Tourism Golden Jubilee: The history of MDP’s attacks on Maldivian tourism
The Maldivian economy, fragile as it is, is balanced on the successes and failures of a single industry. The Maldivian economy is primarily based on the tourism industry. A significant portion of the state’s revenue is dependent on the tourist industry. Other industries such as transport and telecommunications are also dependent on the tourism industry.
Today marks the 50th anniversary, the golden jubilee of Maldivian Tourism. While the government makes haste to celebrate the occasion, many of the esteemed in the industry continue to glorify and sing praise for the administration, claiming to never having seen such a regime that prioritized the ascension of the tourism industry in the Maldives.
However, it begs the question, is it really this glorified version of the story that history tells us? Were MDP and its leaders honest, enthusiastic patrons of Maldivian tourism?
Boycotted the tourism industry while it was vulnerable
The Maldivian economy suffered greatly following the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. The calamity, along with its distress and incited fearfulness, affected the tourism industry immeasurably. While 87 resorts existed when the disaster struck, 19 of them were damaged beyond repair, which ultimately resulted in its closure, and 14 others were damaged, with the cost of restoration at an all-time high.
Additionally, the unforeseen natural disaster repelled tourists to a point that the number of tourist arrivals declined drastically. According to the statistics of 2005, the number of tourist arrivals decreased by 35.9 percent, likely due to the widespread fear following the catastrophe and the destruction endured by resorts.
Simultaneously, this was around the same time MDP was founded and their activities started gaining traction overseas. The party called on potential visitors not to visit the Maldives, accusing then-President, Maumoon Abdul Qayyoom to have misused and misspent financial aid received from international organizations to recover from the disaster. MDP continued to sell this narrative abroad.
Towards the end of President Maumoon’s administration, the country saw great political turmoil, giving light to a variety of opinions on how the country should be run, and amidst the mayhem, should the government’s decisions go against MDP’s beliefs, MDP retaliated by boycotting tourism. MDP called on tourists to redirect their trips away from the Maldives saying that the state’s ability to earn must cease, depicting that the country was absent of democracy and basic human rights under Maumoon.
Voices to boycott tourism were on the rise within the last decade
The Speaker of Parliament and the first President of the MDP led regime, President Mohamed Nasheed’s reign ended with his resignation on February 7, 2012, which led to the rise of movements to boycott the tourism industry. Article published by Telegraph news in April 2013 stated the fact that the end of President Nasheed’s administration raised the calls to boycott Maldivian tourism industry.
MDP led the campaign to halt tourist arrivals during the 2 years President Dr. Waheed was in office, where MDP leaders traveled across the globe preaching their narratives on international media, drafting petitions and circulated these petitions on various social platforms.
The individuals who hijacked the official tourism slogan of the Maldives #sunnysideoflife are now in key positions of the current MDP administration.
Then came President Yameen Abdul Qayyoom’s administration, where President Nasheed was sentenced to jail for unlawful detainment of Criminal Court judge Abdulla Mohamed, MDP retaliated by targeting their political attacks towards the tourism industry. The party persisted with the narrative until their leader was eventually freed.
Back then, when the famous Bollywood actor, Amitabh Bachchan’s trip to Maldives was arranged, now Minister of Youth, Ahmed Mahloof, one of the most photographed ministers with Bollywood celebrities, had urged the actor to boycott Maldives. This was when he was minimally associated with MDP, not yet a member of the party.
MDP against law to prohibit boycotting tourism
Doting that tourism was the pinnacle of the Maldivian economy, PPM members of parliament proposed a bill to write into law to make tourism boycotting illegal. However, MDP refused to support the bill. With the current president, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih at the helm of MDP’s parliamentary group, they decided to oppose the bill.
Although the PPM majority passed the bill, then-president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Qayyoom sent it back without ratification. President Yameen said that criminalizing the act of boycotting tourism contradicts the constitution and marginalizing the freedom of expression and speech like that would be unacceptable.
However, the bill was proposed to the parliament due to MDPs continued aggression towards the tourism industry, to get ahead of the economic impact caused by the efforts.
The opposition leader spent two years in jail. President Solih has been in office for almost four years. The administration makes mistakes, and the opposition points them out in scrutiny. However, what the opposition absolutely does not do is call for a tourism boycott. The opposition has not vengefully attempted to sever the state’s income through tourism.
While the country continues to celebrate half a century of tourism, the strategic attempts to paralyze and undermine an industry at the heart of the economy cannot just be erased from history and forgotten.
The question remains whether the nourishment and love of the tourism industry is to be upheld when in power? And when all power is stripped, should tourism be a casualty, mangled and mutilated, of the attempts to regain that power back?