Maldives spa ban causes confusion

A blanket ban on spas by the Maldives government is causing confusion for the island nation’s resorts, some of which are still offering spa services while others await a possible loophole for hotels to be implemented by the government.

The ban’s implementation is essentially a political standoff between the Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed and the opposition Adhaalath Party. In response to a protest organized by Adhaalath in December advocating stricter implementation of Islamic law in the relatively liberal Muslim country, the Nasheed administration went beyond what Adhaalath asked for and barred all spa activities while alleging that the opposition’s stance was hypocritical given that resort owners are among its prominent members.

Some hotel companies are ignoring the ban, including Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts and Villa Hotels, owned by opposition party member Qasim Ibrahim.

“This is a political rather than religious dispute and that the concerns were over prostitution and liquor in the capital of Male and use by locals. Male is not a tourism specific island,” said Bill Barnett, managing director, C9 Hotelworks Co., Phuket, Thailand. “The issue has mushroomed into the ring between the president and opposition party and tourism has been hit in the crosshairs. Politics is raising its ugly head and impacting hotels, and religion is simply the conduit.”

The government has indicated that it may rescind the ban for resorts, but until then the legal status of their spas remains in limbo.

“Several have raised concerns over our decision,” tourism minister Mariyam Zulfa told the press. “We are considering allowing resorts to operate spas.”

In the meantime Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Toronto, has indicated that it will operate the spas at its two Maldives properties as usual.

“The spas at both Four Seasons Resort Kuda Huraa and Four Seasons Resort Landaa Giraavaru continue to operate as usual. Our colleagues at the hotels expect that a meaningful dialogue between industry stakeholders and the government will soon result in a quick and satisfactory outcome of this issue,” said Sorya Gaulin, director of corporate public relations at Four Seasons.

What the impact of the ban will have on the Maldives hotel industry is unclear, but some in the industry assert that it will harm the Maldives tourism draw.

“A ban on selling alcohol and pork is one thing but to stop spa and wellness activity in some of the world’s top resorts in another story all together,” said Joseph Fischer, executive board member, IDB Tourism, Tel Aviv, Israel. “Many locals will lose their jobs and the Maldives will lose tourists to more liberal tourist-orientated resorts in Seychelles, Republic of Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Zanzibar.”