Friday, July 19, 2024

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Indian Ocean: Travel Industry Calms Concerns over Safety in Maldives

Holiday makers visiting the island resorts of the Maldives are advised to be cautious, but flights and resorts are operational despite the political turmoil in the capital city.

(Islands in the Maldives/VPI Photo)

For such a small and isolated country, the islands of the Maldives have been making a lot of waves in the international media lately, and dramatic recent developments have left many vacationers questioning whether they should cancel their travel plans. However, despite the need for caution, all resorts, tour operations and airports remain open, and travellers are still able to move freely throughout the country’s islands.

On February 7th, President Mohamed Nasheed alleged that he was forced to resign under threat of violence by a group backed by former president Maumoon Gayoom, who had ruled the Maldives for 30 years prior to the establishment of free and democratic elections.

The standing vice-president, Mohamed Waheed Hassan, has been sworn in as president; a move regarded by some as an undemocratic putsch, after news broke of a secret meeting between Waheed and the opposition. Clashes between supporters of Nasheed and the opposition-controlled security forces have been seen on numerous occasions in Malé, and police stations have been attacked on some outlying islands.

The Maldives Association of Travel Agents & Tour Operators (MATATO) said in a press release that tourists would be unaffected by the ongoing protests following Nasheed’s forced resignation. “The geographical isolation of resorts and inhabited islands leaves tourists away from daily activities of local population centers. We would like to assure that the holidays of tourists in Maldives will not be affected in the current scenario,” said the organization in a group statement.

Various countries have issued travel alerts advising extra caution when visiting the Maldives. The British and Chinese governments have taken the strongest tone, discouraging “all but essential” travel to the country, although noting that the airports and resorts remain open. The United States did not go quite so far, and has said that travellers should avoid protests and not engage in political activity while in the country. Australia and Germany have also issued warnings against travel to Malé in particular.

(Maldives Vice-President Waheed/Minivan News)

At present, the situation is relatively stable – members of the international community, including from the Indian Foreign Ministry and the Commonwealth, together with the U.N. Assistant Secretary General of Political Affairs, have flown in to Malé to try mediating the political tensions.  A heavy security presence has also been reported throughout the city at events that may lead to violence.

President Nasheed remains defiant, despite a warrant having been issued for his arrest, and spoke against the undemocratic coup and the appointment of Waheed. “Fresh elections are our bottom line and we are not relying on the international community for that, we are relying on the people of the Maldives,” Nasheed told reporters. “The medicine here is on the streets, in strength.”

Regardless of what may happen, however, it is important to make the point that both supporters of Nasheed and the Gayoom- led opposition have an enormous financial stake in Maldives resort tourism: including personal investments as well as the country’s overall prosperity. Tourists can take heart that in spite of the ongoing fight for control of the country, it is highly unlikely that either side would jeopardize the safety of visitors, and thus kill the Maldives’ golden goose.

Read more about this story: BBC

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