credit card companies.

Police Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef meanwhile last week confirmed police had begun investigating the company over fraud allegations.

The Tourism Ministry has said Atoll Paradise’s permit will remain revoked until all alleged outstanding payments and grievances have been settled.


Luxury tour operator highlights 35 percent slump in Maldives bookings

High-end luxury tour operator Hayes & Javis – part of the TUI group which also includes Thomson Holidays – has reported a 35 percent slump in bookings to the Maldives.

The company’s ‘long-haul trends’ report observed a similar slump in Caribbean island destinations, with Barbados down 51 percent and Antigua 58 percent.

“While off-the-peg beach packages are still popular – especially four and five-star all inclusive ones – there is no doubting the steady decline in demand for traditional fly-and-flop beach holidays,” said Hayes & Javis’ Commercial Head, Sean Dowd.

At the same time, the UK-based luxury operator noted an 11 percent rise in bookings to Mauritius, and similar increases for Tobago (16 percent) and the Dominican Republic (14 percent),” fuelled by the affordability of five-star all inclusive resorts”.

“Mauritius may yet prove to be the new Maldives. Strong airfare and hotel offers, high quality all inclusive resorts and the opportunity to twin with Dubai and other cities have all helped to fuel demand,” he added.

Implying that the trend away from ‘fly-and-flop’ holidays was not solely recession-related, Dowd observed that the operator’s multi-centre trip bookings “have doubled over the past two years because growing numbers of people are keen to see more of what a country – or a region of the world – has to offer when they travel further afield.”

The report noted that the destinations “making waves in 2013 are ones which lend themselves to a combination of city, beach and culture or heritage tours.”

“Multi-centre trips now account for over a third of our business and this growth trend is one which we expect to accelerate,” Dowd said.

Bad PR and changing demographics

The Hayes & Javis report attributes the sharp slump in Maldives bookings to “tough market conditions including increased land costs and poor exchange rates”, however the destination has recorded a steady increase in arrivals from around the world.

Tourism arrivals to the Maldives during the first quarter of 2013 were up 14.6 percent on the previous year, however up to a quarter of all arrivals at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) are now Chinese, with the market eclipsing the country’s traditional staple of European holidaymakers. Some 70,570 Chinese arrivals were recorded for the first quarter of 2013, an increase of 51.2 percent over the same period last year.

Beyond changing demographics, the Maldives has also grappled with widespread negative global publicity in the wake of a flogging sentence handed to a 15 year-old rape victim in February.

The incident, which received particularly high volumes of media attention in the country’s core European markets – the UK and Germany – led to a petition calling for a moratorium on flogging by activist website Avaaz. The petition reached two million signatures barely a week – twice the annual number of visitors to the Maldives.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed pledged to appeal the sentence given to the minor by the country’s Juvenile Court, and review local laws to enact potential reforms of the use of flogging. No timeline for such reforms was set.

The tourism ministry meanwhile slammed what it labelled the “dubious” motives of the petition, alleging it to be “politically motivated”.

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal in March said tourism had been a key driver of national development and democratic reforms in the Maldives for the last 40 years, and had “sacred” importance in the Maldives.

“People should not be doing anything to damage the industry. In Switzerland, you would not see a campaign designed to damage Swiss chocolate. Likewise you would not see a German campaign to damage their automobile industry,” he told Minivan News at the time.


Authorities hail Maldives World Tourism Awards ceremony as industry “milestone”

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has claimed the Maldives’  selection as host for the Indian Ocean World Travel Awards (WTA) ceremony next month is a “milestone” in the 40 year history of the nation’s holiday industry.

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal said the ceremony, which will take place at the Paradise Island Resort and Spa in North Male’ Atoll on May 12, paves the way for further high-profile events to be held in the Maldives in future.

Maleeh told Minivan News that hosting the WTA, described by the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) as the “Oscars” of the global tourism industry, would open up a wealth of opportunities for event hosting at resorts and other facilities in the country.

MICE tourism

He added that the ceremony would send a message to the world that the country was able to provide meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions (MICE) tourism in a luxury and private setting that was unique from other destinations.

“Over the past 40 years, we have been known as a honeymooners spot, a surf spot and a luxury holiday destination. This will add another area for the industry,” the deputy tourism minister said.

Maleeh said that with the MICE tourism segment last year valued as a trillion US Dollar business segment, securing even a small proportion of the market would be a welcome boost to the country’s tourism industry.

Arrivals to the country were found to have posted double-digit growth during the first quarter of 2013 over the same period last year.

The results were a notable improvement on arrivals recorded during the first three months of 2012, which were negatively impacted by global headlines focused on political turmoil following the controversial transfer of power that brought the current government to office in February the same year.

Considering the number of resorts with conference facilities already operating in the Maldives, Maleeh praised the potential for MICE tourism in the Maldives, despite adding that the industry was very much at a “starting point” in the country.

However, in addressing challenges such as logistics that have previously limited event hosting to areas surrounding Male’, Maleeh claimed that the emergence of a number of regional airports around the country would open up a wider number of properties and businesses to potentially benefit.

“Event-based tourism will also see growing amounts of business for local companies as well, such as for lighting specialists and performers,” he added.

Beyond next month’s ceremony, Maleeh said that senior representatives from the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) were also scheduled to travel to the Maldives in September for a special panel discussion.  The event was similarly anticipated to boost the country’s reputation for event hosting, according to the tourism ministry.

Eventful past

Outside of the Maldives resort industry, some local promotion groups have previously complained that challenges still remain in trying to bring high-profile events and entertainment to the wider country.

Back in November, 2012, a concert by Chris de Burgh – the singer/songwriter famed for the 1980′s global super-hit ‘Lady in Red’ – attracted 1500 people to Galolhu National Stadium in Male’.

Organisers claimed at the time the event was one of the largest shows of its kind held in the Maldives over the last decade, especially considering ongoing difficulties in securing international artists to play in the archipelago nation.

The team behind the event claimed the concert was therefore an important step towards paving the way for world famous artists to perform in the country.

Mohamed Shinan, event coordinator with local promotion company Think Advertising, said the Maldives has traditionally struggled to cover the fees of high-profile performers when trying to bring concerts to the Maldives.

However, Shinan said that organisers had been happy with the eventual turnout for the concert.

“Including the sizable audience in the standing section, we estimate some 1,500 people were in attendance, which is not bad for an artist like Chris de Burgh. Most young people only know him for the one song.”

Two months earlier, the organisers of the 2012 Hotel Asia Exhibition and International Culinary Challenge held at Male’s Dharubaaruge conference centre claimed they were at maximum capacity in terms of the number of regional and international exhibitors in attendance.

Husnie Rauf, Senior Manager of Maldives Exhibition and Conference Services (MECS), said the company had been “surprised” by the interest shown from exhibitors taking part in the annual show, which attempts to link the country’s secluded resort industry and local hotel trade with “world class” suppliers.

Over the last three years, the Maldives has played host to several high-profile regional and international events including the 17th SAARC Summit in Addu City, and the Hay Festival Maldives, held at the presidential retreat of Aarah back in October 2010.


Comment: To boycott or not to boycott

This article was first published on Republished with permission.

Ethical travel as a concept is now common discourse, with travelers increasingly asking now they can minimise the impact they have on local communities, as well as expressing growing interest in volunteerism and working with communities to enact change. Travelers hold a unique position of economic power over the whole tourism supply chain – transport, accommodation, hospitality and other vital aspects of many burgeoning economies. Tourism boycotts are a common and somewhat popular way to cash in on this power.

Avaaz, an international advocacy and campaigning community, has recently realised this potential in a campaign in the Maldvies against an outdated law that has led to a 15-year-old rape victim being sentenced to 100 lashes. The Maldives rely heavily on tourism, and the fact that nearly two million people have signed this petition shows the potential power that tourists have. The Maldives’ former president Mohamed Nasheed recognised this potential when he asked for a tourism boycott last year, telling the UK Financial Times newspaper that tourists visiting the country would just be bankrolling an illegitimate government.

The idea of shunning a country is far from new. Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for a tourism boycott of her country in 1999, arguing that tourism is “a form of moral support for [the military regime]…they seem to look on the influx of tourists as proof that their actions are accepted by the world.”

This decade-long boycott was declared ”over” in late 2010 following a statement from the National League for Democracy, the Burmese political opposition party led by Suu Kyi. In 2011, Survival International called for a boycott of Botswana following the closure of a local waterhole essential to the Bushmen at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. This boycott was only lifted when the Bushman won the legal case and the borehole was reopened after nine years.

Sometimes the proposed tourism boycott is just for a particular area or a particular company. Environmentalists are calling for a tourist season boycott of a New Jersey shore town in the USA over the local council’s decision to use tropical hardwood to rebuild their boardwalk. pushes for a Canadian tourism boycott in a bid to end seal hunting. British tourists are being asked to boycott Thai elephant camps, something international animal activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal (PETA) has strongly supported. Dutch journalist Jos van Noord called for a boycott of Egypt and other Arab countries last year in order to stop violence against local Christians. However, Arab-West Report argues that this tourism boycott will only hurt Christians, saying the international travel community should instead be working to promote and reinvigorate tourism in the Middle East as so much of the local economy relies on this trade.

Last year’s arrest and conviction of the first gay hotel owners in Granada, Nicaragua, has “prompted some members of the gay community to boycott Nicaragua tourism,” according to The Nicaragua Dispatch. The authorities claim that the Belgian men were exploiting minors; however supporters insist that the foreigners were targeted because of their sexual orientation. The town has already seen a drop in local tourism, although it is unclear whether this is a result of the boycott or of fear.

Back in the Maldives, recently dismissed Chinese employees of the Beach House Iruveli resort have claimed discrimination against staff and tourists from China. Initial reports suggest that, following an eruption of such claims through Chinese social media networks several potential tourists from that nation are concerned and reluctant to make reservations – not just with the resort but in the Maldives in general.

But do tourism boycotts actually achieve anything?

Corporate Ethics International’s Michael Max argues that “boycotts don’t have to reduce the number of tourists to be successful… The reality is that the mere awareness of a boycott causes the target constituency and its supporters to attend more to criticism of their government’s or companies’ policies and inevitably they become more aware of the legitimacy of the criticism.”

Travel consultant David Beirman, however, told Australia’s The Sydney Morning Herald in 2007 that boycotts can be counterproductive as they hurt local people who rely on an income from tourism. This argument was widely used during the Burma boycott; Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler was particularly vocal in encouraging travel to the insulated nation over the past decade.

Should travelers adhere to calls for boycotts?

Travel, particularly ethical travel, is a highly personal journey. Traveling exposures us to new ideas and concepts. By opening ourselves to these experiences, we will undoubtedly be faced with difficult moral and ethical decisions. Ethical travelers have a duty to make themselves aware of these issues and to act both appropriately and responsibly.

The best advice is to ensure that you are well informed of the political, social, and economic contexts of your destination before you travel, and make your own decision about whether you want your hard-earned cash to support that particular institution or regime. Wherever possible, try to support local businesses.

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”

– Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India

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]


Nasheed’s travel request denied by Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court

The Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court has denied former President Mohamed Nasheed’s request to travel abroad for a family wedding.

According to a statement from the former President’s Office, Nasheed had requested to leave the Maldives from March 27 to March 31.

The request was denied by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, which stated that it was too close to President Nasheed’s next scheduled trial date on April 4.


Maldives tourism and the “Robinson Crusoe” experience

This story was originally published on Minivan News’ spin-off travel review site,

As a destination, the Maldives has long attempted to sell itself as a real ‘Robinson Crusoe’ destination, trying to evoke Daniel Defoe’s 18th century novel of exotic isolation and cultural relativism – albeit with air-conditioned luxury and underwater wine cellars.

Yet while the country’s exclusive island resort properties have garnered international attention over the last four decades for high-end luxury, an increasing number of hospitality groups are seeking to offer their own take on what a desert-island Maldives experience should be.

These attempts at trying to create a picture postcard-quality romantic idyll include offering luxurious camping for a couple on a private beach location, isolated champagne picnics on a sandbank or the opportunity to hire an entire island exclusively for a small group of friends or loved ones.

At the the W Retreat in North Ari Atoll for instance, guests are being offered the opportunity to stay overnight on the nearby private island of Gaathafushi.

According to the resort, the island is entirely deserted apart from a special hut housing a large bed swing – or in the case of overnight stays – one of W’s “signature” beds . However, depending on a customer’s imagination, the island can also come equipped with Seabob underwater propulsion devices or even a personal DJ.

W has said the island is traditionally set aside for couples or small groups of friends, although it can be booked for special private events such as wedding celebrations.

An overnight Gaathafushi experience, including breakfast and transfers costs US$3,500. Other packages can be found on the group’s website.

Meanwhile, the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort in Alifu Dhaalu Atoll is offering guests the chance to experience luxury abandonment on a desert island. Guests are provided with a hamper, a bottle of chilled champagne and a mobile phone as their only connection to the outside world.

The package, costing US$800, includes speedboat transportation to and from the resort. Guests are able to call for collection once they are ready to return to the resort.

Borderless dining

The Dusit Thani resort has attempted to combine an idyllic deserted beach experience with a focus on culinary experimentation, offering picnic experiences on nearby uninhabited islands or sandbanks.

“Our guests really enjoy this sense of isolation on their own deserted island,” said Dusit Thani Maldives General Manager Desmond Hatton.

“We also offer borderless dining on our own beaches. A concept which allows for our chefs to create a culinary experience tailored to our guests’ desires. Whether it is a champagne breakfast as the sun rises or a candle lit BBQ in the sand at sunset, there is no limit.”

Available all year round, prices for the borderless dining package start at US$165 per person and US$175 for the uninhabited island picnic.

However, it is not just resort operators seeking to play up the potential of island exclusion in the Maldives.

Island for hire

Straddling the line between more independent travel and the country’s exclusive island resort model is the island of Olhahali.

An expanse of beach and vegetation just 285 metres in length and 60 metres wide, Olahali’s management claim the island is one of the few destinations in the country that can be booked for a guest’s exclusive use.

Silke Weber, PR Manager for the island’s management company, Grand Meridian Pvt.Ltd, said that Olhahali catered for a wide variety of customers from private mega yacht and safari vessel owners, to resort guests and locals.

“As well special offers for Maldivians and expatriates working in Maldives. We also offer guided snorkel trips and guided dives as well fishing trips by boat,” added Weber.

“The extensive beach of fine white sand surrounding the island is stunning and the heart of the island is abound in lush green vegetation left as nature intended, providing cool and shaded spots.”

While offering a unique level of privacy to customers, Weber claimed that having operated Olhahali on a single-guest basis was not without its challenges when compared to a multi-villa island resort property. However, she maintained that Olhahali was a unique experience in the Maldives, even amidst attempts by local guest-houses to try and offer desert island getaways.

“The [big] challenge is the marketing and to handle the bookings as we rent out the island only to one client at the time and specially in the high season that can be a challenge,” she said.

Available for a maximum of 40 people for US$2000 a day, Olhahali offers a number of other packages for guests that are available on the island’s official website.

Independent travel

In December last year, the author of the latest Lonely Planet travel book to focus on the Maldives told Dhonisaurus that there huge potential to expand independent travel across the Maldives’ ‘inhabited islands’ through use of sandbanks and desert islands

However, the author added great compromise would be needed by authorities to ensure independent operators could be viable going forward.

Under the country’s laws, traditional holiday staples such as the sale and consumption of alcohol and pork products, and women publicly sunbathing in bikinis, are outlawed outside designated ‘uninhabited’ islands set aside exclusively for resort development.

Tom Masters, a journalist and travel writer who contributes to the Lonely Planet series of travel guides, said he ultimately believed local islands could still provide independent travellers with “sufficient attractions”, even within the strictly conservative laws practices outside of the country’s resort islands.

“However, I think only a tiny proportion of potential visitors would be happy to accept such a number of restrictions on their annual holiday, and so if some degree of compromise could be reached on issues such as alcohol or sunbathing, then the number of travellers opting for island tourism over that in an expensive resort would rise enormously,” he said at the time.

Despite the claims, the Maldives Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has said that even with the emergence of a number of boutique guest houses around and the planned expansion of domestic flights routes in the Maldives, the market for independent travel will remain “quite insignificant”.


Nasheed returns from visiting ill father

Former President Mohamed Nasheed returned to Male’ around 10:30pm Thursday night following a trip to Bangkok where he was visiting his ill father, reports Sun Online.

Nasheed left the Maldives December 25, 2012 following multiple immigration delays to his departure to Thailand.

This included the withholding of his passport due to the ongoing trial against him in relation to the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdullah Mohamed while he was president, as well as a “technical error” at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport on December 21, local media reports.


“No choice” but to wait, Maldivians facing overnight queue for India medical visas

Maldivian citizens queuing outside the Indian High Commission in Male’ to obtain visas to travel for medical treatment in India have allegedly been told they must now wait until December 26 before any further paperwork can be processed.

This morning (December 24) individuals waiting outside the Indian High Commission building told Minivan News that they have “no choice” but continue to wait, after it was allegedly announced that no visas will be processed on December 25.

Earlier this month, the High Commission of India forewarned Maldivians that it would now take one week to process visas required to travel to India.

At 2:00am this morning (December 24),  Minivan News witnessed at least 30 Maldivians queued in the rain, waiting for the Indian High Commission building to open.

Male’ inhabitant Ihusaan Jaufar claimed he had been waiting for three days to pick up a medical visa so that an ill family member could receive treatment in India.

“We have been doing shifts so that we do not lose our place in the queue. Before we would make trips to India maybe ten times per year and it was easy, now it has become very difficult.

“They allow 53 passports to be processed each day, but some people are carrying four passports including their own, so rather than 53 people who have queued getting their visas, instead maybe only 10 or 12 are receiving their visas,” Jaufar said.

Maldivian nationals do not require a visa to enter India and stay for 90 days, however they are prohibited from revisiting the country within two months. Patients who need to return to India for health reasons then have to apply for a medical visa.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised Maldivians to try to obtain the relevant visas prior to their travel, after the Indian High Commission announced that visa-free travel facilities to India are valid for tourism purposes only.

Travel for medical, business or official reasons will require a relevant visa for those purposes, the Indian High Commission has stated.

At 10:30am today (December 24) the 30-strong queue still remained, however some within the queue had alleged they has been told by Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay that they would now have to wait until December 26 for their visas.  The high commission has denied any such claims were made.

Ahmed Didi, a Maldivian waiting in the queue today spoke of his frustration and concern for his family currently living in India.

“I have been waiting to get home for over a week and i’ve been in this queue for the last three days. I’m going to have to ask my friends if we can do shifts in queue so that we do not lose our place. It’s [the queue] going to be huge after 48 hours.

“It is frustrating as I need to get home. My wife is currently looking after my 74-year-old father who is paralysed and my son. She is struggling to cope without me there to help,” Didi said.

According to Didi, the High Commission is issuing tokens to people who can then have their visas processed. Didi claimed that for the last three days only 40 tokens have been issued per day, however this has now been increased to 53.

“The problem is that some people in the queue are holding multiple passports for friends and family. Fortunately the [Indian High] Commission has limited the number of passports per person to just three,” he said.

Didi claimed that earlier in the morning, Mulay had announced to the queue that he was working to resolve the issue and that it came down to a lack of cooperation from the Maldives government.

A source from within the Indian High Commission denied these claims, adding that “no such comment had been made”.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ibrahim Muaz Ali also denied allegations of conflict between the government and the Indian High Commission, stating that the foreign ministry was doing its best to help those waiting for a visa.

“There is no lack of cooperation between the Indian High Commission and the Foreign Ministry, we are having regular meetings to discuss the [visa] issue.

“We have a separate desk within the Indian High Commission building that is helping to deal with Maldivian citizens looking to obtain visas,” Muaz said. “We are trying to prioritise based on medical needs. For example, yesterday we had a man come through who needed urgent treatment for cancer and we were able to speak with the Commission to have his medical visa processed quicker.”

Despite the claims, Former President Mohamed Nasheed has alleged in local media today that the current approvals required for medical travel to India were a direct response to the Maldives government’s decision to terminate a sovereign agreement to develop Irahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

India-based infrastructure group GMR had signed an agreement with Nasheed’s government back in 2010 to develop and manage INIA over a 25-year period. The government of Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik opted late last month to declare the agreement void and gave the developer seven days to leave the country.

Visitor numbers

Times of India (TOI) reported that a total of 54,956 Maldivians visited the country in 2008, 55,159 in 2009 and 58,152 in 2010.

S Premkumar, Chief Exective Officer of  (CEO) Apollo Hospitals – a major hospital chain based in Chennai –  was quoted in the TOI as claiming that  some 300 Maldivian nationals were treated in Chennai hospitals each year. “They usually come for neurosurgery, and orthopaedic, cardiology and robotic gyneacology procedures,” he told the publication.

On December 20, First Secretary of the High Comission S C Agarwal, told local media that the change in procedure was not new, adding that there had only been a change in the “interpretation” of the agreement signed between India and Maldives in 1979.

“The agreement that grants 90 days free visa for Indians and Maldivians came into effect in 1979. But we have been really flexible in the interpretation of the agreement.

“We have not been questioning the purpose of travel of Maldivians to India. But unfortunately the reverse is not true. The Maldivian authorities have enforced the agreement in the strictest of terms. Nearly 50 Indians are denied entry, detained and deported every year,” Agarwal was quoted as saying in newspaper Haveeru.

Agarwal told local media that India has now “agreed” with the interpretation of the 1979 agreement in accordance to that of the Maldives government.

“We have been flexible in implementing the agreement since 1979. Such flexibility has not been reciprocated by Maldives,” he added.