The government of the Maldives is concerned about its tourism numbers and has approved a near doubling of its promotional budget for next year.
I wonder whether they will want to publicise the recent case of the 15-year old rape victim who has been sentenced to 100 lashes for having sex outside marriage. Allegedly, as well as being repeatedly raped by her step-father, she also had consensual sex with another man.
But don’t worry, the Maldivian government is quite humane and would not hurt a young girl – she will be given the lashes when she reaches 18, unless she chooses to accept the punishment earlier.
The sentence was defended by the President of the Maldives who explained that it was not meant to hurt the girl but to show her the error of her ways.
So that’s all ok then.
Hard-line Islamic fundamentalism, political thuggery and deep-seated corruption do not mix well with the image of western-style sybaritic luxury that the Maldives tries so hard to promote.
The gap between the slick promotional image and grim reality is maybe wider in the Maldives than any other major tourist destination.
It is not just Premiership footballers who get into trouble using Twitter.
The Maldives tourism ministry thought it would be a great idea to publicise their country on Twitter by getting users to share stories of their stay using the hashtag #sunnysideoflife.
Unfortunately, the hashtag was quickly taken over by protesters who used it to draw attention to the brutal behaviour of the new regime that toppled the democratic government earlier this year. A regime that routinely kills and tortures its citizens and targets journalists who draw attention to its activities needs to have its behaviour made known around the world. It was good to see that the story was taken up by the mainstream British press. People need to know that there is a deeply unpleasant side to this so-called “tropical paradise”.
Many of the large hotel-islands are owned by people close to the new regime. Any reduction in tourism will therefore hit the regime directly in the pocket.
No one would consider going on holiday to Syria now. The killing and brutality in The Maldives is on a lower scale but that hardly makes it right. Since the country is so dependent on tourism, a serious reduction in visitor numbers would surely force the regime to make some improvements.
Standards of political behaviour around the world are not always as high as we would wish but if you want to enjoy a tropical holiday there are many destinations to visit without feeding a corrupt and murderous regime.
The news of a likely coup in the Maldives does not come as a surprise. Unfortunately, it will be a surprise to the many thousands of people with bookings to what is marketed as a “tropical paradise”. At the moment, it looks as if life on the islands will continue more or less as before and the international airport and connections from it are safe – but what does the future hold?
The FCO is great at giving advice when things happen but – quite understandably – it does not comment on what might happen. Tour operators and the travel press have little knowledge and no interest in discussing politics so, if a destination is deemed “safe” then they promote it as aggressively as they want – even if anyone with half a brain can see the trouble is brewing.
The Maldives is a classic case. A corrupt, authoritarian leader is replaced by a supposed liberal who is enthusiastically taken up by the western media because of his strong “green” agenda. Unfortunately, his rule does little to help the extreme poverty (not to mention terrifying heroin epidemic amongst the young) of the majority of the population. He also seems to have some rather peculiar ideas of his own (banning hotel spas without notice and threatening to make all hotels alcohol-free) and finally resorts to the old ways of his predecessor by trying to sack a judge he did not agree with. The Guardian has been strangely silent on all this. Now, he had gone and chaos will rule, at least for a while.
The Red Sea resorts of Egypt are another fine example. There was never any real danger during the actual revolution last year. Hotel workers were hardly going to rebel against their guests. The political situation since then has worsened, rather than improved (again, entirely predictable) but the Red Sea resorts have a more serious problem. They were built on land taken from the Bedouin who want it back. In the recent past, their protests have been quiet easily quashed but, with a very weak army and no political leadership, they have been taking the opportunity to strike. One deserted hotel outside the main tourist area has been taken over by Bedouin forces. Last week, they kidnapped a small tourist group on an excursion outside the security fences of Sharm el Sheikh. They held them for some hours and, apparently, treated them with great kindness and charm, though that is hardly the point. There have been raids in Sharm el Sheikh as well, including two armed raids on banks, in one of which a French tourist was caught in gun-fire and killed.
We have been saying for months that the Maldives was anything but the paradise they aremade out to be and tourists need to give careful thought before booking. Our feelings about Egypt have not changed either. For the last year we have said that most of Egypt is at risk of violence but the Red Sea resorts have a specific problem and, though more or less safe at the moment, security is an increasing issue.
None of this is very clever but it seems no one is prepared to give tourists the information they need to make an informed choice.