Could Unrest Threaten Maldives Tourism?
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The president of the Maldives has declared a state of emergency. The Indian Ocean island nation has been in political turmoil for several years now. However, the unrest has yet to affect the country’s tourism industry. The Maldives, which is made up of more than 1,000 islands, is known for its collection of luxury resorts, many of which are spread out over their own private land masses.
Much of the unrest and protest has taken place in the capital city of Malé. Though tourists do pass through the airport here, most do not stay, instead taking a short drive, flight or ferry ride to their resort. The decentralized nature of the tourism industry has, thus far, made it possible for the resort scene to continue as normal despite protests, arrests of oppposition leaders and assassination attempts on the country’s president.
Martial law, but business as usual for tourists
The atmosphere may be changing, however. Ahead of a major planned protest by the country’s current opposition party, the Maldivian president, Abdulla Yameen, who just survived a bombing allegedly planned by his vice president, has declared a state of emergency and instituted what amounts to martial law throughout the country.
The unrest and the assassination bid have now started to get international headlines. The country’s current leadership has made a show of placing security forces around major resort areas. In the same speech during which he announced the state of emergency, Yameen said that visitors are still welcome and will be kept safe while in the country.
Without tourism, the Maldives is in economic trouble
It is hard to tell if the military presense around resorts is merely a PR move to put tourists at ease, or if there are actually threats on these vacation havens. Tourism is a very important part of the Maldivian economy, so any disruptions could send the nation into further chaos.
The country’s only democratically elected leader, Mohamed Nasheed, who has been jailed on what many consider manufactured abuse-of-power charges, has called for sanctions against the current government. If travelers stopped visiting, the economy would falter and the current government would lose its grip on power.
Nasheed, known worldwide for his efforts to combat climate change, has received sympathy from the UN and many world leaders. He has even appealed to the UN to institute some sort of sanctions designed to slow the flow of tourists.
The other fear is that the current instability will make the Maldives a haven for terrorist recruitment and activity. Most of the country’s population of 350,000 are Sunni Muslims. A number of young Maldivian men have gone to Syria and Iraq to join Sunni militant groups. Some of these jihadists come from poor fishing villages that have seen little benefit from the country’s tourism boom. Others, active inside the country, come from already-established street gangs whose members have adopted a radical ideology.
The unrest in the Maldives seems to be reaching a boiling point. While the unrest of the capital has largely stayed out of the isolated pockets of paradise in the tourists areas, the bad press may just be enough to scare off visitors, bringing the Maldives' problems right to the doors of its resorts.
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