As the sun set over the Maldives and the bloodshed on the streets of the capital intensified, officials from the UN World Tourism Organization must have pondered the wisdom of focusing the global celebrations for World Tourism Day in the archipelago. On the day they had expected to bask in a glow of self-satisfaction about the vital role of tourism, the nation’s security forces were clashing with protesters in Malé demanding the restoration of presidential elections.
In Britain, holiday companies gave no hint of concern. “Expect to lose all sense of time, what day it is and what’s going on elsewhere.” So begins the sell by Kuoni of the Maldives. “This is the home of ‘no news, no shoes’ after all.”
Yesterday, though, the Foreign Office was keen to bring prospective visitors some news. “Demonstrations have already started in the capital, Malé and on some non-resort islands,” its travel bulletin warned. “Previous political demonstrations have led to violence and arrests.”
Kuoni, meanwhile, is still living in 2008. Its online “insider review” maintains that Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – who ruled for three decades but was defeated in the first democratic elections five years ago – is still in office.
Tour operators are in business to sell travel. Thanks to their efforts, the archipelago has come to be seen as the most coveted destination in the tropics, providing thousands of jobs for islanders. But a brief review of Twitter feeds mentioning Maldives yesterday showed a travel industry apparently oblivious to reality. “Army and Police brutally attacking peaceful protesters, who are calling for scheduled elections,” read one alert – shortly followed by a message from Simply Luxury Holidays, promising: “Indulgence from the very beginning of your #Maldives holiday!”