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Tue 3 Jan 2012 12:57 PM

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Maldives luxury resorts face spa ban after Muslim protest

Ruling bows to pressure, may endanger multibillion-dollar tourism industry

Maldives luxury resorts face spa ban after Muslim protest
The Maldives tourism industry contributes $1.5bn a year to the economy

Luxury spas in the Maldives archipelago along with massage parlours in places like the capital Male must close, the government ordered on Saturday, bowing to pressure from opposition parties in a move that may imperil the mainstay tourism sector.

Pristine white sand beaches and turquoise waters attract honeymooners and celebrities from around the world to the Indian Ocean nation, pumping in $1.5bn to the economy, or 30 percent of GDP, annually by travellers willing to spend as much as $1,000 a night at hideaway resorts.

The country's president issued the decree, saying the idea came from opposition parties who claimed widespread sales of pork and alcohol in the mainly Sunni Muslim nation of more than 1,200 atolls housing a population of 400,000 were offensive.

"The government has decided to close massage parlours and spas in the Maldives, following an opposition-led religious protest last week calling for their closure," President Mohamed Nasheed's office said in a statement.

"Ironically, the same opposition leaders who railed against spas and the selling of alcohol and pork to tourists are some of the country's biggest resort owners."

However, former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's opposition coalition Progressive Party of Maldives PPM.L said the government move was aimed at leisure business owned by some opposition members.

"We never asked for the ban," said PPM spokesman Ahamed Mahloof.

"We wanted the liquor and massage clinics banned in inhabited islands to prevent prostitution and spread of drugs and alcohol to locals. Nasheed is misusing the demands to take revenge by imposing the ban on resorts owned by the opposition members."

The Four Seasons Resort at Kuda Huras in the Maldives charges $600 for a two-and-a-half hour spa treatment, according to the resort's website. Other resorts also charge similar amounts.

The country's tourism minister said the move has already prompted calls from resorts affected.

"Several have raised concerns over our decision. We are considering allowing resorts to operate spas. They are also aware of the reasons that led us to take the decision," Tourism Minister Mariyam Zulfa was quoted as saying on the local Haveeru News Service.

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Lionheart 8 years ago

It's their country and they can pass which laws that suit them. Not sure if they've thought that hard about it though , doesn't take an awful lot of brain power to work out where their income comes from .

Expat08 8 years ago

No need to wait for global warming then... talk about shooting yourself in the foot as a tourist location.

rouzbeh 8 years ago

Bravo, A nation has the right to decide for its self.

Expat777 8 years ago

"rouzbeh" and "Lionheart"... does your comment applies to france banning the veil?

Maldives toursit 8 years ago

There is a huge difference between a massage parlor in Male with a spa at the Four Seasons. Part of the tourist's island experience is the spa facilities on each resort which the tourist pays greatly for during their stay. Besides water sports centers and boating excursions, a trip to the spa is part of every tourist agenda for relaxation in an island setting, the Maldives can not pass such a law that will greatly affect their main industry - tourism. It is obvious that the resident islands and resorts are governed differently and are under different legal restrictions where the Maldives has so gratiously welcomed many tourists to their beautiful shores. There appears to be a political agenda here.

Feed-your-people-not-your-pride 8 years ago

You mean a group of politicians with religious views gets to decide for themselves?
The problem is that the Maldives only has tourism, and without this funding they wont be able to build schools, feed familys, preserve their dying natural wildlife!
I give this law 5/6 months at most, after that when the politicians realize that there is no money coming in for their new Limo and private jet, they will decide that they are a country of liberal views...

Lynne 8 years ago

Unfortunately spa closures are not in the best interests of the Maldivian economy. A spa is very different than a massage parlour and it is truly difficult to understand how they could be viewed as immoral especially since these resort spas are not even available to the local population. Many of my devout Muslim friends also enjoy spa treatments so I think that someone has really overstepped the mark here in interpreting what constitutes immoral (how is a female therapist giving me a facial treatment indulging in anything incorrect?). Hopefully, this will be resolved soon before the tourist industry takes too severe a hit.

Telcoguy 8 years ago

I guess so, yes. And I am sure rouzbeh was as happy about the French decision as he is about this one because both reflect countries deciding by themselves. Anything else would be inconsistent.

Regarding Lionheart's comment I would like to point to you that tourism represents 9% of the french economy vs almost 30% for the Maldives. I think the French have much less to worry on that front and I agree with Lionheart that this measure will probably have a significant economic cost.

Wadi 8 years ago

Whatever happened to live and let live? Another petty ruiling, and another nail in the coffin for a relatively successful country.

gordon 8 years ago

If I was a Maldivian I would be a little worried.
A politician should be representing me and my countries interests.
O.K I know this is utopia and rarely exists.
If a country does not have sufficient financial resources they are unable to look after the weaker parts of society, lower health care and schooling.
Normally when I make a decision, I gather all the facts, allows everyone to justify what is happening, then make an informed decision.
If something is going wrong I then announce a period to resolve the issue
.A country should be no different.
As such if I was a citizen, I would want those decision makers thrown out for irresponsibility and for damaging the country, and the financial stability of the country.
They should worry more about the Maldives going under water and the future for me and following generations.

My biggest concern now would not be what they did, buy why they did it and what does the future hold if these decision makes remain in power.