Maldives awarded Indian Ocean’s leading beach destination

The Maldives has been recognised as the ‘Indian Ocean’s Leading Beach Destination’ at the World Travel Awards Africa & Indian Ocean Gala Ceremony 2015.

Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) managing director Abdulla Ziyath accepted the award on behalf of the Maldives.

Some 150 industry leaders from 20 countries attended the awards ceremony at the Kempsinki Seychelles Resort Baie Lazare on Saturday night.

Seychelles took the title of ‘Indian Ocean’s Leading Destination.’

Maldivian resorts and hotels meanwhile won in several other Indian Ocean categories, including leading culinary hotel (Conrad Maldives Rangali Island), leading green resort (Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa), leading hotel suites (Royal Island Suite at JA Manafaru, Maldives), leading leisure hotel (Hulhulé Island Hotel), leading luxury resort (Cheval Blanc Randheli), leading luxury water villas (Ocean Suites at Paradise Island Resort & Spa, Maldives), leading villa resort and spa (Ayada Maldives), and most romantic resort (Baros Maldives).

The Ibrahim Nasir International Airport won the Indian Ocean’s Leading Airport award while Trans Maldivian Airways won the leading seaplane operator award.

Get Into Maldives Travels was recognised as the Indian Ocean’s Leading Travel Agency.

The MMPRC said in a statement on Sunday that the World Travel Awards brand is “globally recognised as the ultimate hallmark of quality”.

The awards covers the globe each year with a series of regional gala ceremonies staged to “recognise and celebrate individual and collective successes within each key geographical region.”

The Maldives hosted the first Indian Ocean World Travel Awards in 2013.


Tourism Ministry revokes permit of tour operator Atoll Paradise over fraud allegations

The Maldives Tourism Ministry has suspended the permit allowing local tour operator Atoll Paradise to take holiday bookings, following allegations the company – now under police investigation – has defrauded customers and international travel agents.

Tourism Ministry Senior Legal Officer Faseeh Zahir told Minivan News that the government had temporarily revoked Atoll Paradise’s licence to operate as a travel agent, and fined the company MVR 1 million (US$65,000).

“We have received several complaints from customers and foreign travel agents in recent months that bookings have been cancelled [by the company], but no refund has been given,” he said. “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.”

Faseeh said that although the company’s permit to operate as a travel agent had been temporarily revoked, Atoll Paradise would still be required to honour all existing bookings.

“However, from today, Atoll Paradise is not allowed to take any new bookings from clients,” he said.

According to Faseeh, the Tourism Ministry has received several complaints of alleged fraud by Atoll Paradise over the last two months as authorities have sought to hold talks with the company.

He said the ministry had noted some “misconduct” by the company and decided based on complaints received to both fine and revoke Atoll Paradise’s permit until all alleged outstanding payments and grievances had been settled.

With the ministry not itself being an investigative authority, Faseeh added that police had also been informed of the Atoll Paradise case.

Police Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed that an investigation was now expected to begin into the company’s operations following the allegations of fraud.

According to Faseeh, any decision to return Atoll Paradise’s permit would depend on the outcome of the police investigation, as well as whether the company could resolve the complaints against it from clients and travel agents.

Award success

Atoll Paradise is one of the Maldives’ largest locally-owned tour operators, with the company in May winning several accolades including the Maldives’ and Seychelles Leading Tour Operator at the World Travel Awards (WTA) Indian Ocean ceremony.

The company was also awarded the title of the World’s Leading Luxury Boutique Tour Operator at the 2012 WTA ceremony.

Atoll Paradise’s office in Male’ was not responding to calls at time of press. The company had also failed to respond to email enquiries at time of press.

Ministry focus

The Tourism Ministry said today that Atoll Paradise was not the first local tour operator to have its permit revoked by the government over allegations of misconduct.

Ministry Legal Officer Faseeh said that ministry had last year revoked the license of one local operator accused of acting outside the law.

He urged guests intending to book a Maldives holiday through a local operator to be aware of their rights and ensure they had been provided with a booking agreement specifying terms of cancellation. Resort bookings in the luxury honeymoon destination can reach many thousands of dollars.

Faseeh said local tour operators were required to communicate and agree terms for cancelled bookings, as well as communicating them to the client upon confirming a booking.

He added that guests wishing to seek clarification on a booking or travel agency could directly contact the ministry or industry body, such as the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO), via e-mail.

Any complaints against a tour operator could meanwhile be registered through the Tourism Ministry’s website here.


Maldives targets hosting flagship WTA event in 2014 as part of event tourism ambitions

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has expressed interest in the Maldives hosting the World Travel Awards (WTA) main international event next year – a move said to reflect the destination’s aim of expanding into event-based tourism, reports Minivan News’ spin-off travel site, Dhonisaurus.

After hosting the Indian Ocean regional WTA ceremony at the Paradise Island Resort and Spa earlier this month, Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has since confirmed that discussions had commenced on the Maldives potentially hosting the WTA’s flagship event in 2014.

The Maldives dominated this year’s WTA Indian Ocean ceremony held on may 12, with local operators and resort groups among the main winners on the night.=

Responding to the country’s award success, one senior tourism industry figure present at the ceremony this month raised concerns over the credibility of the wider WTA voting process – pointing to the high number of collaborators and sponsors for the Indian Ocean event that received accolades.

However, local authorities have maintained that this month’s ceremony will provide a major boost to the reputation of the Maldives resorts for meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions (MICE) tourism in the long-term.

Deputy Minister Maleeh stressed authorities were already working to play up the destination’s potential to businesses travellers.

“We are quite clear on our aim of trying to attract MICE tourism here.  In this regard we have already been in touch with management companies.  The WTA has said it was happy with how the [Indian Ocean ceremony] went and we have already started discussing hosting the international event, hopefully this can be arranged,” he said.

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Maldives dominates Indian Ocean travel awards, host and sponsors among winners

The Maldives dominated this year’s Indian Ocean World Travel Awards (WTA) event, scooping a number of prizes during the ceremony hosted yesterday (May 12) at the country’s Paradise Island Resort and Spa – itself a winner on the night.

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture said the event, estimated to have cost around US$30,000 in shared expenditures for corporate sponsors and local authorities, will play a significant part in promoting the Maldives internationally this year.

Authorities have previously stated the ceremony would also provide a major boost to the reputation of the destination’s resorts for hosting events and conferences.

However, one senior local travel industry figure in attendance at yesterday’s ceremony told Minivan News that despite providing “great publicity”, concerns remained over the credibility of the WTA voting process – pointing to the high number of collaborators and sponsors receiving accolades.

The source, who asked not to be identified, said that without discrediting the night’s “worthy winners”, the announcement of certain accolades were met with “audible groans” by those in attendance during the ceremony.


According to the WTA website, the Maldives was awarded the accolades of the Indian Ocean’s leading beach, cruise and overall regional destination, beating competition from Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion Island and Seychelles.

However, the country lost out to Mauritius in the categories of the Indian Ocean’s leading dive and honeymoon destinations for the year.

Maldives-based properties including the Conrad Rangali Island resort, W Retreat and Spa, Gili Lankanfushi, Baros Maldives, Sun Island Resort and Spa and Ayada Maldives all claimed accolades across a number of categories.  These categories included the ‘Indian Ocean’s Leading Green Resort 2013’ and the ‘Indian Ocean’s Most Romantic Resort 2013′.

The evening’s winners also included Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) in Male’, which was recognised as the ‘Indian Ocean’s Leading Airport 2013’. The Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) was also honoured as ‘Indian Ocean’s Leading Tourist Board 2013’, while Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb was recognised as the ‘Indian Ocean’s Travel and Tourism Personality’, according to the WTA.

Other winners included the ceremony’s host venue, the Paradise Island Resort and Spa, which took several awards during the evening. Local operators including Atoll Paradise and Lets Go Maldives were also awarded. A new award in the category of ‘Outstanding services to the Tourist Industry, Indian Ocean’ was presented to Sri Lankan Airlines.

The WTA said in promotional material that Sri Lankan Airlines, Lets Go Maldives, the MMPRC and Jumhoree Party (JP) MP and presidential candidate MP Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group – operator of Paradise Island Resort and Spa – had all collaborated in bringing the awards to the Maldives.

Positive headlines

A senior tourism industry source present during the event said that the WTA ceremony would no doubt generate much needed positive headlines for the Maldives as a destination.

However, the source raised concerns about the credibility of some of the winners during yesterday’s ceremony.

“The nominees who put the most [money] into it often seem to get awards. Yet guests hang their hat on the outcome of such things,” said the senior industry figure.

The same source alleged that while there were winners on the night who deserved their accolades, the decision to grant awards to numerous key collaborators and sponsors of the event raised questions over the ultimate credibility of the event.

“I believe whichever destination is chosen has to pay to host the awards. This is part and parcel of such an event. It needs sponsors like airlines to cover transportation of staff and organisers and a place for them to stay. I guess this is how it works in terms of the economics, but this also creates a problem of credibility when the same groups win,” the industry insider alleged.

“Some of the the winners last night were certainly warranted, others not so much. I think most will take the awards with a pinch of salt.”

The source claimed that one award winner, alleged to be facing severe financial difficulties and failing to make substantial payments to creditors, nonetheless managed to scoop the top award in its category.

WTA response

A spokesperson for the WTA, which is this year celebrating its 20th anniversary, rejected any allegations of wrongdoing in its voting system.

“We are a totally transparent organisation and, in the last 20 years of World Travel Awards, have been regarded with the highest integrity in the tourism and hospitality world, hence our longevity,” the spokesperson stated.

The organisation added that details of how its voting system worked were available on its website.  Minivan News was awaiting further response from organisation’s global business directors at the time of press.

Event hosting

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal told Minivan News that hosting the WTA regional event would send a signal around the world concerning the country’s ability to host events and conventions.

“Last night was very important for expanding event-based tourism in the country and we are proud to host the awards,” he said. “This is not about dollars and cents, the event is about goodwill. Through his network, WTA President Graham Cooke last night ensured efforts would continue to promote the Maldives.”

Maleeh said that the total expenditure behind hosting such an event, which was shared with several corporate partners, was “quite minimal”, focusing on areas such as the transportation of guests and printing promotional materials. By comparison he said the rewards for the industry such as international media coverage and global publicity would be significant.

Tourism authorities over the last year have looked to bounce back from the perceived negative impacts of political uncertainty in the Maldives back in 2012 – narrowly missing out on obtaining one million visitors to the country during the course of last year.

With a recent high-profile campaign by petition site potentially calling for a boycott of the country’s lucrative travel industry, Maleeh said events like the WTA award were an important means to leverage publicity.

He said that the event was especially important at a time when the country was officially celebrating 40 years since the inception of its tourism industry, helping authorities to overcome a limited promotional budget provided by parliament in the state budget.

Maleeh added that the success of hosting the WTA ceremony now paved the way for the country to host other high-profile events with a capacity of between 200 – 300 people in the future, as part of a planned expansion into meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions (MICE) tourism.

With a number of the country’s exclusive island resorts offering convention facilities on site, Maleeh added that MICE would allow the Maldives to attract an entirely different segment of travellers – many likely to be first time visitors – to help generate word of mouth about the country.

“What we need to work on is more resorts to cater for this market, this will include trying to ensure that such events can be hosted beyond the Male’ area,” he said.

Maleeh claimed ahead of the WTA ceremony last month that the emergence of new regional airports around the country would open up a wider number of properties and businesses to potentially benefit from demand for MICE tourism.

He added that senior representatives from the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) were also scheduled to travel to the Maldives in September for a special high-profile panel discussion.


Comment: Travel awards for the less privileged

The World Travel Awards event held at Paradise Island on Sunday night was a resounding success for tourism in Maldives.

Out of a possible 57 awards in the Indian Ocean category, the Maldives won 35 including the ‘Leading Destination’ title. All the wins listed on the site seem to solidify Maldives’ position as the leading travel destination in the region.

In fact, this success certainly disproves the theory that the tourism industry has taken a hit from the February 2012 transfer of power.

So how does the pageant touted by some as the Oscars of the travel and tourism industry stack up against the likes of British Guild of Travel Writers’ (BGTW) Tourism Awards or the Michelin Green Guide?

The obvious difference between World Travel Awards and most of its competition is the former’s expansive list of categories and titles. The BGTW Tourism Awards has fewer categories in which thousands of potential businesses across the globe compete.

In contrast, businesses have a much better chance of taking a win from competing in the World Travel Awards. However, that maybe the only thing the World Travel Awards has going for it, because behind the veil of all the glitz and gala is a highly questionable business.

The first item of interest is the contact address given on the website. The address ‘SE1 8SJ, London’ comes up as a stall in the visitor centre in London’s Waterloo Station.

For an awards show with 20 years of history, a stall in a visitor centre seems a little too modest. What is more surprising is that the address is home to another 33 companies under the same ownership as the World Travel Awards Limited, the company running the awards.

The World Travel Awards Limited is currently owned by a single shareholder, a Mr Graham Edward Cooke, who has listed Bayham Hall, Bayham Abbey in Kent as his address in the company’s articles of association. The company was originally registered with four shareholders holding a total of 200 shares worth a total value of GBP£200.

In the latest annual return filed by the company, the capital situation remained the same whilst Mr Graham Edward Cooke had become the sole owner. The company secretary is a Miss Manyoung Han.

Like the registered address of the company, Mr. Cooke and Miss Han also have highly quizzical places of residence. The website lists 101 other individuals and 24 other companies sharing the same address as Mr Cooke, and 46 individuals and 8 companies sharing Miss Han’s address. This clearly indicates that both addresses are for mail forwarding services.

As for the company’s address, 33 other companies sharing it suggests that it too may be another mail forwarding service. As for the 33 other companies owned by Mr Cooke, they have all posted little or no profits and have had dozens of dissolution notices served across the lot of them.

Why then did the Maldives Tourism Promotion Board enlist the services of this company given its questionable reputation?

Perhaps the lack of reputation is in itself an advantage. Since the company never declared a capital greater than GBP£200 throughout its existence it would not be difficult to incentivise the declaration of more wins for the Maldives. This leaves two questions to be answered.

Firstly, did the government of Maldives truly know that the company they were dealing with was really a shell corporation? If it did not, then did they really pay exorbitant sums to advertise on the awards website?

The second question is, if the government did know the nature of the company, why then were they given such broad coverage?

Could that not be interpreted as the country’s admission of the weakness of its tourism industry? Should it not be engaging a stronger partner like Michelin instead?

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]


Paradise Island Resort and Spa to host World Travel Awards Indian Ocean ceremony

Paradise Island Resort and Spa in the Maldives’ North Male’ Atoll is next month set to host a World Travel Awards ceremony focusing specifically on the Indian Ocean region.

Paradise Island, which last year hosted an inaugural ceremony honoring key figures and businesses across the local resort industry, is now set to host the Indian Ocean World Travel Awards gala on May 12, 2013.

According to organisers, the ceremony will see awards in 58 categories presented to industry figures and operators from across the region.

World Travel Awards Director Sion Rapson said that strong interest from the Indian Ocean in its various international accolades had led organisers to establish a dedicated prize giving event for the region.

“Partnering with Maldives Tourism Promotion Board, Let’s Go Maldives and Azidon indicates the enthusiasm of all three and their commitment to maintaining their respective positions as industry leaders in this vital region,” Rapson added.

Paradise Island Resort and Spa is operated by the Villa Hotels and Resorts group operated by local business tycoon, MP and presidential candidate for the government aligned Jumhooree Party (JP) Gasim Ibrahim.