An unusual spate of reported tourist deaths in the Maldives has prompted the government to review safety standards and step up inspection of resorts, hotels and guesthouses.
In the December 2018 to January 2019 period alone, at least six tourist deaths and fires at five resorts were reported. Industry sources said that in most cases, deaths were from fire or drowning.
Authorities acknowledge need for more stringent, up-to-date regulations
“We have decided to inspect all tourist facilities in the Maldives in the next six to eight months. Regular monitoring must be done to ensure that regulations are followed. Some of these regulations are very outdated. They need to be modernised,” tourism minister Ali Waheed told reporters last week.
A special committee has been formed on the advice of president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to address concerns, and review regulations, on operating resorts, guesthouses, travel agencies, as well as rules about water sports and fire safety.
Nature to blame?
Travel and hospitality players suggested that the higher accident rate may be linked to what they claim to be stronger currents that the Maldives has been experiencing recently.
President of the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) Abdullah Ghiyas remarked that currents were unusually strong this year, even in areas considered to be safe.
Meanwhile, president of Guesthouse Association of the Maldives, Abdul Karam, said the number of deaths in a single month was disproportionately high compared to his yearly estimates.
The association has been reminding members to stay vigilant in light of stronger water currents these days, according to Karam.
In October, three water villas were damaged in a fire at Adaaran Hudhurafushi. At another resort, a fire last month tore through seven water villas, a restaurant and a kitchen.
The cause of the fires have not been determined yet, and the resorts in question declined to comment, while authorities are still probing the incidents.
Karam surmised that strong winds could have accelerated the spread of fire to adjacent villas.
Can accommodation providers do better?
An unnamed tour operator remarked that the government needs to ensure that accommodation providers – particularly guesthouses – adhered to safety standards.
Karam said: “In recent times I have noticed resorts placing warnings boards and depth of the water on beaches, but (there are no staff members supervising), as guests like to have their privacy on the beach.”
For the manager of a high-end resort who declined to be named, new resorts tend to be more compliant in enforcing safety standards. The difficulty lies with older resorts, where much of the implementation hinges on whether the property has the will, or the funding to take safety more seriously, he opined.
He shared that as part of the agreement with tour operators it has contracts with (e.g. TUI, Kuoni, Thomas Cook), an independent two-day Health and Safety audit is conducted yearly. The resort has a fixed amount of time to resolve any issues that come up in the audit. Otherwise, the contract will be “under threat” and the tour operator could remove the resort from its programmes.
In early January, a Russian tourist drowned during a diving trip, adding to incidents in December which included the drowning of a Czech Republic national and a Korean man near resorts. Also in January, a Filipino couple drowned off a resort island.
The most recent reported tourist incident was on January 29, when a Chinese guest was found dead in his room at Paradise Resort, apparently due to a heart attack. On the same day, five water villas caught fire at the Taj Exotica Resort and Spa.