50 years: The people’s attitude towards Tourism

We shout, “Sunny side of life.” But there are locals who don’t feel the same way. Tourism brings so much shame to them; their slogan would be “Tourism: The national embarrassment.”

Alcohol, women wearing bikinis, pork, unmarried couples, DJ, dance, kissing, etc. are all considered taboos in the Maldivian society.

I entered Tourism industry in 2006. That was 34 years after introducing the industry to the Maldives. What people thought about the industry back then? In 2006?

My parents were not excited about it, but they did not oppose it. Their lack of excitement has nothing to do with the taboos related to tourism. My close relatives, they did not hold anything against it. My neighborhood as well. But there were few people in other areas in Fuvahmulah who react negatively towards Tourism. That was somewhere 2003-2005. Much of that mindset has changed today. Everyone holds negative view about Tourism.

Back then, even though people associate tourism with alcohol and bikini, they were not strictly opposed to it. Most parents don’t mind their son working in resorts. Yes, their sons, not daughters.

They were fiercely opposed to their daughters working in resorts. Not only resorts, they opposed women working in general. So resorts are a big no.

After my first resort and the resorts that followed, none of the first two resorts had Maldivian women. First local woman I saw working in the resort was in 2008. In that resort there were two Maldivian women out of 550+ employees. Even today there are hardly any women in the industry.

Back then everyone treated guests from all our heart. We had strong feeling towards helping them and solving their problems. We were friendly. We see them 10 times above ourselves. If you watch National Geographic that shows a white guy in Africa and a lot of black guys dancing around him, that’s how we were. We were extremely hospitable towards all of our guests. What happened to our hospitality?

Starting from 2008 the spark of our friendliness began to fade. What we see from the media slowly began to reflect in our behavior.

Since I joined the industry, I noticed one discrimination. We discriminate guests based on how much tips we expect they will give. This also reflects on our behavior. But guests did not notice it. Back then the main markets were Europe and Japanese. Generally, tipping is not part of Japanese culture. We know it. And we discriminated them. We treated Europeans and Japanese differently. But it’s a mild discrimination.

After 2008 something changed, our behavior began to change.

This mild discrimination towards Japanese guests went on until 2011. After Fukushima disaster the market shifted from Japan to newly opened China.

When Chinese guests began flowing in, the same problem occurred. We noticed giving tips is not part of their culture as well. Again this began to appear in our behavior and how we treat them. Guests began to notice it. When I dug deep, I found out that the mild discrimination got inflated based on what the staffs read on the news. When Indian market opened, this had gotten worse to the point some guests brought such complains to the management’s attention. Both countries does not have tipping in their culture and both countries are not favourable in the media tourism employees consume.

A month before COVID lockdown, in February 2021 China and India dominated the market. The occupancy based on Nationality in the resort I worked in that month was as follows:

China 40%
India 20%
Russia 10%
Korea 10%
Middle east 10%
Europe and others 10%

Today, our behavior towards guests not only depends on how much tips we expect from them, but also based on the current events we follow in the news. Since 2008, our views about tourists and tourism had gotten worse year by year. Before 2008 there was no hate. There was opposition. Today there is both. People with outright hatred towards tourism and the guests are working in the industry.

Apart from that there is another mindset or a behavior I have seen but did not surprise me. We had multiple cases of local staff coming to work in the restaurant and refused to serve alcohol and then leave the resort in the same week. Somehow they agreed to it and then some form of fear went in as one of them told me.

Maldivians think Alcohol is a drink. Guests take the glass and drink THE Alcohol, they believe. If you tell them people don’t drink alcohol and what they drink is alcoholic drink, the Maldivians will shake their head. They will not believe you.

They also don’t have the idea of classifications such as wine, beer, and spirits. For them it’s all Alcohol. For them it’s all the same.

Those who work in F&B gets labeled when they go home for vacation. Sometimes they get scolded, or they get a lecture from one of their older family members.

There are local island trips which we do even today. Some resorts call it island hopping. These trips help local shops and cafes. It greatly benefited them. Some resorts has two three trips a week while other resorts does more. We tell all the guests about the dress code; the usual drill, shoulder to knees. For men and women.

Starting from 2008 we began to receive a new kind of complains from locals. That complain was our female guests wearing too revealing clothes. The clothing didn’t change. They wore the same style of clothing as they did the previous year. Generally all European women had similar style and all the Japanese women had similar style. Even between Japanese and European it was mostly the same. Only a few differences. And in 2007 I did one or two trips a week for a whole year and never heard of this complain. But in the next year I got the first complain. Then it kept coming. No matter how my group or the other groups dressed we kept getting the complains.

We tried everything except wrapping the female guests like mummies of Egypt. If 10 people says a particular short is ok, you will find 10 other people who will say it’s not ok. If 5 people says a shirt is ok, you find another 5 people who says it’s not ok. This goes on and on. The complains kept on coming to this day. (Till Feb 2020. We don’t go to local islands in my current place due to COVID restrictions. But once the restrictions are lifted and when we start going to nearby local islands I’m sure the complains will start coming in.)

Up until 2010 there were hardly any locals on top management positions. In 2010, 38 years after the Tourism industry, there were no Maldivians on the top management? Why?

One reason was Maldivians lacked trainings required to perform managerial works. Why they didn’t get the trainings?

Here is my guess. Tourism as a high school curriculum was introduced in 2007. That was 35 years after the industry came in. There were no colleges or universities that taught Tourism or management. The first university was established in 2011, that was 39 years later.

In my first resort I haven’t met a single Maldivian who studied up to grade 10. That’s out of 200+ employees. Most of them cannot speak English. Even I did not speak English when I joined the industry. In my next resort out of 500+ employees half of them studied up to grade 7. Because few islands had education up to grade 10. And someone with A-level education is as rare as someone with PHD. And we treat A-level guy as if he is a PHD. That was the condition of the Maldivian workforce in 2006, after 35 continuous years of the industry.

Since the introduction of a University in the Maldives, we have begun to see locals in the top management. The number is increasing. Their choices will determine the future of the industry.


Original 18-05-2022

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